Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month May 2021
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month April 2021
CrisisWatch highlights three conflict risks and one resolution opportunity in May.
In Chad, fighting could escalate as rebels pledge to continue their advance toward the capital N’Djamena after President Déby’s death.
Recent high-intensity Taliban attacks in Afghanistan could signal the group is gearing up for an offensive beyond 1 May.
Somalia’s stalled electoral process is likely to trigger further deadly fighting in its capital Mogadishu.
- Direct talks between Iranian and Saudi officials could deepen in the coming weeks, presenting a chance to de-escalate regional tensions.
Our monthly conflict tracker warns of deteriorations in 14 countries and conflict areas in April.
Violence further intensified across Nigeria, notably in Borno and Zamfara states, leaving hundreds killed and tens of thousands displaced.
In Ethiopia, intercommunal clashes escalated in several regions, notably in the Amhara region and in the Afar-Somali disputed area.
Tensions between Caracas and Bogotá grew as Venezuela’s military and Colombian guerrilla groups clashed at the border.
Maoist militants in India launched their deadliest ambush on security forces in four years.
- Fighting flared on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, killing dozens.
We also note improvements in Georgia, where EU- and U.S.-facilitated talks ended the months-long political crisis, and in Tanzania, where newly inaugurated President Suluhu signalled her willingness to open up the political space.
Aside from the 70+ conflict situations we regularly follow, we have also tracked notable developments in: Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Indonesia, Jordan, Moldova, the Nile Waters, Northern Ireland and Saudi Arabia.
Tensions continued to mount among Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt ahead of Addis Ababa’s planned second unilateral filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in coming months. In apparent warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation of inter-state tensions, Sudan and Egypt 31 March-5 April held second joint military exercise since Nov 2020. New round of talks among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Blue Nile river broke down 6 April. Cairo same day denounced Ethiopia’s “lack of political will to negotiate in good faith”, while Khartoum vowed to “consider all possible options to protect its security”, denouncing Addis Ababa’s rejection of its proposal for quadripartite mediation by AU, EU, UN and U.S. to break deadlock in AU-led negotiations. Ethiopia’s water minister Seleshi Bekele 7 April said Addis Ababa would proceed with second filling of dam during forthcoming rainy season between June and Sept. Sudan and Egypt 10 April declined Ethiopia’s offer to share data about second filling, reiterating need for legally binding agreement on dam’s operation. Sudan 12 April and Egypt next day called on UN Security Council to encourage Ethiopia to refrain from filling GERD unilaterally before parties reach agreement. Sudanese PM Abdallah Hamdok 13 April called for closed-door meeting with Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts in bid to break deadlock; Ethiopia 21 April declined Hamdok’s proposal, same day proposed AU-sponsored meeting to end stalemate. Following Hamdok’s 5 April meeting with U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken and Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry’s 12 April meeting with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, Ethiopian FM Demeke Mekonnen 15 April denounced “politicising and internationalising” of dispute. Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas 23 April said Sudan may sue Ethiopia in international courts if it goes ahead with plan to fill GERD unilaterally.
Jihadist violence persisted in several regions, with clashes between competing jihadist groups reported in north and spike in attacks against security forces in north and east. In Sahel region (north), al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina 3-5 April clashed with Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants in Déou village, Oudalan province, leaving at least four ISGS killed; incidents followed similar confrontations which significantly weakened ISGS’s positions in Sahel in recent months. Also in Oudalan province, suspected ISGS combatants 8 April ambushed two vehicles on Markoye-Tokabango road, killing two civilians; raid likely motivated by group’s need for supplies. In Seno province, unidentified gunmen 26 April killed at least 18 civilians in several villages of Seytenga department, and ISGS militants 14 April killed at least ten volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) in Bouloye Siguidi village, Gorgadji department. VDPs also targeted in Centre-North region. Notably, suspected ISGS militants 1 April killed six VDPs in Dou village, Sanmatenga province, and suspected JNIM militants 6 April killed another in Koulwoko village, Namentenga province. Violence resumed in North region in late March-early April, including 7 April abduction of two miners by suspected Katiba Macina militants in Boussourdou area, Yatenga province. In East region, violence increased in Gourma province. After series of JNIM attacks on VPDs and civilians in Tanwalbougou area late March, suspected JNIM militants 5 April killed three gendarmes and four VDPs in ambush in Lopiengou village. In neighbouring Tapoa province, JNIM 27 April claimed previous day ambush of anti-poaching patrol in Arly National Park, which left three foreigners dead. Meanwhile, Ouagadougou military court 13 April indicted former President Compaoré, who has been living in exile in Côte d’Ivoire since 2014, for complicity in 1987 assassination of former President Sankara; national reconciliation minister, Zéphirin Diabré, had in March called for justice in Sankara case as step toward national reconciliation.
Jihadist violence continued unabated in centre and north, and interim authorities announced electoral calendar. In Mopti region (centre), suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) militants 2 and 6 April raided military positions in Diafarabé and Konna towns, leaving at least four soldiers dead and 21 injured; armed forces reportedly killed 22 militants. JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina and Bambara communal “Donso” militiamen clashed throughout month in Mopti’s Djenné district, leaving dozens dead on both sides. In Ségou region (also centre), Katiba Macina and Donso militia 16 April announced permanent ceasefire in Niono district; deal builds on March temporary ceasefire that ended five-month jihadist siege on Farabougou village and has significantly reduced tensions in Niono. Also in Niono, Malian and French armed forces 26 April launched airstrikes in Alatona area, reportedly killing 26 suspected jihadists. In Kidal region (north), JNIM 2 April launched sophisticated attack on UN mission (MINUSMA) base in Aguelhok town, Tessalit district, killing four peacekeepers and wounding 16; over 40 assailants also killed; suspected jihadists 25 April launched rocket attack on military base in Tessalit town, wounding three MINUSMA peacekeepers. Meanwhile, Chadian troops deployed since March as part of G5 Sahel force started to engage insurgents in Gao region (also north), killing at least 20 Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants in Fitili and Tin Ajer areas (both Ansongo district) 3-4 April. NGO Human Rights Watch 20 April said Malian soldiers had killed 34 civilians and disappeared at least 16 people during counter-insurgency operations in Mopti region between Oct and March. Unidentified gunmen 13 April shot dead Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati, leader of ex-rebel Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) – signatory to 2015 Algiers peace agreement – in capital Bamako. Interim govt 15 April disclosed electoral agenda in line with transition timeline, scheduling constitutional referendum for Oct, and presidential and parliamentary elections for Feb 2022.
Jihadists continued to target civilians in south west, fuelling intercommunal tensions, and stepped up attacks on security forces in south east; President Bazoum took office and formed cabinet. In Tillabery region (south west), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) 4 April set several schools on fire in Torodi commune and 17 April killed 19 ethnic Zarma civilians in Gaigorou village near Ayorou town. In Diffa region (south east), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 1 April claimed same day IED attack on army vehicle near Mainé-Soroa town. Suspected ISWAP combatants 3 April attacked army camp near Ngagam displacement site killing four soldiers, and 15 April stormed Mainé-Soroa gendarmerie station, killing two. ISWAP attacks on Nigerian Damasak town at border with Niger 14-16 April displaced up to 65,000 people, including hundreds across border into Niger; jihadist threat could intensify in Diffa in coming months as ISWAP’s activity in Nigeria’s Borno state spreads toward Komadougou Yobé River, which marks border with Niger (see Nigeria). National Human Rights Commission 2 April called for independent inquiry into allegations that Chadian soldiers recently deployed as part of G5 Sahel force sexually abused two women and one child in Tera department, Tillabery region; govt next day said it had arrested suspected soldiers. President Bazoum took office 2 April, next day appointed former President Issoufou’s chief of staff, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, as PM; Mahamadou’s considerable influence within ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism could help Bazoum broaden his support base within party. Mahamadou 7 April formed govt of 33 ministers including five women, with two opposition parties that supported Bazoum’s candidacy securing nine ministries; most strategic portfolios handed to Issoufou-era heavyweights. Meanwhile, lack of information on late-March heavy gunfire near presidential palace in capital Niamey sparked rumours of fake news. Notably, supporters of runner-up in presidential election Mahamane Ousmane, who still refuses to acknowledge Bazoum’s victory, 1 April accused govt of having fabricated coup attempt to divert attention from opposition demonstrations.
Govt continued diplomatic offensive as part of effort to alleviate country’s isolation; clampdown on opposition and civil society persisted. Authorities 2 April lifted June 2019 ban on independent NGO PARCEM in apparent move to respond to EU’s demands for improvements in human rights and media freedom. Govt and EU 9 April held second round of negotiations on normalising relations, including lifting EU sanctions and resuming direct financial support; EU invited Burundian FM Albert Shingiro for European tour, which started 26 April. Amid rapprochement with Rwanda, govt 2 April welcomed Kigali’s late March decision to suspend three Burundian radio stations, which had been operating from Kigali since 2015 political crisis in Burundi, said move showed “dialogue [with country] was not in vain”. AU Peace and Security Council 27 April met to discuss possible shutdown of Human Rights Observers and Military Experts Mission in Burundi; decision expected early May. Meanwhile, authorities continued to harass opposition and civil society. In Rumonge province, authorities 11 April arrested opposition party Union for National Progress youth leader over accusations of hosting unauthorised gathering and 14 April arrested civilian for allegedly cooperating with rebel group. Authorities 13 April decried as biased U.S. State Dept’s annual report on human rights, published late March, which recorded at least 205 extrajudicial killings in Burundi in 2020 and highlighted “widespread impunity for govt and ruling party officials and for their supporters and proxies”. Main opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) next day called on govt to release 15 CNL members who have been imprisoned for almost a year on accusations of threatening security around May 2020 general elections. Former Defence Minister Maj. Gen. Cyrille Ndayirukiye 24 April died in Gitega prison, where he was serving life sentence for allegedly playing central role in 2015 coup attempt. Authorities 26 April released first 3,000 of over 5,000 detainees who were granted presidential amnesty in March in bid to alleviate prison overcrowding.
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
President Guelleh re-elected for fifth term in landslide vote amid opposition boycott. Electoral authorities 10 April announced incumbent President Guelleh won previous day’s presidential election with 98% of vote; main opposition parties boycotted vote, and sole other candidate, Zakaria Ismael Farah, reportedly garnered less than 5,000 votes. Guelleh 15 April discussed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with Egyptian President Sisi, said dispute threatens region’s security and stability (see Nile Waters). Somalia 22 April accused Djibouti of “sinister campaigns aimed at derailing political process in Somalia” by allegedly trying to influence outcome of same day AU Peace and Security Council meeting on Somalia’s political crisis (see Somalia).
Authorities acknowledged troops’ presence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region amid mounting international pressure for military withdrawal. As fighting continued between forces of Ethiopia’s federal govt and Tigray (see Ethiopia), Ethiopian FM Demeke Mekonnen 3 April said Eritrean troops had “started to evacuate” from Tigray. NGO Amnesty International 14 April reported Eritrean troops 12 April had deliberately opened fire on civilians in Tigray’s Adwa town, killing at least three and injuring at least 19. In statement to UN Security Council, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock 15 April said UN had seen no proof of Eritrean withdrawal from Tigray more than two weeks after Addis Ababa made that commitment; U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield same day mentioned “credible reports” that Eritrean troops were “re-uniforming as Ethiopian military”. In first acknowledgment by Eritrean official since conflict started, Eritrean Ambassador to UN Sophia Tesfamariam 16 April acknowledged troops’ presence in Tigray and pledged to withdraw, however repeated Addis Ababa’s narrative that Eritrean troops have only been active in Ethiopia-Eritrea border area. U.S. State Dept 21 April confirmed there was no evidence of Eritrean troops’ withdrawal, reiterated calls for immediate military departure. Meanwhile, pro-Tigray forces Tigray Media House 5 April published interview with 16-year-old Eritrean prisoner of war who said Eritrean troops were sent to Tigray in late 2020 to recapture historic border town of Badme, at centre of 20-year Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict, and other territories.
Intercommunal clashes escalated in several regions, leaving hundreds dead; govt faced mounting international scrutiny over war in Tigray. In Amhara regional state in north, intercommunal clashes between ethnic Oromo and ethnic Amhara resumed, reportedly leaving up to 200 people dead in Oromia Zone, including Ataye town, 16 April; violence prompted protests across region demanding end to mass killings. In disputed area between Afar and Somali regional states in east, clashes between ethnic Afar on one side and ethnic Somali-Issa paramilitaries and militias on the other 2-6 April killed at least 100 people; after initially trading blame for violence, both regional govts 8 April reportedly reached “agreement to immediately resolve” conflict and allow federal govt to investigate clashes. In Oromia regional state in centre, security forces early April reportedly killed 119 suspected Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) insurgents in western Oromia area; suspected OLA fighters late April reportedly killed at least 20 ethnic Amhara in Jimma Zone and another 15 in Horo-Guduru Wollega Zone. In Benishangul-Gumuz regional state in north west, govt-appointed Human Rights Commission 21 April said unidentified armed group had by 19 April established “near-full control” over Sedal district in Kamashi Zone; earlier in month, unidentified gunmen 1 April reportedly killed seven civilians in Mandura district. Amid continued fighting between Tigray’s and federal govt’s forces in Tigray regional state in north, authorities 3 April said Eritrean troops had started withdrawing; UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock 15 April however said UN had seen no proof of Eritrean withdrawal. NGO Amnesty International 14 April said Eritrean soldiers 12 April had opened fire on civilians in Adwa town, killing at least three. NGO World Peace Foundation 6 April accused govt, Eritrean and Amhara regional forces in Tigray of “committing starvation crimes on large scale”, warning of risk of famine; UN Security Council 22 April expressed “deep concern” over reported rights abuses and sexual violence in Tigray, urged “unfettered humanitarian access” to region. New round of talks with Sudan and Egypt over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river faltered 6 June, prompting further regional tensions (see Nile Waters).
Political jockeying continued ahead of 2022 general elections. Deputy President William Ruto, locked in power struggle with President Kenyatta, late March-early April reportedly met at least 23 governors in bid to garner support for his 2022 presidential run; mid-April reportedly met some 48 MPs from 11 counties in Mount Kenya area, Rift Valley province and Nairobi, who laid out conditions for supporting him. In rare public comment on his relationship with Kenyatta, Ruto 15 April said he had been subjected to “humiliation” while working as deputy president. Meanwhile, Kenyatta continued to strengthen coalition One Kenya Alliance (OKA) formed late March with four opposition parties, casting doubt on Kenyatta’s support for presidential bid of opposition leader and de facto ally Raila Odinga; OKA members 20 April agreed to take steps to widen coalition. Amid concerns electoral commission may not be ready in time for 2022 election, Kenyatta 14 April declared available four commissioner posts left vacant since 2018; 26 April appointed seven-member panel in charge of selecting commissioners. High Court 8 April suspended for 30 days govt’s late March order to close Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, host to over 400,000 refugees mostly from South Sudan and Somalia, within four months; govt 29 April announced it would shut down both camps by June 2022; govt and UN refugee agency to form joint team to finalise and implement roadmap toward camps’ closure. Khartoum 22 April accused Kenya of “sinister campaigns aimed at derailing political process in Somalia” by allegedly trying to influence outcome of same day AU Peace and Security Council meeting on Somalia’s political crisis (see Somalia).
Amid stalled electoral process, extension of president’s term triggered deadly clashes in capital Mogadishu, and violence could escalate in May; Al-Shabaab attacks continued. Following constitutional expiration of President Farmajo’s mandate in Feb, new round of national consultative council (NCC) talks on electoral framework between federal govt and member states collapsed 7 April. Parliament’s lower house 12 April passed controversial resolution to extend Farmajo’s term by two years. Speaker of Parliament’s upper house immediately said vote was unconstitutional, called on international community to intervene “before it gets out of hand”. Farmajo next day signed measure into law, drawing widespread criticism. Notably, in joint statement, UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), AU and others 14 April expressed “deep concern” over term extension and rising tensions, and UN Security Council 23 April urged all parties “to reject violence and resume dialogue”. Pro-opposition soldiers 25 April mutinied and entered Mogadishu, clashed with forces loyal to Farmajo, leaving at least two dozen dead; 60,000 to 100,000 people reportedly displaced. UNSOM and international partners 27 April “strongly condemned outbreak of violence”, said army’s fragmentation along clan lines could distract it from combating Al-Shabaab. After key allies came out against term extension, Farmajo 28 April announced he would ask Parliament to reverse it and pledged to renew dialogue with member states over elections; Puntland state immediately said it would not attend new talks unless invited by international community. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab attacks continued mainly in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba and Bay regions, and Mogadishu. Notably, Al-Shabaab 3 April claimed it had killed 67 govt troops in same day twin attacks on Awdhigle and Bariire army bases, Lower Shabelle; army said attacks left 76 militants and nine soldiers dead. In Middle Shabelle, army 13 April said it had killed 25 militants in Gamboole village. In Mogadishu, suspected Al-Shabaab suicide bombings killed five civilians 3 April and at least seven 28 April; mortar attack targeting presidential palace 21 April reportedly killed another three. Minibus 14 April triggered suspected Al-Shabaab landmine on Mogadishu-Balcad axis, leaving at least 14 civilians dead.
Intercommunal clashes left over a dozen dead in Sool region in east, and authorities arrested opposition candidates ahead of parliamentary and local elections scheduled for May. In Sool region, clan fighting in Dhabar-Dalol area 16-18 April left up to 17 dead; violence follows late March deadly clan fighting over disputed territory near Shidan town, Sanaag region along border with Somalia’s Puntland state. Ahead of 31 May parliamentary and local elections, authorities 24 April arrested several opposition candidates from Justice and Welfare Party and Waddani party on undisclosed charges. Electoral commission 26 April said candidates enjoy immunity during election period and cannot be arrested. Govt 15 April expressed “concerns” over political crisis in Somalia, labelled President Farmajo’s leadership as “dictatorship”; same day urged UN to engage more directly with Somaliland as distinct national entity. President Bihi 28 April blamed Somalia’s govt for Mogadishu clashes (see Somalia).
President Kiir took steps to consolidate his power and sideline potential rivals, and intercommunal violence persisted in centre. Amid calls for Kiir to step down, latter 10 and 16 April reshuffled key political and security positions, notably replacing Presidential Affairs Minister Nhial Deng Nhial, army chief Gen Johnson Juma Okot, external intelligence chief Gen Thomas Duoth and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Malek Reuben Riak with perceived hardliners and loyalists. Presidential Press Secretary Ateny Wek Ateny 14 April announced general elections initially scheduled for 2022 would be postponed to June 2023 due to delays in implementation of transitional agenda, drawing immediate criticism from VP Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition. Meanwhile, clashes erupted between Dinka sub-ethnic groups in Lakes state (centre), leaving at least 14 dead in Rumbek North county 7-9 April; 23 killed in Rumbek East county 17-18 April; eight dead in Cueibet county 21 April; and at least 13 more in Yirol West county next day. In Unity state (also centre), suspected armed youths from neighbouring Warrap state 4 April killed at least 18 people in cattle raid in Mayom county. UN Panel of Experts 26 April warned of risk of renewed war amid widening political, military and ethnic divisions. Following late March-early April spate of deadly attacks against commercial truck drivers on South Sudan’s main trade routes with Kenya and Uganda, truckers from two neighbouring countries 3 April went on strike over insecurity, temporarily halting imports and triggering brief trade crisis. Uganda drivers 10 April resumed work after govt deployed military forces along roads to provide additional security. Holdout rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS), which govt accused of carrying out ambushes on trucks, 1 April denied responsibility, blaming govt-affiliated forces. Unidentified assailants 20 April reportedly assaulted Gen Abraham Wana Yoane, military chief of holdout splinter rebel group South Sudan National Movement for Change/Army (SSNMC/A), allied to NAS leader Thomas Cirillo, in Ugandan capital Kampala; Yoane 22 April died from his injuries and SSNMC/A same day claimed govt was responsible.
Intercommunal violence flared up in West Darfur, leaving over 100 dead and tens of thousands displaced; tensions persisted with Ethiopia. Arab and Masalit tribes 3-8 April clashed in and around West Darfur state capital el-Geneina, leaving at least 125 dead and reportedly displacing tens of thousands; fighting reportedly drawing in militia fighters from both sides arriving from other parts of Darfur and neighbouring Chad. High-level delegation led by Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 12 April arrived in el-Geneina for two-day visit in attempt to mediate between two sides; Masalit tribe representatives 15 April rejected mediation outcome, accused members of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of supporting recurrent attacks on Masalit tribespeople by Chadian gunmen. West Darfur governor 20 April declared el-Geneina disaster zone, requested humanitarian support from govt. In South Kordofan state, intercommunal clashes late April reportedly left “large number” dead in el-Hamid district. Meanwhile, tensions persisted with Ethiopia over disputed Al-Fashqa border zone. Authorities 3 April temporarily closed Gallabat-Metema border crossing after Ethiopian militia 1 April reportedly attacked Sudanese customs officers, and army 9 April said it had taken control of 95% of Al-Fashqa. Authorities 12 April reportedly handed over to Addis Ababa 61 Ethiopian troops taken prisoner in disputed area since conflict started in Dec 2020; Addis Ababa 21 April denied released prisoners were soldiers. After latest round of talks on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Blue Nile river faltered 6 April, govt 23 April said it may sue Ethiopia before international courts if Addis Ababa fills GERD unilaterally in coming months (see Nile Waters). In apparent warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation, Sudan 31 March-5 April had held second joint military exercise with Egypt since Nov 2020. UN Security Council 26 April discussed Sudan’s request to replace Ethiopian peacekeepers deployed as part of UN peacekeeping mission in disputed Abyei area at border with South Sudan; Khartoum cited security concerns in light of growing bilateral tensions. Authorities 19 April officially repealed Israel boycott law, paving way for normalisation of relations, which Sudan agreed to in Jan as part of U.S.-brokered deal.
Newly-inaugurated President Suluhu Hassan distanced herself from predecessor Magufuli’s policies, signalling possible willingness to open up political space going forward. In stark departure from late President Magufuli, Hassan 6 April said it was “not proper to ignore” COVID-19 and vowed to establish task force to advise govt on measures to curb pandemic. After Hassan 6 April said media banned under Magufuli should be allowed to operate, govt next day said only online television channels would benefit from measure. Hassan took steps to improve relationship and trade with regional partners, notably hosting Kenyan delegation in largest city Dar es Salaam 10 April and committing to strengthening relationship with neighbouring country. In first visit abroad since taking office, Hassan next day travelled to Uganda, signed agreements with President Museveni paving way for construction of pipeline between two countries. Meanwhile, chairperson of main opposition Chadema party Freeman Mbowe 11 April called on Hassan and govt to revise constitution to limit presidential terms and powers, saying current constitution gives “someone the chance to be dictator or king”. Chadema’s vice chairperson and 2020 presidential candidate Tundu Lissu – who fled country after 2020 general elections – 24 April listed six conditions for his return, including assurances from govt on his safety and pardoning of political prisoners.
Govt faced mounting international pressure to end crackdown on dissent and improve democratic credentials. UN human rights expert panel 13 April urged govt to “immediately stop the brutal crackdown on its political opponents”, called for investigation into “allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill treatment” in lead-up to and after general elections held in Jan. FM Sam Kutesa same day denied security forces’ involvement in abductions, said authorities would launch investigations and prosecute anyone suspected of wrongdoings. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 16 April announced visa restrictions on Ugandans “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process” during recent electoral process. Govt immediately decried move as “unfortunate”, while opposition leader Bobi Wine 19 April welcomed sanctions and called on other countries to follow suit. In north, ethnic Karimojong cattle raiders 2 April attacked Nalemupal village, Moroto district, killing seven-year-old and injuring two other persons.
Authorities continued to clamp down on opposition and civil society and parliament voted on controversial constitutional amendments consolidating President Mnangagwa’s hold on power. Magistrate Court in capital Harare 6 April sentenced Makomborero Haruzivishe, member of Nelson Chamisa-led faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, to 14 months in prison for allegedly “inciting violence” and “resisting arrest” during anti-govt protest in Feb 2020; police same day reportedly disrupted MDC-A press conference and lashed out at people gathered outside court, leaving one journalist injured and five people arrested. Harare Magistrate Court 13 April denied MDC-A MP Joana Mamombe and MDC-A youth leader Cecilia Chimbiri bail for third time since they were detained in early March on charges of violating COVID-19 regulations; trial set for 5 May. Authorities 26 April arrested MDC-A Youth Assembly Chairperson Obey Sithole on allegations of “criminal nuisance” for allegedly participating in demonstration earlier in month. High Court 28 April quashed charges of “communicating false information prejudicial to the state” levelled against investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, saying law used to arrest him in Jan no longer existed. Meanwhile, High Court 14 April nullified March expulsion of six MDC-A MPs from Parliament, ruling that competing MDC faction MP who initiated procedure did not have authority to do so. Mnangagwa throughout month pushed through Parliament raft of constitutional amendments paving way for him to handpick his vice presidents and senior judges including chief justice, deputy chief justice and judge president of the High Court; move comes as position of second VP currently left vacant following resignation of VP Kembo Mohadi last month. Chamisa 21 April denounced “dictatorial amendment to the constitution”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 15 April urged Mnangagwa to implement reforms to advance constitutional rights and freedoms, and to “embrace inclusive national dialogue” to resolve country’s socio-economic and political crises.
Amid intense Chinese military activities, U.S. bolstered its diplomatic support for Taipei. Ten Chinese military aircrafts 5 April conducted simultaneous military exercises west and east of Taiwan; Chinese navy same day said such drills would become regular. Taiwanese defence ministry claimed series of Chinese military aircraft entered Air Defence Identification Zone throughout month; it noted that China 12 April dispatched 25 military aircraft in largest ever incursion since Sept 2020. Other reported Chinese incursions included two J-16 fighter jets, one KJ-500 airborne plane and one Y-8 reconnaissance plane 6 April; 15 Chinese aircraft, including 12 fighters 7 April; two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare planes 8 April; four J-16 fighter jets and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare plane 13 April; two J-16 fighter jets 15 April; and five J-16 fighter jets, two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare planes 20 April. Taiwanese FM Joseph Wu 7 April said island will defend itself “to the very last day” if attacked; China 14 April reiterated it prefers peaceful reunification and all options including military force remain. Meanwhile, U.S. continued military activity in region. John S. McCain guided missile destroyer 7 April conducted “routine” transit of Taiwan Strait; China next day protested passage. On diplomatic front, U.S. 9 April issued new guidelines to enable U.S. officials to meet freely with Taiwanese officials; in response, China 13 April told U.S. to stop “playing with fire”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 11 April concerned at China’s “increasingly aggressive actions” against Taiwan, warned it would be “serious mistake” to try to change status quo by force; U.S. President Biden 13 April sent unofficial delegation of three former senior officials to Taiwan in “personal signal” of support. Media reports 20 April indicated that U.S. administration set to approve its first weapons sales to Taiwan. Australian defence minister 25 April said conflict over Taiwan cannot be discounted.
Tensions continued to run high following anti-India unrest in March, as authorities arrested dozens of protest leaders and activists; election-related violence persisted. Following last month’s deadly protests by Islamist groups and student activists against Indian PM Modi’s visit, PM Hasina 4 April said Hefazat-e-Islam is disgrace to name of Islam and blamed oppositionBangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami for inciting violence. Further clashes between police and Hefazat-e-Islam supporters 2 April left at least 20 injured, including several police officers. Since last month’s protests, authorities arrested over 100 Hefazat leaders and activists, including Joint Secretary General Mamunul Haque on 17 April in capital Dhaka. Hefazat-e-Islam Acting Amir Januyed Babunagri 2 and 19 April asked govt to stop harassing and arresting Hefazat leaders. Violent clashes between Awami League factions over upcoming municipality elections persisted: clashes 1, 8 and 14 April left two killed and at least 24 injured in Pabna, Kustia and Madaripur districts. Meanwhile, govt continued to use Digital Security Act to stifle critics. Teenager 1 April faced court after govt supporter filed charges against him for making video mocking PM Hasina and Modi; ruling Awami League leader 18 April lodged case against civil society activist. Counter-terrorism police in Dhaka 10 April arrested Rezaul Haque, acting amir of banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. International concerns over relocation of Rohingya refugees continued. Fire at market near Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district 2 April killed three and destroyed at least 20 shops. Diplomats from EU, U.S., UK and others 3 April visited Bhasan Char, low-lying flood-prone island in Bay of Bengal, to assess facilities for Rohingya refugees. Following March visit to inspect safety, UN 16 April urged govt to move refugees in “gradual and phased manner”. FM Momen same day told reporters he would demand 10% of funds raised by humanitarian agencies for Rohingyas in Bangladesh if they refused to provide services to refugees in Bhasan Char.
Maoists launched deadliest ambush in four years, deadly COVID-19 wave engulfed country, and govt and China held new round of talks on disputed border. In deadliest and most daring attack on security forces since 2017, hundreds of Maoist insurgents 3 April ambushed security patrol in Chhattisgarh state (centre), killing 22 security forces personnel and injuring over 30 others; attack prompted govt to step up counter-insurgency operations in region. Maoist violence also continued elsewhere, including in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand states. Notably, in Maharashtra state (west), Maoists 3 April killed local official in Gadchiroli district. In Chhattisgarh state, Maoists 16 April attacked road workers in Sukma district, killing employee. In Odisha state (east), security forces 23 April killed Maoist in Kalahandi district. In Jharkhand state (east), Maoists 23 April shot dead civilian in West Singhbhum district. Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections reached alarming proportions as health ministry 24 April reported over 345,000 cases in previous 24 hours, with total of at least 200,000 deaths so far. In many cities, including capital New Delhi, govt and private hospitals faced shortage of oxygen, and cremation grounds were extended to accommodate increase in deaths; Modi govt throughout month faced criticism for having allowed – despite COVID-19 concerns – recent political rallies and weeks-long Hindu festival Kumbh Mela which attracts millions of pilgrims from across country. China-India border talks stalled over sequencing of border troop withdrawal. Indian and Chinese military officials 9 April met in eastern Ladakh province for 11th round of talks on disengagement along Line of Actual Control (LAC), two months after 10th round; MFA previous day stated India “would like to see disengagement in the remaining areas”. Talks made no progress as Chinese side reportedly proposed to first “deescalate” troops, meaning to pull back troops who sit behind the front lines, while Indian side proposed to “disengage” front-line troops from additional areas from border. Referring to border crisis, Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri 15 April said it was “inadvisable” to “sweep this situation under the carpet and characterise it as just a minor issue and a matter of perspective”.
Ceasefire continued to hold along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir), while insecurity persisted inside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). India-Pakistan relations seemed to ease as details on backchannel talks emerged and both sides respected LoC ceasefire. After Islamabad 31 March announced resumption of trade ties with India, suspended since Aug 2019, Pakistan’s PM Khan 1 April backtracked and 4 April said there would be “no normalisation of relations with India until it reversed its illegal actions” in J&K. Media report 23 April indicated Pakistan expects India to take first step in creating “enabling environment” for dialogue, for example by releasing political prisoners, easing movement, or reducing military presence. United Arab Emirates (UAE) 14 April confirmed for first time their mediation role in Feb agreement in which India and Pakistan pledged to respect ceasefire along LoC. U.S. National Intelligence Council 7 April warned India and Pakistan may stumble into large-scale war neither side wants, “especially following a terrorist attack that the Indian government judges to be significant”. Inside J&K, attack on ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader 1 April killed one police officer. Security forces next day killed three militants in Pulwama district, including two allegedly involved in BJP leader attack. Anti-India protests erupted in response to operation, injuring at least four civilians. Militants 9 April shot dead soldier in Anantnag district. Security forces 11 April killed five militants in Anantnag and Shopian districts. Militants same day killed civilian in Budgam district. Police 13 April arrested two alleged militants and three alleged militant sympathisers in Kupwara district; authorities next day arrested alleged militant and three alleged sympathisers in Kulgram district, and alleged militant in Budgam district 24 April. Police 15-16 April arrested and fired female special police officer for “glorifying terrorism” and “obstructing” security operation in Kulgram district, and arrested teacher in Bandipora district for allegedly supporting Laskhar-e-Tayyaba group. J&K police chief Vijay Kumar early April advised journalists to avoid live media coverage of security operations against militants or protests; J&K’s press club responded that “any such attack on press freedom and journalism is highly distressful”.
Ruling party and opposition continued competing efforts to secure majority in parliament; meanwhile, govt faced criticism for handling of COVID-19 pandemic. Prospects of potential vote of no-confidence against PM KP Oli continued to linger with opposition Nepali Congress — which has 61 seats in 275-member House of Representatives — 2 April announcing decision to seek Oli’s resignation and form new govt under its own leadership; Nepali Congress, however, had yet to follow through on its decision by late April, leading to claims from observers that some of its leaders would prefer holding early elections instead. Ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist or UML), accelerated its outreach to opposition Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) — the fourth largest party holding 32 seats in parliament — including by offering to release detained JSP cadres in exchange for party joining the UML govt; potential UML-JSP coalition govt would likely render any no-confidence motion against Oli unsuccessful. Capital Kathmandu 29 April entered another strict lockdown following sharp uptick in COVID-19 infections, which increased 1,000% 15-30 April, leading to widespread criticism of govt for lack of precautionary measures and preparedness despite earlier appeals from ministry of health and population officials.
Deadly unrest erupted after political-religious group launched nationwide protests against ruling party; militant attacks continued at high intensity. Ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) govt faced its most serious security crisis during its two-and-a-half years in power amid violent protests throughout country. Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) chief Saad Hussain Rizvi 11 April announced countrywide protests planned for 20 April in protest at govt’s failure to abide by Nov 2020 agreement to deport French ambassador over cartoons deemed blasphemous; authorities next day arrested Rizvi in Lahore city. Arrest triggered violent protests, killing four police officers and injuring at least 100; TLP claimed three supporters killed. Govt 15 April banned TLP under anti-terrorismlaw. Protests ended after govt 20 April accepted most TLP demands, including discussing French ambassador’s expulsion in Parliament, and releasing detained leaders and activists. PTI parliamentarian 20 April introduced resolution in Parliament. Yet, opposition parties’ rejection of the proposal to form special parliamentary committee to discuss issue risks renewed TLP protests. Unity among Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), 11-party opposition alliance including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), further fragmented after five PDM parties 3 April opted to form separate opposition block in senate. PTI candidate 11 April lost by large margin to PML-N’s candidate for seat in Punjab’s Sialkot district. Militant attacks and security operations continued. Notably, Pakistani Taliban suicide car attack on hotel in Balochistan’s capital Quetta 21 April killed five and wounded scores; attack possibly targeted visiting Chinese ambassador staying in hotel. Bomb blast 28 April killed police officer in Balochistan’s Qilla Abdullah district; earlier, bomb blast at football tournament 13 April injured at least 14 civilians in Hub district. Security forces 3 and 4 April claimed to have killed two Pakistani Taliban militants in North Waziristan, and Pakistani Taliban militant 13 April in South Waziristan district. Police 11 April claimed killing previous night high-profile Pakistani Taliban militant in Rawalpindi city, Punjab province. Internationally, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 7-8 April met with PM Khan, Army Chief Javed Bajwa and FM Mahmood Qureshi; agreed on deepening defence and counter-terrorism cooperation.
Country commemorated deadly 2019 Easter attacks as authorities furthered “anti-extremism” agenda; meanwhile, govt bill on Colombo mega project sparked legal challenges. As country marked second anniversary of Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired Easter suicide bombings that killed over 260 people, govt continued to pursue “anti-extremism” agenda. Activists 8 April filed lawsuit challenging constitutionality of new “deradicalisation” regulations introduced in March that allow extended detention without charge. Govt 10 April formally proscribed 11 “extremist” groups, including range of local Salafi groups and Muslim charity funded by two suicide bombers of April 2019 attacks. Attorney general 20 April indicted 16 Muslim men detained without trial for almost two years for their alleged involvement in Dec 2018 vandalism of Buddhist statues in town of Mawanella. Police 24 April arrested Rishad Bathiudeen, Muslim legislator and leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Party, in connection with 2019 bombings. Cabinet 28 April approved ban on burqas and other religious face-coverings on “national security” grounds. Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith 18 April claimed Easter attacks were “politically driven”, and the victims “attacked not by religious extremism, but by a group that exploited it […] to strengthen their political power.” Opposition MPs 20 April alleged govt was covering up evidence indicating contacts between military intelligence officials loyal to President Rajapaksa, then in opposition, and bombers before Easter attacks. PM Rajapaksa 9 April introduced legally unprecedented resolution in Parliament to implement recommendations of presidential commission on “political victimisation” to dismiss ongoing murder, corruption and other criminal cases against Rajapaksa family members and loyalists and to prosecute investigators, prosecutors and witnesses. Meanwhile, govt 8 April introduced bill granting unprecedented legal autonomy to Colombo port city, its multi-billion-dollar flagship economic project financed by Chinese company; more than dozen organisations and opposition parties challenged bill in lawsuits filed at Supreme Court. Former minister and ruling party MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told court on 20 April bill would create “a haven for money laundering” and 15 April criticised project for establishing “Chinese colony”; Rajapakshe alleged President Rajapaksa next day threatened him for his criticisms.
Amid series of deadly attacks in Papua’s Puncak district, govt designated Papuan separatist armed groups as “terrorists”. Armed assailants 8-9 April killed two teachers and set on fire three schools in Juluokma village in Beoga sub-district, Puncak district; authorities said attackers belonged to separatist armed group West Papua Liberation Army. Authorities 14-15 April evacuated 35 civilians, including teachers and health workers, from Beoga to Timika city, Mimika district, while security forces launched Operation Nemangkawi to find those responsible for violence. In subsequent days, suspected armed separatists 25-26 April killedregional intelligence officer Brigadier General I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha during shoot-out in Puncak district; President Joko Widodo 26 April declared “there is no place for armed groups in Papua” and ordered arrests of all separatists. Govt 29 April announcedcategorisation of “organisations and people in Papua who commit mass violence” as “terrorists”; NGO Amnesty International next day expressed concern that terrorist designation “only increases the potential for even further human rights violations.”
Security forces continued brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters and civilians, escalating their counter-insurgency practices, as resistance groups launched sporadic deadly attacks on military. Pro-democracy protesters demanding end to military rule continued rallies nationwide, notably in Yangon, Mandalay and many other towns and cities; police and military responded with deadly force, including by opening fire on protesters; death toll of security crackdown since 1 Feb surpassed 750 people. In major attack, military 9 April assaulted multiple protest camps in Bago town, using for first time mortars and rifle grenades, killing at least 80 civilians. Resistance groups in several parts of country targeted military convoys, as well as ward and village-tractgeneral administration offices. Notably, resistance forces 9 April ambushed military convoy in Tamu, Sagaing region, killing three soldiers; in Chin State, resistance fighters 27 April killed at least 16 soldiers in fighting in Mindat town. State media 9 April announced that military tribunal in North Okkalapa had sentenced to death 19 protesters who allegedly attacked military in March. Opponents of junta 16 April announced creation of National Unity Government. In northern Shan State, military 7-8 April met with leaders of armed groups United Wa State Army and Shan State Progress Party in effort to bolster ceasefires. In Kachin State, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) 8 April ambushed military convoy in rural part of Mogaung township; military same day fired artillery at Laiza town, headquarters of KIA and its civilian wing. Militants associated with Three Brotherhood Alliance (consisting of Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army) 10 April attacked police station outside of Lashio, killing at least 14 policemen, making it first attack since late March decision to re-evaluate unilateral ceasefire. Unidentified attackers 27 April fired rockets at military bases in country’s centre. International pressure continued. UK 1 April imposed sanctions on conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation; EU 19 April imposed sanctions on junta; U.S. 21 April added two state-owned enterprises to sanctions list. Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing 25 April attended summit of regional bloc ASEAN, agreeing five-point statement calling for cessation of violence and dialogue.
Low-level violence continued in south between militant groups and security forces. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, clashes between insurgents and security forces took place at relatively low levels throughout month. In Cotabato City, explosion 1 April injured two civilians while six Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters combatants 17 April surrendered to govt; in Marawi in Lanao del Sur province, security forces 12 April exchanged fire with leader of jihadist organisation Daulah Islamiyah; in town of Datu Salibo in Maguindanao province, joint police and military operation 14 April resulted in killing of leader of crime group; in Tipo-Tipo municipality on Basilan island, IED 12 April injured two persons; in Patikul town in Sulu province, clash 22 April killed three militants, including Egyptian foreign fighter. Smaller cohorts of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group 10 April surrendered to govt in Sulu province. Meanwhile, clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces continued in Luzon in north, Visayas in centre and Mindanao in south, although at lower level of violence compared to March. At least 20 combatants and civilians killed throughout month. Internationally, the dispute between Manila and Beijing over Chinese military incursion at disputed Whitsun Reef continued (see South China Sea).
South China Sea
Heated exchanges continued between Philippines and China over Chinese maritime presence at disputed reef in South China Sea (SCS). Following late March diplomatic protest over continued presence of some 200 Chinese vessels at disputed Whitsun Reef, Filipino FM Teodoro Locsin 2 April met Chinese FM Wang Yi in Nanping city in China; Wang said China is willing to work with Philippines to fully abide by 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties. Filipino Secretary of Defence Delfin Lorenzana next day demanded that Chinese ships at Whitsun Reef “get out”; in response, Chinese embassy in Manila reiterated assertion that Chinese fishermen have traditionally fished at reef; Filipino MFA 5 April denounced Chinese embassy’s attempt to promote “clearly false narrative of China’s expansive and illegitimate claims”. U.S. Sec State Blinken 8 April spoke with Filipino FM Locsin about Whitsun Reef and again affirmed Mutual Defence Treaty applied to SCS. U.S. and Philippine armed forces 12 April commenced annual two-week “Balikatan” joint military exercises. Philippines 12 April summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to convey Manila’s dismay over “illegal lingering presence” of Chinese ships at Whitsun Reef, after which “both sides affirmed the use of peaceful settlement of disputes”; 14, 21 April filed further diplomatic protests concerning disputed reef. President Duterte 19 April said in public address that he would send navy ships to SCS to “stake a claim” to resources. EU 24 April issued statement noting presence of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, opposed “unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability”. Filipino coast guard 26 April deployed numerous vessels for training in SCS; in response, Beijing 28 April protested; Lorenzana same day said China has “no authority” to prevent drills. Meanwhile, U.S. military activity in region continued: aircraft carrier strike group USS Theodore Roosevelt 6-7 April conducted exercises with Malaysian navy in SCS; U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt then 9 April carried out exercises with USS Makin Islandamphibious group; China’s MFA 9 April called on U.S. to stop “inciting quarrels and sowing discord”.
Pro-democracy activists held protests throughout month on smaller scale, while violence continued in deep south. Pro-democracy protest movement continued activities throughout month in capital Bangkok and other cities, calling for release of jailed 22 protest leaders, amendment of lèse-majesté law and reform of monarchy; resurgent COVID-19 cases throughout month ensured turnout at protests remained in lower, double-digit figures. Leaderless rallies earlier in month descended into violent clashes between protesters and police. Two prominent protest leaders in detention remained on hunger strike; at least 83 people have been summoned by police on lèse-majesté charges since law was revived in Nov. Core leader of National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship Jatuporn Prompan 4 April launched group called “People United” at rally in Bangkok, seeking ouster of PM Prayuth Chan-ocha. Violence in deep south continued. In Pattani province, clash between militants and police 6 April killed Muslim religious leader in Khok Pho district; six assailants 12 April seized two Muslim assistant village chiefs before setting fire to road-repair work site in Thung Yang Daeng district; two cell towers, CCTV camera, tires and security post 13-14 April were set alight in Yarang and Thepa districts. In Bacho district, Narathiwat province, marine outpost 13 April was targeted by pipe bomb. Militants 22 April threw IED at defence volunteer outpost in Yi-ngo district, Narathiwat; in ensuing gun battle, police killed one militant and arrested two others. In Sai Buri district, Pattani, motorcycle-borne gunmen opened fire on pickup truck, forcing it off the road and setting it alight, killing driver and two passengers.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Political tensions grew after memo promoting country’s partition circulated publicly. Leaked memo advocating partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina along ethnic lines 12 April surfaced in Slovenian press; memo allegedly originated from office of Slovenian PM Janez Janša and was reportedly sent to EU Council President Charles Michel in Feb; in response, Janša and Slovenian President Borut Pahor 12 April denied role in writing memo. EU delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina 15 April said EU “unequivocally committed to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity” of country. In response to leak, Bakir Izetbegović, leader of largest Bosniak political party, Party of Democratic Action, 20 April told media he was “not sure that there would be no war”. Leader of Republika Srpska entity Milorand Dodik same day announced initiative to formally discuss country’s future with Croat and Bosniak counterparts; proposal followed videos previous days from Dodik calling for “peaceful break-up” of country. International partners expressed opposition to leaked memo’s proposals. U.S. ambassador to country 28 April warned that “sanctions for destabilizing the[Dayton Peace Agreement]and for corruption are on the table” while German FM Heiko Mass 22 April said redrawing borders “is not only unrealistic, but it is dangerous to even initiate this discussion”.
Tensions persisted with Azerbaijan, PM Pashinyan resigned ahead of June elections, and U.S. President Biden recognised 1915 Armenian genocide. PM Pashinyan 7 April asked Russian President Putin for help in releasing dozens of prisoners of war captured by Azerbaijan during and after the military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) in late 2020. Govt next day said that it expected group of prisoners of war to be repatriated to its capital Yerevan from Azerbaijan’s capital Baku; transport plane however arrived empty, prompting authorities 9 April to accuse Azerbaijan of violating terms of Russian-brokered Nov 2020 agreement (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Azerbaijani President Aliyev 12 April opened new Military Trophy Park in Baku, displaying installations of Armenian trenches and soldiers in NK, prompting public outcry in Armenia. Meanwhile, PM Pashinyan 14 April told Parliament that govt was considering possible expansion of existing Russian military base in Gyumri town amid concern over attempts by Azerbaijan and Turkey to take over some parts of region; Armenian chief of general staff next day discussed expansion of Russian troops to Armenia’s south with Russian counterparts during visit to Moscow. Domestically, judge 6 April dropped criminal case against former President Robert Kocharyan and co-defendants over deadly crackdown on protesters in 2008; Constitutional Court found that basis on which they were prosecuted in Criminal Code was “invalid”. Pashinyan 25 April resigned as PM as part of preparations for elections anticipated for 20 June. U.S. President Joe Biden 24 April became first U.S. president to formally recognise 1915 Armenian genocide; Pashinyan said Biden “honoured the memory” of those who died.
Northern Ireland (UK)
Deadliest fighting in years erupted on Kyrgyz-Tajik border, killing dozens and displacing thousands. Local residents in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region and Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region 28 April clashed and pelted stones at each other, injuring many on both sides; incident reportedly related to ongoing dispute over water facility both sides claim. Kyrgyz police in Batken next day reported that gunfire from Tajik side of border targeted military unit in Kok-Tash village, while Tajikistan’s border guards same day claimed Kyrgyz military personnel opened fire on border units; sides 29 April agreed to ceasefire. Tajik authorities reported 15 dead, including six border guards and Kyrgyzstan reported 34 people dead, including three civilians; fighting reportedly injured scores more and displaced thousands. Earlier in month during visit to Vorukh city, Tajik enclave situated inside Kyrgyzstan’s southernmost Batken province, President Rahmon 9 April said talks on delimitation and demarcation of border with Kyrgyzstan have taken place since 2002 and govt had never considered swapping Vorukh for other land; visit and remarks followed reported proposal by senior Kyrgyz official to exchange Vorukh for other land in Batken region that sparked domestic criticism. Russia 1 April resumed regular flights with Tajikistan, paving way for return of Tajik migrants to Russia. Tajik and Russian militaries 19-23 April held joint exercises involving some 50,000 troops.
Latin America & Caribbean
Security situation continued to deteriorate along Pacific coast and Venezuelan border, and govt took further steps toward restarting contentious coca crop fumigation. In Cauca department (south west along Pacific coast), clashes involving guerrilla groups National Liberation Army and self-described Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents, and military, continued in Argelia municipality, reportedly killing 14 guerillas and one military officer 17 April; Ombudsman’s Office next day reported 250 civilians displaced and several injured by anti-personnel mines. Also in Cauca, unidentified gunmen 20 April shot dead indigenous leader Sandra Liliana Peña in Caldono town, and 22 April opened fire on members of indigenous community who were destroying coca crops in Caldono municipality, leaving 31 injured. NGO Indepaz 20 April reported 52 social leaders and human rights activists killed across country since 1 Jan; later said seven demobilised FARC combatants were killed in several regions 14-21 April. Clashes between FARC dissidents and Venezuelan army continued in Venezuela’s Apure state near Colombian border (see Venezuela), fuelling tensions between both countries. Notably, Colombia 13 April decried Venezuelan President Maduro’s leadership as “illegitimate”. As part of efforts to meet conditions set by 2017 Constitutional Court ruling to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops, govt 12 April issued decree outlining regulations to govern spraying with glyphosate pesticide. Earlier in month, govt 6 April signed decree relocating citizens’ constitutional injunctions on national security issues – including those related to eradication and fumigation – from regional court system into administrative body Council of State; move comes after several petitions in regional courts held back fumigation. President Duque 20 April said govt expects to restart spraying as soon as June in coca-dense Norte de Santander department (north east). Civil society activists 20 April sent petition backed by 20,000 signatures to Constitutional Court, requesting it prevent govt from resuming fumigation, citing inefficiency in reducing cultivation and health and environment risks. Thousands 28-30 April protested govt’s tax reform proposal in several cities, notably in Cali city in Valle del Cauca department; protests turned violent reportedly leaving several killed and hundreds of civilians and police injured.
Deadly clashes between military and Colombian guerrilla groups in border region fuelled tensions between Caracas and Bogotá. Amid ongoing fighting between Venezuelan military and alleged dissidents of Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Apure border state, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino 5 April reported nine combatants and eight soldiers killed since violence started 21 March; 28 April reported another eight soldiers killed in renewed combat over past few days. FM Jorge Arreaza 6 April said govt was requesting UN assistance in deactivating anti-personnel mines allegedly planted by guerrilla groups on Venezuelan territory; also asked UN to investigate violence. President Maduro and other govt officials repeatedly accused Colombia’s President Duque of supporting armed groups operating along border and seeking “military escalation” between two countries. Duque 13 April decried Maduro’s leadership as “illegitimate”. NGO Human Rights Watch 26 April accused Venezuelan security forces of “egregious abuses against local residents” during operations in Apure state, including extrajudicial killings of at least four civilians – three men and a woman –, torture, arbitrary arrests and prosecution of civilians in military courts. World Food Programme (WFP) and govt 19 April reached deal over WFP’s access to Venezuela, paving way for supply of 185,000 meals for school children by end of year and up to 1.5mn in 2023. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 6 April launched broader political front, comprising his existing four-party coalition and six smaller parties; Guaidó said move would improve coordination within mainstream opposition, but some members complained about lack of consultation ahead of launch. Negotiations continued between Maduro’s govt and moderate opposition leaders notably on appointment of more inclusive National Electoral Council (CNE); Guaidó-led coalition however continued to oppose talks, rejecting any CNE not appointed by “legitimate” (2015-2021) National Assembly. Maduro 18 April said govt had paid required amount to World Health Organization to access COVID-19 vaccines under COVAX mechanism. Meanwhile, in parallel move, Guaidó-led National Assembly 22 April approved use of additional $100mn in govt funds – frozen in U.S. accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro’s govt – to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.
Amid spiralling COVID-19 infection rates, series of Supreme Court rulings posed challenge to President Bolsonaro’s rule, notably his handling of pandemic. Supreme Court 14 April ordered Senate probe into govt’s “actions and omissions” in management of COVID-19 pandemic, including whether “genocide” was committed against indigenous communities in Amazon rainforest, who have been ravaged by P1 variant; 18-member commission, which opened probe 27 April, could recommend impeachment of Bolsonaro or even criminal proceedings against him. Supreme Court 8 April also ruled that mayors and governors may ban holding of in-person religious services as means to contain COVID-19; subsequently, Bolsonaro 23 April said army could intervene to “re-establish Article 5 of the Constitution” – which guarantees freedom of movement and religion – if lockdown measures he opposes led to chaos. Newly-appointed Justice Minister Anderson Torres 6 April replaced heads of federal police and federal highway patrol with Bolsonaro-backed candidates; move could help Bolsonaro secure more direct influence over law enforcement. In appeal ruling, Supreme Court 15 April upheld its March ruling annulling corruption convictions against former President Lula, permanently clearing way for Lula to stand for re-election in 2022.
Govt continued to face legitimacy crisis ahead of Nov general elections amid drug trafficking and corruption allegations against senior officials. After U.S. court late March sentenced President Hernández’s brother to life imprisonment on drug trafficking charges, 37 civil society groups 5 April urged Hernández to step down; also called on heads of Congress, Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office and armed forces to resign for supporting “corrupt and criminal family” in power. Authorities 8 April arrested two former govt officials on corruption charges related to $47mn purchase of seven mobile hospitals amid COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Luis Zelaya, losing candidate for Liberal Party in 14 March primary elections, 13 April filed complaint to Public Prosecutor’s Office, claiming widespread electoral fraud, demanding election results be annulled and National Electoral Council members dismissed. Govt 7 April signed agreement with Honduran Private Enterprise Council allowing organisation to negotiate purchase and import of COVID-19 vaccines with pharmaceutical companies; doctors’ associations and other civil society groups decried move as admission of govt’s incapacity to provide vaccines. Unidentified gunmen 6 April killed female lawyer in Comayaguela city. Six members of U.S. House of Representatives 21 April introduced bill to request sanctions against Hernández and suspension of military cooperation with Honduras, citing corruption and human rights violations.
Amid ongoing political tensions, President Bukele took confrontational stance against U.S. officials who voiced concern over his rule of law record. In heated argument on Twitter, Bukele 1 April urged U.S. voters not to vote for U.S. Congresswoman Norma Torres after she called him a “narcissistic dictator”; U.S. Congressman Albio Sires 14 April decried Bukele’s call as “foreign election interference” that could amount to “national security threat”. After U.S. State Dept 5 April called on Bukele to “restore separation of powers”, Bukele 7-8 April refused to meet with U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Triangle Ricardo Zúñiga during his country visit. Zúñiga 7 April pledged $2mn to support International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES), while group of 16 civil society organisations same day reiterated call on Legislative Assembly to expand CICIES’ mandate, including possibility to be plaintiff, before newly-elected Assembly takes office 1 May. Bukele immediately dismissed proposal as “worst thing we could do”, also said “nothing that outgoing Assembly approves will ever come into force”. Following Feb legislative elections, which saw Bukele’s party gain control of legislature, Supreme Electoral Tribunal 11 April said it had dismissed 40 electoral complaints; 15 April said institution’s electronic system had suffered some 15,000 attacks during vote counting. Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber 15 April admitted case against June 2019 appointment of Mauricio Arriaza Chicas as police chief, on grounds that Chicas’ military rank of lieutenant could violate constitutional provision mandating civilian police head; Chicas is one of Bukele’s staunchest allies.
Govt continued to restrict political space in lead-up to Nov general elections. Ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 7 Nov, govt-controlled National Assembly 12 April opened process to select new magistrates for Supreme Electoral Council (CSE); ruling party National Sandinista Liberation Front same day introduced electoral reform project prohibiting anyone who has been involved in “coup attempts” – a wording used by govt to describe 2018 anti-govt protest movement – from participating and tasking police with granting permission for electoral rallies. Over 50 organisations, including civil society, private sector and political parties, 22 April decried project as “repressive”, arguing it goes against electoral reforms suggested by Organization of American States in Oct 2020 resolution to improve prospects for free and fair elections. Meanwhile, national and international actors maintained pressure on President Ortega’s govt to cease human rights violations and release political prisoners. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Commissioner Antonia Urrejola 14 April denounced “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of political prisoners. On occasion of its third anniversary, opposition movement Blue and White National Unity (UNAB) 16 April staged rare protest in capital Managua to demand release of political prisoners; police reportedly assaulted journalists covering protest. Civil society organisation Civic Blue and White Observatory 23 April reported 382 violations of human rights against govt opponents 15-20 April.
PM Joseph Jouthe resigned amid mounting public anger over govt’s failure to address rising gang violence and kidnappings. Armed gang 1 April attacked Bel Air neighbourhood of capital Port-au-Prince, reportedly killing six people and injuring four others, with a further five kidnapped; several residents described raid as attempt to take over neighbourhood. Unidentified gunmen same day kidnapped pastor and three others in Port-au-Prince; all released 4 April after ransom payment. Hundreds of women 3 April protested in Port-au-Prince against insecurity, citing high toll on women. Suspected gang members 11 April abducted seven clergy members, including two French nationals, and three other people in Croix-des-Bouquets commune near Port-au-Prince, and demanded $1mn ransom; all ten released by late April. Archbishop of Port-au-Prince Max Leroy Mésidor 12 April described rising gang violence as “descent into hell”. Unidentified gunmen 13 April reportedly sexually assaulted three people including two minors and killed security guard at orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets. Organization of American States same day expressed concern about “resurgence of kidnappings and killings”, including of clergy members. PM Joseph Jouthe 14 April resigned; President Moïse same day appointed FM Claude Joseph as PM, sixth to assume position under Moïse’s presidency. Catholic Church 15 April declared national strike to protest violence and targeting of clergy members; heads of seven business associations endorsed closures, saying rising violence had brought them to “a saturation point”. Harvard Law School 22 April released report alleging “high-level govt involvement in the planning, execution and cover-up” of three gang attacks that killed at least 240 civilians between 2018 and 2020, echoing rights activists’ allegations of collusion between gangs and govt officials. Joseph immediately denied accusation, claiming “anti-democratic forces” are “fomenting the gangs” to destabilise Moïse’s govt ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for Sept.
Criminal groups continued to target politicians and civil society activists ahead of June general elections, and tensions ran high between ruling party and electoral authorities. Suspected members of criminal group 3 April killed Carlos Marqués Oyorzábal, environmental activist and municipal commissioner in San Miguel Totolapan municipality, Guerrero state (south). Unidentified gunmen 24 April killed Francisco Rocha, candidate for Tamaulipas state (north) Congress, in state capital Ciudad Victoria. Etellekt, a consultancy firm tracking political killings, 10 April reported 68 politicians, including 22 candidates, killed since campaign for legislative, gubernatorial and municipal elections started in Sept 2020. Meanwhile, clashes between Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and alliance of local criminal groups mid-March-early April reportedly left at least eight killed and displaced more than 1,000 in Aguililla municipality, Michoacán state (centre). U.S. 6 April sanctioned two CJNG members over accusations of involvement in attack on Mexico City’s police chief in June 2020 and murder of Jalisco state’s former governor in Dec 2020. National Electoral Institute (INE) 27 April confirmed its March decision to cancel 50 ruling MORENA party candidacies, including for governor of Guerrero and Michoacán states, over candidates’ failures to account for campaign spending. President López Obrador next day said decision was politically motivated and “blow against democracy”. Earlier in month, MORENA candidate for governor of Guerrero, Félix Salgado Macedonio, 11 April threatened to impede elections if barred from running, and next day emitted veiled threats against INE commissioners, asking his supporters if they would “not want to know where [the commissioners] lived”; women’s groups and allies have widely protested Salgado’s candidacy, who stands accused of rape. Govt-controlled Senate 15 April voted to prolong Supreme Court President Arturo Zaldívar’s tenure by two years until 2024, in possible violation of constitutional four-year limit to Supreme Court presidents’ tenure; opposition immediately accused MORENA and López Obrador of aiming to “control” institution ahead of 2024 presidential election. Amid rise in number of migrants on Mexico-U.S. border in recent months, U.S. govt 12 April said it had reached deal for Mexico to send more troops to border with Guatemala.
Middle East & North Africa
Amid tensions in Jerusalem, Jewish extremist attacks injured over hundred Palestinians; President Abbas indefinitely postponed elections, raising prospects of major protests in coming weeks. In Jerusalem, Israeli police 13 April clashed with Palestinians near Damascus Gate who were demonstrating against restrictions on gatherings to mark start of Ramadan previous day. Police 15-16 April arrested boy suspected of posting videos on TikTok showing Orthodox Jews being slapped in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem; in response to videos, far-right Jewish supremacists chanting “death to Arabs” 22 April attacked Palestinians and skirmished with police in East Jerusalem, injuring over hundred Palestinians and 20 police officers. Protesters overnight 24-25 April clashed with police; authorities 26 April removed barricades around Damascus Gate, relieving tensions. In Jaffa, old district of Tel Aviv city, police 18 April arrested at least two Palestinian citizens of Israel for allegedly attacking yeshiva (religious school) head; incident next day triggered clashes between Israeli and Palestinian protesters that injured two police officers. In West Bank, Israeli soldiers 5 April fatally shot Palestinian man and wounded his wife in village near Ramallah town, claiming car sped toward checkpoint; soldiers 9 April shot Palestinian child in eye with rubber bullet in Hebron. Palestinian Authority’s President Abbas 30 April cancelled Legislative Council elections scheduled for 22 May. Palestinian electoral commission 3 April had approved 36 candidate lists, including “Freedom List” headed by Yasser Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa and Fadwa Barghouthi, spouse of imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, in direct challenge to official Fatah list. Hamas 30 April condemned cancellation as “coup”, while decision raised prospect of protests given high voter registration. In Gaza, Israeli jets 16 April struck Hamas targets in response to rocket fire into southern Israel; militants 23 April fired more rockets into Israel. Meanwhile, PM Netanyahu’s trial 5 April resumed; President Rivlin next day asked Netanyahu to form governing coalition by 4 May following inconclusive results of 23 March election. Internationally, Israel blamed Iran for 13 April missile strike on Israeli commercial vessel in Gulf of Oman (see Iran). Errant missile from Syria 22 April exploded in near Dimona nuclear plant in southern Israel, triggering retaliatory Israeli airstrikes (see Syria).
Govt accused former crown prince of plot to destabilise country. Authorities 3 April placed former crown prince and half-brother of King Abdullah II, Prince Hamza bin al-Hussein, under de facto house arrest for allegedly conspiring with foreign parties in “malicious plot” to destabilise country as police arrested over dozen other high-profile figures. Following arrest, Hamza 3 April recorded video in which he accused govt of “incompetence and corruption”. FM Ayman Safadi next day said plot had been foiled at “zero hour” and those detained will be referred to state security court. In sign of tensions subsiding, Hamzah 5 April pledged allegiance to King Abdullah; authorities next day banned publication of information regarding alleged plot. Abdullah 7 April said “sedition has been nipped in the bud”. PM Bisher al-Khasawneh 12 April denied that there had been “coup” and said Hamzah will not face charges. Authorities 22 April released 16 people detained on sedition charges.
Govt warned of further funding cuts as fighting over dwindling subsidised goods in northern city Tripoli turned deadly; France considered new approach to break deadlock over govt formation. Economic situation remained critical. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni 2 April said funding for basic imports would run out by end of May, indicating rationing and overhaul of blanket subsidy scheme costing $500 mn per month. In northern city Tripoli, fighting over dwindling subsidised goods, which has become commonplace, 14 April killed one and injured two in further sign of deteriorating economic situation and rising social tensions. Hizbollah 16 April moved to create own subsidy system, issuing ration cards for food and importing medicine and fuel of primarily Iranian and Syrian origin. Political stalemate over govt formation continued. Over 100 high-profile economists and political scientists 3 April co-signed op-ed urging French President Macron to freeze assets of Lebanese politicians held in France. In sign of possible new Paris approach to break stalemate, which may include punitive measures, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 6 April signalled travel bans and asset freezes on Lebanese politicians under consideration to foster agreement on govt formation. PM-designate Saad Hariri 14 April visited Russian capital Moscow to request support in overcoming economic crisis and political deadlock; Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 16 April affirmed support for Hariri’s efforts to form cabinet. Meanwhile, amid dispute with Israel over maritime border demarcation, Public Works Minister Michel Najjar 12 April signed decree to formally extend Lebanon’s maritime claims to include roughly half of Karish gas field claimed by Israel; President Aoun next day declined to grant presidential approval, citing need for cabinet sign-off and warning that decree would lead to collapse of negotiations with Israel.
Clashes resumed between Kurdish and govt-affiliated forces in north east amid hostilities between Kurdish and Turkish-backed forces; Idlib ceasefire largely held and violence continued in south west. In north east, regime-backed militia National Defence Forces 20 April reportedly killed one Kurdish security forces officer in Qamishli city, triggering days-long fighting that killed at least three civilians and several fighters; Russia 25-26 April brokered ceasefire after initial attempt collapsed 22 April. Elsewhere in region, Turkish-backed armed groups and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued fighting in Ain Issa countryside throughout month. Following late March security operation, SDF 2 April said they had arrested 125 suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated individuals in al-Hol camp, which holds over 60,000 displaced persons as well as families of suspected ISIS fighters. In Idlib province in north west, March 2020 ceasefire continued to hold despite reported clashes, artillery shelling and Russian airstrikes in countryside throughout month; notably, suspected govt missile attack 8 April reportedly killed seven civilians in al-Najiya area. Jihadist rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham 5-16 April reportedly killed two and arrested at least 16 suspected members of al-Qaeda-linked group Hurras al-Din. In Daraa province in south west, following clashes in March between govt forces and former opposition fighters, unidentified gunmen 7-29 April reportedly killed at least 14 soldiers and ten former rebels who had enrolled in govt forces. In central desert, Russia continued airstrikes against suspected ISIS targets throughout month, reportedly killing some 29 ISIS militants 3-5 April and some 200 militants 16-19 April. Suspected ISIS militants 6 April reportedly killed one civilian and kidnapped at least 19 civilians and govt troops in al-Saan area in Hama province. Israel 8 April reportedly fired missiles and 22 April launched airstrikes on govt targets on outskirts of capital Damascus; errant Syrian anti-aircraft missile 22 April exploded near Dimona nuclear facility in Israel, prompting latter same day to strike Syrian missile batteries. President Assad 21 April said he would run for fourth consecutive term in elections scheduled for 26 May.
U.S. and Iran participated in expert-level negotiations as sabotage attack targeted nuclear facility, prompting Tehran to ramp up enrichment activities. New diplomatic process commenced as Iran and P4+1 (UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) 2 April held virtual session of nuclear deal’s Joint Commission, which concluded with commitment to continue discussions in person in Austria’s capital Vienna in P4+1/EU format; U.S. same day confirmed it would send diplomats there. Talks 15 April held in Vienna and third round of negotiations 27 April began with parallel working groups discussing nuclear steps, sanctions relief and sequencing. President Rouhani 20 April suggested that “talks have progressed about 60, 70 per cent”. Complicating diplomatic efforts, Iran’s atomic energy organisation 11 April reported “incident” at Natanz nuclear facility that knocked “a number” of centrifuges offline, subsequently describing it as “sabotage”; Iranian FM Javad Zarif next day called attack “nuclear terrorism” and suggested Israel as likely suspect. In response, Tehran 13 April announced expansion of enrichment rates at Natanz from 20% (on par with pre-deal levels) to 60% using IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges. UK, France and Germany next day expressed “grave concern” over decision while U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken called it “provocative”. Meanwhile, IAEA 21 April verified installation of six cascades of IR-2m and two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges; IAEA 19 April confirmed parallel talks with Iran on clarifying safeguards concerns. Regional tensions continued with U.S. and Israel. Foreign ministry 7 April acknowledged reports that Iranian ship Saviz had been hit by explosion in Red Sea; U.S. official, according to New York Times, confirmed Israel carried out operation. Israeli-owned vessel 13 April reportedly struck by missile in Gulf of Oman. U.S. navy reported 2 and 26 April Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s “unsafe and unprofessional” manoeuvres near U.S. vessels, raising “risk of miscalculation and/or collision”; incidents are first reported cases of U.S.-Iran naval tension since April 2020. EU 12 April sanctioned eight individuals and three entities for “violent response” to Nov 2019 demonstrations. Iranian and Saudi officials 9 April commenced talks in Iraqi capital Baghdad (see Saudi Arabia).
Suspected Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary groups continued rocket attacks in capital Baghdad and north as U.S. and govt struck initial deal on withdrawal of coalition troops. Tensions continued between PMF-affiliated groups and U.S. forces. Leader of PMF-affiliated group Asaib Ahl al-Haq 1 April threatened attacks on U.S. assets. Unidentified militants 4 April launched two rockets at Balad air base, north of Baghdad, with no reported casualties, and at least five rockets 18 April hit Balad city in Saladin governorate, wounding two Iraqi soldiers. Explosive-laden drone 14 April targeted coalition forces at Erbil International Airport; pro-Iran group Saraya Awliya al-Dam praised attack; rockets 22 April hit Erbil airport, leaving no reported casualties. In response, Kurdish peshmerga 15 April fired rocket at PMF Brigade 30 outpost in Hamdaniya, Ninewa. Tensions between PMF-linked groups and Turkey over presence of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sinjar district continued. After Turkish Ministry of Defence 3 April declared readiness to take all necessary measures to “neutralise” PKK presence in area, unidentified armed group 14 April fired rockets at Zilkan military base in Ninewa governorate hosting Turkish military personnel, killing one Turkish soldier; two rockets same day fell short in Gudad village, injuring two civilians; Iraqi security forces recovered launcher in area where PMF Brigade 30 operates; fighting late month killed four more Turkish soldiers. Car bomb 15 April detonated in Sadr City neighbourhood, Baghdad, killing four and wounding 17 with no group immediately claiming responsibility. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraq 7 April agreed upon withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition combat troops deployed to fight Islamic State (ISIS) forces, stating forces are now “focused on training and advisory tasks”, with further talks expected on exact withdrawal timeline. In south, protesters 3 April shut down three oil facilities in Dhi Qar governorate over lack of support for job security in oil sector in annual federal budget approved 31 March. Protesters 25 April took to streets in several governorates, including Dhi Qar, Wasit, Babil, Karbala and Basra in solidarity with victims of 24 April fire in Baghdad hospital that killed at least 82 people.
While Huthis continued cross-border attacks, Saudi and Iranian officials began dialogue to de-escalate inter-state tensions, raising prospect of deepening talks in coming weeks. In positive step forward, senior Saudi and Iranian officials 9 April held direct diplomatic talks in Iraqi capital Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi; talks, which showed signs of progress, focused on Huthi cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, frequency of which has increased in recent months. Meanwhile, Huthis 12 April said they launched drones and ballistic missiles at Aramco facilities in Jubail and Jeddah cities; 15 April launched ballistic missiles and armed drones at Aramco oil facility and Patriot missile batteries in Jizan port city, with debris falling from intercepted drones causing fire on Jizan University campus. Saudi coalition 16 April announced that it intercepted ballistic missile launched by Huthis toward Jizan city. Huthis 17 April also claimed responsibility for explosive drone strike on King Khalid air base, Khamis Mushait city. Saudi-led coalition 18 April announced that it intercepted bomb-laden drone before it crossed into Saudi territory; Huthis same day said they successfully launched drone attack inside King Khalid air base. Saudi-led coalition 20 April destroyed explosive drone fired toward Khamis Mushait. Huthis 23 April claimed attack on King Khalid air base. Saudi defence ministry 27 April said it destroyed remotely controlled explosive-laden boat off Red Sea port city Yanbu, home to Aramco oil refinery.
Hostilities in Taiz and Marib governorates continued between Huthis and govt-backed forces while tensions between separatists and govt persisted in south. Fighting continued throughout month between Huthis and govt-aligned forces in Taiz governorate as latter sought to open road access to Aden city and Red Sea coast in attempt to break Huthi siege of Taiz city and relieve pressure on Marib governorate. Fears rose that Huthis may be planning more attacks in Marib governorate in May aimed at securing tactical positions ahead of new offensive in summer months when dust storms will likely limit Saudi-led coalition’s ability to provide defensive air support. Huthis late April intensified offensive and advanced deeper into Marib, seizing control of territory to west of Marib city; fighting reportedly killed dozens of Huthi and govt fighters, including senior military official Major General Abdullah al-Hadhiri on 24 April. On diplomatic front, as UN Security Council Resolution 2216 marked its sixth anniversary on 14 April, efforts to broker ceasefire remained stalemated as Huthis continued to reject Riyadh’s unveiling in March of “an initiative to end the Yemeni crisis”, largely reiteration of Riyadh’s position in year-long UN-led negotiations. In south, tensions continued between govt and pro-independence Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Aden amid electricity shortages and protests as STC accused govt of purposely withholding services in city; discord also centred on series of military, judicial and local appointments made by President Hadi, with STC claiming they were not consulted despite formation of unity govt in Dec 2020; popular anger could rise further in summer months if increased demand for electricity is not met. Meanwhile, Huthis continued cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia).
Authorities continued to respond to resurgence of Hirak protest movement with combination of repression and co-optation. Thousands took to streets throughout month in capital Algiers and other cities to reject early legislative elections scheduled for June and demand release of imprisoned Hirak activists. Police 3 April arrested over 20 demonstrators during Hirak protest in Algiers; several rights organisations including Amnesty International next day alleged 15-year-old subjected to sexual violence while in custody and called for investigation. Meanwhile, President Tebboune 6 April accused “separatist circles and illegal movements close to terrorism” of committing “subversive activities” to manipulate Hirak movement. Tebboune 8 April held new round of consultations with civil society representatives, 12 April created new consultative body National Observatory of Civil Society in alleged attempt to “promote civil society”. Authorities 18 April detained journalist Rabah Kareche in southern city of Tamanrasset, next day charged him with spreading “false news harmful to the public order” and “undermining national security and unity”; move comes after Kareche published articles on land-use protests by members of Tuareg community. Court in Oran city 21 April sentenced Noureddine Tounsi to one year in prison for allegedly “insulting the president of the Republic”, after he reported on alleged corruption in state-owned company. Authorities 28 April detained opposition activist Karim Tabbou on charges of “slander”, released him on probation next day. NGO National Committee for Liberation of Detainees 20 April recorded 66 “prisoners of conscience” across country and called for their release. Series of strikes from public health care, postal and education employees held throughout month amid deteriorating economic and social situation. Notably, demonstrations 6 April erupted in Bouira town after publication of social housing beneficiaries’ list; protesters 8-9 April set up roadblocks and police fired tear gas, with several injured on both sides.
Jihadist insurgency persisted in Sinai Peninsula, while govt took further steps toward rapprochement with Turkey. In Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province reportedly redeployed from north to central Sinai under army’s pressure, with build-up reported in Bir al-Abd region and Jabal Maghara area. Suspected Sinai Province militants 2 April killed unspecified number of pro-army militiamen in Manjam village. ISIS 5 April published pictures of execution of tribal militiaman previously kidnapped in al-Barth area, south of Rafah city; 17 April released video showing killing of Coptic Christian and two other men in Sinai Peninsula. Court in capital Cairo 8 April sentenced Mahmoud Ezzat, former acting leader of outlawed Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood, to life imprisonment on terrorism charges. In likely attempt to respond to U.S. pressure, authorities 13 April released former opposition party leader Khaled Daoud, next day set free journalists Hosam al-Sayed and Solafa Magdy; all three had been imprisoned since 2019. After train wreck 18 April killed at least 11 people north of capital Cairo, Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir 20 April sacked head of Railways Authority; al-Wazir 26 April appeared before Parliament amid mounting popular anger over recurrent train accidents. After Egyptian and Turkish officials late March took initial steps to normalise relations, bilateral contacts culminated in 15 April announcement of Turkish delegation’s visit to Cairo in early May; Cairo’s request that Ankara extradite Muslim Brotherhood officials who have taken shelter in Turkey after 2013 military coup remains stumbling block. Meanwhile, tensions mounted further with Ethiopia amid persistent deadlock in negotiations over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters).
Discussions on roadmap for elections planned late this year and budget stalled amid disagreement between different constituencies. Legal Committee of UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum 7-9 April failed to reach consensus on legal roadmap for general elections scheduled for Dec; disagreements persisted over whether Libya should hold referendum on draft constitution first, or opt directly for parliamentary election or both parliamentary and presidential elections. Budget discussions turned into tug of war between institutions. Eastern-based House of Representatives 19 April rejected PM Dabaiba’s govt budget, reportedly making its approval conditional on Central Bank’s governor’s replacement, which eastern constituencies have long requested; National Oil Corporation same day said it was forced to declare force majeure – lifted 26 April – at key export terminal due to Central Bank’s reported refusal to release budget funds, accused latter of politicising oil sector. Dabaiba 25 April cancelled next day’s cabinet meeting in Benghazi city (east) after security officers aligned with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) barred Dabaiba’s security escort from entering city over presence of Tripoli-based militias in its ranks; ALAF 27 April clarified it had no issue with Dabaiba visiting if coordinated with local security forces. New mass graves in and around Tarhuna city (west), former stronghold of ALAF-aligned militia, continued to be uncovered throughout month; Dabaiba early April pledged to deliver justice. NGO Amnesty International 26 April said east-based military courts had convicted hundreds of civilians perceived to be ALAF critics or opponents – including 22 sentenced to death – in “sham, torture-tainted trials” between 2018 and 2021. UN Security Council 16 April unanimously approved deployment, “when conditions allow”, of UN team to Sirte city to monitor Oct 2020 ceasefire. Presidency Council Chairperson Mohamed al-Menfi 21 April ordered armed forces to secure southern border with Chad immediately after Haftar-aligned Chadian rebel group Front for Change and Concord based in southern Libya 11 April crossed border into Chad in bid to depose Chadian President Déby (see Chad).
Power struggle pitting presidency against parliament and govt continued. President Saïed early April refused to ratify Parliament’s late March amendments to Constitutional Court’s law, saying constitutional deadline to create court had expired; bill aimed to reduce majority required to elect Constitutional Court members from 145 to 131 MPs in bid to reactivate process of setting up court, which has been delayed since 2015. In latest escalation of dispute with PM and acting Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi over division of powers, Saïed 18 April reiterated that his presidential powers as armed forces commander cover internal security forces, drawing criticism from PM Mechichi and largest party in Parliament, Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda; latter 20 April denounced Saïed’s “violation of constitution” and his “attempts to involve security forces in political conflicts” as threat to democracy. Despite Saïed’s statement, Mechichi subsequently appointed Lazhar Loungou as new interior ministry’s director for special services. Opposition MP Rached Khiari 19 April accused Saïed of treason for allegedly receiving from U.S. $5mn to fund election campaign in 2019; military court next day reportedly opened investigation into case, and 22 April summoned Khiari to appear before court on accusations of “undermining national security”. Security forces 1 April killed three suspected jihadists, including Hamdi Dhouib, senior figure of Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated group Jund al-Khilafa, in two operations in centre west near Algerian border. Mechichi 30 April said Tunisia would seek $4bn loan from International Monetary Fund early May in “last opportunity” to save economy.
Morocco reportedly used drone for first time on disputed territory, killing one Polisario Front independence movement leader. Moroccan forces 6 April reportedly killed Polisario gendarmerie chief Addah al-Bendir in suspected drone strike near Tifariti town inside UN buffer zone; strike, which could be first-ever use of drone by Moroccan army in Western Sahara, reportedly followed Polisario attempt to raid Moroccan positions along Morocco’s sand wall. French newspaper Le Figaro 15 April reported Polisario had turned down UN Sec-Gen Guterres’ proposal of former Portuguese FM Luis Amado as new UN envoy to Western Sahara; Amado is ninth candidate to be rejected by either Morocco or Polisario since former envoy Horst Köhler resigned in 2019. Local media late April reported Guterres had proposed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as next envoy. UN Security Council 21 April failed to adopt U.S.-drafted proposal on Western Sahara which warned of possible “escalation” in disputed territory and stressed need to speed up envoy appointment process. Senegal 5 April inaugurated consulate in Dakhla city in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara, thereby joining other African countries in supporting Morocco’s sovereignty claims over disputed territory.