Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month January 2021
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month December 2020
Looking ahead to January, CrisisWatch warns of three conflict risks.
In the Central African Republic, deadly fighting involving armed groups allied with former President François Bozizé broke out ahead of the 27 December general elections. Disputed vote tallies could spark another dangerous cycle of violence.
In Uganda, political tensions ran high ahead of the 14 January general elections, and the violent crackdown on the opposition could escalate.
Electoral disputes in Somalia delayed the legislative polls and threaten to derail February’s high-stakes presidential election. As we have warned, a disrupted contest could fuel political discord, which Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State might then exploit.
Looking back to December, the latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker, highlights deteriorations in ten countries and conflict areas, mostly in Africa, as well as improved situations in Myanmar and Côte d’Ivoire.
In Iraq, mass protests spread into the Kurdish region amid clashes between Kurdish armed factions. Notably, the Kurdish Peshmerga and members of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units exchanged fire for the first time.
Violence erupted in the disputed border area between Ethiopia and Sudan, with Khartoum reclaiming large swathes of territory.
In a major show of force, and after weeks of political tensions, DR Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi announced the end of the ruling coalition he had formed with his predecessor Joseph Kabila.
In Niger, jihadists launched one of their deadliest attacks on civilians in years, killing dozens ahead of the 27 December general elections.
Arms control negotiations remained deadlocked while U.S. accused Russia of major cyberattack on its govt agencies. President Putin 17 Dec emphasised commitment to “continue dialogue with the U.S.” on nuclear arms control treaty New START, which is set to elapse 5 Feb 2021, and blamed Washington for starting new arms race; U.S. same day reiterated demand to extend treaty and blamed Russian MFA for “rejecting” all meetings. U.S. officials 13 Dec reported major data breach of several U.S. govt agencies and departments, including commerce, state and treasury, as well as U.S. non-govt organisations and firms; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 18 Dec directly blamed Russia for attack. U.S. State Department next day announced decision to permanently close two remaining consulates in Russia, leaving Moscow embassy as sole diplomatic representation; U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan 23 Dec blamed Moscow for closures, citing Russia’s decision to impose visa restrictions on U.S. diplomatic personnel.
Jihadist violence persisted mainly in northern regions, and President Kaboré was sworn in for second term. In Sahel region in north, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 7 Dec kidnapped resident in Beldiabe town, Oudalan province. Suspected jihadists 15 Dec also ambushed army patrol in Mansila commune, Yagha province, killing soldier; subsequent clashes reportedly left 13 attackers dead. In Centre North region, security forces 15 Dec killed two suspected jihadists in Silmangue village, Namentenga province. Clashes between volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) and suspected jihadists 19 Dec reportedly left several jihadists dead and one VDP injured near Dablo town, Sanmatenga province. Situation remained fragile in East region: suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) combatants 1 Dec kidnapped municipal councillor in Boula village, Gagna province. Policeman 9 Dec also shot dead farmer at checkpoint near Tanghin-Dassouri city in Centre region’s Kadiogo province; in response, protesters same day took to streets in Tanghin-Dassouri, briefly occupying unmanned police station and blocking road. Meanwhile, independent body National Human Rights Commission 7 Dec reported 647 incidents around 22 Nov general elections, which impeded human rights including freedom of movement, free speech and access to education. Constitutional Council 18 Dec confirmed re-election of President Kaboré, who was sworn in 28 Dec; Kaboré 30 Dec dissolved govt.
Violence continued unabated in centre, infighting between rival jihadist groups persisted in north, and tensions surrounded formation of interim legislative body. Jihadist and intercommunal violence continued in centre. Jihadist group Katiba Macina 9 Dec attacked Dogon militia Dana Ambassagou in Songho area, Mopti region, killing five militiamen. Explosive device 28 Dec killed three French soldiers in Hombori area, also Mopti region; al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) later claimed responsibility. In neighbouring Ségou region, High Islamic Council early Dec led mediation between jihadists and ethnic Bambara hunters around Farabougou village, which has been under jihadist siege since Oct; jihadists insisted on Bambara hunters’ disarmament and compliance with Sharia law; EU Commission 2 Dec reported conflict around Farabougou had displaced around 17,000 people. In northern Timbuktu region, infighting between JNIM and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) 12 Dec left at least 15 ISGS and five JNIM combatants dead near N’Daki village. Also in north, airstrikes by French Operation Barkhane 1 Dec killed unspecified number of JNIM combatants on Ansongo-Ménaka axis, and 10 Dec reportedly killed six JNIM militants in Diay area, Timbuktu region. Interim govt 3 Dec published list of 121 members of newly formed legislative body National Transitional Council (CNT). Coalition of opposition and civil society groups (M5-RFP) next day announced boycott of CNT over lack of power sharing, said interim govt violated constitution and transition charter by unilaterally appointing members instead of letting political parties and social groupings select their representatives; some actors however supported and joined CNT, including members of M5-RFP and former PM Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga. CNT 5 Dec elected Colonel Malick Diaw, VP of military junta’s governing body, as CNT president. Public prosecutor’s office 31 Dec reportedly charged six public figures, including former PM Boubou Cissé, with “coup attempt” over reported allegations that they plotted to “destabilise” transitional institutions. Main opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé 25 Dec died of COVID-19 in France; Cissé was released in Oct after being held hostage for six months by jihadist militants.
Ahead of 27 Dec general elections, jihadists launched one of deadliest attacks on civilians in years, leaving dozens killed. In Diffa region (south east), Boko Haram (BH) faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) 12 Dec launched one of deadliest attacks on local population in years in Toumour village, killing at least 27 civilians and wounding dozens more. Earlier in month in Diffa, BH splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) combatants 11 Dec stormed domicile of canton chief in Chetimari village, leaving civilian dead; suspected jihadists same day raided Kindjandi town, leaving civilian dead. Jihadists also maintained attacks against security forces in Tillabery region (south west). Notably, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) combatants 1 Dec killed soldier near Banizoumbou village, Filingué department; suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) combatants 4 Dec killed two forest guards and wounded three soldiers near La Tapoa town, Say department; clashes between suspected jihadists and security forces 28 Dec left seven soldiers and 11 jihadists dead in Taroun area, Ouallam department. Also in Tillabery, security forces early Dec reportedly killed several Fulani civilians suspected of supporting jihadists in Abala area, Filingué department, and Banibangou area, Ouallam department, while residents in Mogodyougou town, Ouallam department, 8 Dec killed two suspected ISGS combatants. In neighbouring Dosso region, suspected ISGS combatants 3 Dec killed civilian in Rouda Peulh village, Dogon Doutchi department, sparking concerns over ISGS’s expansion southward from Tillabery region. Meanwhile, ahead of 27 Dec general elections, presidential candidates Salou Djibo and Seini Oumarou 16 Dec reiterated doubts over ruling-party candidate Mohamed Bazoum’s nationality, thereby questioning his eligibility. Opposition leader Hama Amadou – barred from running for president by Constitutional Court in Nov – 22 Dec called on supporters to vote for former President Mahamane Ousmane. Vote held 27 Dec without major incidents.
Authorities continued to harass opposition while country’s removal from UN Security Council agenda marked major victory for President Ndayishimiye. Unidentified assailants 2 Dec killed two members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) in Butaganzwa commune, Ruyigi province. Police 14 Dec arrested six CNL members in Mutimbuzi commune, Bujumbura Rural province on suspicion of supporting rebel group. In joint report on human rights violations, 15 civil society organisations 10 Dec recorded 821 arbitrary arrests, 368 extrajudicial killings, 182 torture cases and 59 enforced disappearances in 2020; report identified CNL members and ethnic Tutsis as main victims, and security forces and ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure as main perpetrators. Ndayishimiye 30 Dec said Burundian Tutsis are over-represented in international organisations, vowed to “purify the dirty water” in Burundi. Meanwhile, govt relations with international community thawed. UN Security Council 4 Dec removed Burundi from its agenda; thousands of ruling-party supporters 12 Dec celebrated move in capital Gitega, economic capital Bujumbura and Ngozi city. Ndayishimiye 7 Dec met EU Ambassador Claude Bochu in Bujumbura; first meeting between EU and Burundian head of state since EU suspended financial cooperation with govt in 2016. FM Albert Shingiro 10-11 Dec also met Bochu alongside Belgian, French, German and Dutch ambassadors in Bujumbura to discuss normalisation of relations with EU. Former President Buyoya 18 Dec died of COVID-19 in France; Buyoya had resigned as African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel late Nov after Supreme Court in Oct sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment for involvement in murder of Hutu President Ndadaye in 1993. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 15 Dec expressed concern about “violation of fundamental rights” of Burundian refugees in Tanzania, including cases of forced eviction.
Separatists disrupted regional elections in Anglophone regions, while jihadists continued to target civilians in Far North. President Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won nine of ten regional councils in 6 Dec elections; CPDM’s ally National Union for Democracy won remaining council; main opposition parties, Maurice Kamto’s Cameroon Renaissance Movement and John Fru Ndi’s Social Democratic Front, boycotted vote. Security forces 8 Dec lifted months-long blockade of Kamto’s home in capital Yaoundé. Ahead of vote, Anglophone separatists 4 Dec imposed three-day ghost town in North West and South West regions. On voting day, suspected separatists 6 Dec killed municipal councillor in Alabukam village and wounded two men near Akum village, both North West. Also in North West, suspected separatists 12 Dec kidnapped Kedjom Ketinguh village chief, released him three days later after ransom payment; armed forces 13 Dec reportedly killed community leader in Mukuru village, Wum commune, and 26 Dec reportedly killed two patients in Tubah District Hospital. In South West region, soldiers 12 Dec reportedly killed two civilians in Eyumojock subdivision, and 21 Dec raided two villages in Mbonge commune, killing six. Suspected separatists 13 Dec kidnapped three village chiefs in regional capital Buea, later killed one and released two. Army and separatists 22 Dec exchanged fire in Tombel town, leaving civilian dead. UN Special Envoy for Central Africa Louceny Fall 9 Dec briefed UN Security Council on Anglophone conflict; U.S. called Cameroon greatest concern in region with 6.2mn in need of humanitarian assistance, 2.3mn more than in early 2020. Boko Haram (BH) attacks continued in Far North. In Mayo-Sava division, BH overnight 9-10 Dec attacked Gakara village, injuring two soldiers; night of 15-16 Dec killed two civilians in Gouzoudou locality. In Mayo-Tsanaga division, BH 2 Dec killed three civilians in Mayo-Moskota town; 28 Dec killed civilian and injured several others in Ouzal village. In Logone-et-Chari division, BH overnight 23-24 Dec killed 12 civilians in Darak and Blangoua towns. In Adamawa region in centre, Central African Republic-based armed group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) 26 Dec reportedly kidnapped three Cameroonian gendarmes.
Central African Republic
Deadly fighting involving armed groups allied to former President Bozizé broke out ahead of 27 Dec general elections; electoral results could spark escalation in Jan. After months of uncertainty over presidential candidacy of former President Bozizé, Constitutional Court 3 Dec rejected his application, citing international arrest warrant and UN sanctions against him; Bozizé’s party same day denounced court ruling. Coalition of six armed groups, all signatories to Feb 2019 peace agreement and including some supporting Bozizé, 15 Dec announced mobilisation against govt and electoral process; 18-19 Dec took over parts of Lobaye, Ouham, Ouham-Pendé, Nana Gribizi and Ombella M’Poko prefectures in west, centre and south, blocking main supply routes to Bangui, and clashing with army and UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) notably around cities of Bossombele (Ombella M’Poko), Bossemptele (Ouham-Pendé) and Bambari (Ouaka); death toll unknown; 1,500 civilians reportedly fled to neighbouring Cameroon 18-23 Dec. UN 18 Dec condemned violence and called on “all actors to urgently cease hostile actions”. Govt next day said Bozizé was behind new armed coalition and accused him of “coup attempt”. At govt’s request, Russia and Rwanda 20-21 Dec deployed hundreds of troops notably around Lobaye’s capital Mbaiki. Unidentified assailants 25 Dec killed three MINUSCA troops in Dekoa town, Kémo prefecture (centre). On election day, suspected armed group members set election material on fire in Ouham-Pendé prefecture and fired shots in Ouaka, Haute-Kotto and Nana-Mambéré prefectures; also threatened voters and election officials across country. Unidentified assailants next day attacked public bus in Grimari city, Ouaka prefecture, reportedly killing several civilians including Médecins sans Frontières worker. Electoral commission 28 Dec said over 14% of polling stations were closed due to insecurity across country. Meanwhile, clashes between armed groups erupted in north east: ethnic Goula ex-Seleka group and ethnic Arab Missirias militia from neighbouring Sudan 1 Dec clashed in Boromata town, Vakaga prefecture, leaving 35 Arab Missirias and four Goula dead; army and MINUSCA immediately sent troops to patrol town.
Intercommunal violence flared up in several regions leaving dozens dead, while govt continued to repress opposition amid COVID-19 restrictions. Farmer-herder clashes 10 Dec killed at least 12 in Doulbarid locality, Ouaddai province (east). Land dispute between ethnic Bulala and Arab communities 12 Dec escalated into brawl in Achiguek village, Batha province (centre), leaving at least 25 dead. Herder-farmer clashes overnight 13-14 Dec also reportedly left nine dead in Béré town, Tandjilé province (south); angry mob next day ransacked préfet’s residence and vandalised police vehicles in Béré, leaving another two dead. Meanwhile, President Déby’s constitutional revision suffered setback. Parliament 3 Dec adopted constitutional reform bill providing that head of Senate – and not VP, personally appointed by president, as favoured by Déby – would take over as interim president in case of presidential vacancy or inability; Déby 14 Dec passed text into law. Court 11 Dec acquitted and released human rights activist Alain Kemba Didah and two co-defendants of “public order offenses” and “acts of rebellion” including breaching COVID-19-related restrictions; trio was arrested late Nov after organising opposition’s “citizens’ forum” in capital N’Djamena. Govt 11 Dec suspended opposition Parti Réformiste for three months after party chairman Yacine Abdramane Sakine 7 Dec said military was “held hostage by a small minority […] to keep Déby’s corrupt regime in power”. Members of opposition party Les Transformateurs 12 and 23 Dec gathered in N’Djamena to call for greater political freedom; police used tear gas to disperse them, citing COVID-19 regulations, leaving at least three injured. Amid small rise in COVID-19 cases, Déby 31 Dec banned all movement in and out of N’Djamena (including through airport) and all but essential movements within city for one week.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In major show of force and after weeks of political tensions, President Tshisekedi announced end of ruling coalition; meanwhile armed group attacks continued in eastern provinces. President Tshisekedi 6 Dec announced end of ruling coalition with former President Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC), vowed to seek new majority in parliament. Brawl next day erupted in parliament between pro-Tshisekedi and pro-Kabila MPs who rejected move as unconstitutional, leaving three injured, while police used tear gas to disperse Tshisekedi’s supporters gathered outside parliament. MPs 10 Dec voted to remove Kabila’s ally Jeannine Mabunda as head of National Assembly, first indication that Tshisekedi has managed to shift balance of power in his favour in FCC-dominated assembly. Immediately after vote, Industry Minister and FCC member Julien Paluku defected to Tshisekedi, urged fellow FCC member, PM Ilunga Ilunkamba, to resign to avoid no-confidence vote. Tshisekedi 31 Dec tasked Senator and FCC defector Bahati Lukwebo with identifying new majority. Tshisekedi also pursued efforts to reinforce his grip on army and police, meeting with several senior security officials throughout month. Meanwhile, violence continued in east. In North Kivu province’s Beni territory, suspected armed group Allied Democratic Forces 6-22 Dec killed at least 40 civilians in multiple attacks, including at least 21 night of 11-12 Dec in Bolema area, Rwenzori sector. Unidentified gunmen 6 Dec killed eight civilians in North Kivu’s capital Goma. In Ituri province’s Djugu territory, suspected armed group Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) 7 Dec killed five civilians in Baijate village; CODECO 20 Dec clashed with armed forces in Muvramu village, leaving two civilians and one CODECO combatant dead; in joint attack, CODECO and Patriotic and Integrationist Front of Congo (FPIC) overnight 21-22 Dec killed three in Gbalana village. Elsewhere in Ituri, armed forces 16 Dec clashed with FPIC in Komanda town, Irumu territory, leaving eight militiamen and one soldier dead. In Tanganyika province, ethnic Twa militia 21 Dec killed one and injured several civilians in Kintu locality. UN Security Council 18 Dec renewed UN mission (MONUSCO) mandate for one year.
Reports of Eritrean involvement in fighting in neighbouring Ethiopia’s regional state of Tigray kept emerging. As fighting continued between forces of Ethiopia’s federal govt and Tigray (see Ethiopia), Tigray President Debretsion Gebremichael 4 Dec again accused Asmara of supporting Addis Ababa’s military offensive, saying that “Eritrean soldiers are everywhere”; Eritrean FM Osman Saleh next day denied involvement, denounced “propaganda.” Evidence of Eritrean soldiers’ presence and involvement in hostilities in Tigray, including in state capital Mekelle, also reported by aid workers, UN and EU officials. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi 11 Dec said UN refugee agency had received “an overwhelming number of disturbing reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea”. Eritrean delegation led by Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab 8 Dec travelled to Sudan and met with Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to discuss Ethiopia-Tigray conflict and impact on regional stability. Amid Sudan’s efforts to reclaim territories on border between Sudan’s Al-Qadarif state and Ethiopia’s Amhara region, Eritrea late Dec reportedly moved troops toward its border with Sudan.
Violence erupted in disputed border area with Sudan, deadly fighting continued in Tigray region and intercommunal clashes killed hundreds in Benishangul-Gumuz region. Sudanese military early Dec reclaimed territory in disputed Al-Fashqa area on border between Ethiopia’s Amhara region and Sudan’s Al-Qadarif state. Ethiopian gunmen 15 Dec killed at least four Sudanese troops in Al-Fashqa. Border demarcation talks between Sudan and Ethiopia 22-23 Dec failed to yield agreement. In following days, Sudan allegedly made further territorial gains in Al-Fashqa and Al-Quraisha border regions, 31 Dec said its forces had taken control over all border territory it accuses Ethiopia of encroaching upon. Ethiopia 29 Dec warned Sudan of counter-offensive if it “does not stop expanding into Ethiopian territories”. Despite PM Abiy declaring victory in Nov, fighting continued between Tigray’s and federal govt’s forces. Tigray President and former ruling party Tigray People’s Liberation Front leader Debretsion Gebremichael 4 Dec again accused neighbouring Eritrea of supporting federal govt’s military offensive in Tigray (see Eritrea). UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 9 Dec expressed concern over “ethnic profiling” and “hate speech” against ethnic Tigrayans in rest of country. Tigray’s transitional govt – established by federal parliament’s upper house in Nov – took office 13 Dec. In Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, suspected members of armed group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) 8 Dec killed at least ten ethnic Amhara civilians in Metekel zone; attack by suspected ethnic Gumuz gunmen 23 Dec killed at least 207 mostly Amhara and Shinasha civilians and displaced more than 40,000 in Metekel. In Oromia region in centre, suspected OLA combatants mid-Dec killed at least 19 mostly ethnic Amhara civilians in Horo Guduru Wellega and West Wellega zones; local authorities 16 Dec claimed security operations had killed some 400 OLA combatants in recent weeks. Clashes in border area between Afar and Somali regions late Dec reportedly left several dozen dead. Electoral board 25 Dec scheduled legislative and regional elections for 5 June 2021; said it would announce poll date for Tigray later on.
Tensions rose with Somalia, with both countries deploying troops to shared border, while Al-Shabaab intensified attacks in north and east. President Kenyatta mid-Dec received President Bihi of Somalia’s breakaway state Somaliland in capital Nairobi; counterparts announced that Kenya would open consulate in Somaliland’s capital and that Somaliland would upgrade its liaison office in Nairobi by March; during Bihi’s visit, Somalia 15 Dec cut diplomatic relations with Kenya for “constantly interfering” in its internal affairs. In following days, both Kenya and Somalia reportedly deployed forces along common border to Mandera county and Gedo region respectively. Somalia 19 Dec accused Kenya of hosting and arming Somali militia to launch cross-border attacks and said it would take “all necessary steps” to protect its “territorial integrity”. Kenyatta and Somalia President Farmajo 20 Dec met during summit of regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Djibouti 25 Dec deployed fact-finding mission to assess situation at Somalia-Kenya border. In Garissa county in east, Al-Shabaab 2 Dec attacked Amuma police station, injuring police officer. In Wajir county in north east, Al-Shabaab 18 Dec abducted local official in Gumarey sub-location and later beheaded him. In Lamu county in east, Al-Shabaab 20 Dec ambushed police escort vehicle on Lamu-Gamba road, no casualties reported; security forces 27 Dec shot and killed seven Al-Shabaab militants in Boni forest. In Mandera county in north east, Al-Shabaab 29 Dec ambushed ambulance, killing civilian. In border area between Garissa and Isiolo counties, clashes between ethnic Borana and Somali 1 Dec left seven dead. In Mombasa county in south, police 1 Dec arrested 91 suspected members of separatist Mombasa Republican Council in Mirironi village. Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s signature campaign to trigger referendum on constitutional reform concluded 4 Dec; electoral commission 30 Dec started to verify signatures.
Electoral disputes delayed Dec legislative polls and threatened to derail Feb presidential election; tensions rose with Kenya. Federal electoral commission – whose members opposition considers to be loyalists of President Farmajo – 5 Dec appointed chairperson, prompting opposition bloc of 14 presidential candidates to appoint parallel electoral body. Opposition protests 15 Dec resulted in clashes with security forces, reportedly leaving several injured in capital Mogadishu. After missing 10 Dec deadline for conclusion of federal parliament’s upper house election – due to Jubaland and Puntland’s refusal to appoint regional electoral commissions – federal electoral commission 23 Dec postponed upper house poll to late Dec-early Jan and said selection of delegates tasked with electing lower house would begin 7 Jan; opposition bloc of presidential candidates same day rejected new timetable; federal electoral commission 29 Dec again postponed upper house poll early to mid-Jan. Mandate of federal parliament expired 27 Dec. Somalia 15 Dec cut diplomatic ties with Kenya for “constantly interfering” in its internal affairs; move coincided with Somaliland President Bihi’s visit to Kenya during which he and Kenyan President Kenyatta announced that Kenya would open consulate in Somaliland’s capital and that Somaliland would upgrade its liaison office in Kenya by March. In subsequent days, both Somalia and Kenya reportedly deployed troops to their shared border. Mogadishu 19 Dec accused Kenya of hosting and arming Somali militia to launch cross-border attacks and said it would take “all necessary steps” to protect its “territorial integrity”. Farmajo and Kenyatta 20 Dec met during summit of regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); Mogadishu reportedly asked IGAD to establish commission to look into its complaints, including arming of Somali militia. Djibouti 25 Dec deployed fact-finding mission to assess situation at Somalia-Kenya border. In Hirshabelle state, clan militia opposed to last month’s state presidential election outcome 4 Dec clashed with federal govt forces in Hiraan regional capital Beledweyne, leaving at least two injured. Al-Shabaab continued to launch deadly attacks. Notably, Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 18 Dec killed 21, mostly civilians, in Mudug region’s capital Galkayo. U.S. 4 Dec announced it would “reposition” most of its troops in Somalia to neighbouring countries by early 2021.
Somaliland and Kenya announced they would upgrade diplomatic ties. President Bihi and Kenyan President Kenyatta mid-Dec met in Kenya, announced that Kenya would open consulate in capital Hargeisa and that Somaliland would “upgrade” its liaison office in Kenyan capital Nairobi by March. During Bihi’s visit, Somalia – which considers Somaliland as one of its member states – cut diplomatic relations with Kenya, accusing it of meddling in its internal affairs (see Kenya, Somalia). Bihi 19 Dec received Malawi FM, discussed ways to deepen bilateral relations. Bihi and Djibouti President Guelleh 29 Dec announced reopening of their shared border after six-year closure. Registration of voters for parliamentary and local elections, which have been postponed several times since 2019 and are now planned for May, continued throughout month. In Sanaag region in east, Al-Shabaab militants 10 Dec abducted several people in Milxo village; 21 Dec released them.
Govt and former rebel opposition groups agreed to end stalemate over formation of state and county govts in all but one state; meanwhile intercommunal violence continued. Govt and former rebel opposition groups 9 Dec agreed to move forward with formation of state and county govts, except in contested Upper Nile state, as well as with reconstitution of national legislature; parties agreed to organise peace and reconciliation conference to bring together Upper Nile communities prior to appointment of state governor, over which President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar have been at odds since June; Machar mid-Dec, however, indefinitely postponed conference. Kiir 30 Dec appointed six out of ten deputy state governors. In bid to reassert control over Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), Machar 1-5 Dec organised national party conference; dissent has been mounting in SPLA-IO’s ranks over slow implementation of Sept 2018 peace agreement. Regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development 20 Dec formally confirmed there are no travel restrictions on Machar. Govt and holdout rebel group National Salvation Front early Dec held talks in Italy’s capital Rome but failed to reach breakthrough on draft ten-point Declaration of Principles aimed at guiding future political negotiations. In Central Equatoria state in south, Kiir’s forces and SPLA-IO clashed several times throughout month in Kajo-Keji county. In Western Equatoria state in south, unidentified gunmen 16 Dec reportedly attacked SPLA-IO in Mvolo county. In Upper Nile state in east, unidentified gunmen mid-Dec reportedly attacked SPLA-IO in Maban county. Meanwhile, intercommunal violence persisted across country. In Central Equatoria state, cattle-related violence killed at least 43 throughout month in Terekeka and Lainya counties. In Lakes state in centre, cattle raids and intercommunal violence throughout month killed at least 29 in Yirol east, Cueibet and Awerial counties. In Warrap state, also in centre, intercommunal clashes mid-Dec left seven dead in Tonj North county.
Military clashed with Ethiopian forces in disputed border region and reclaimed large swathes of territory. Sudan’s military early Dec reclaimed territory in disputed Al-Fashqa area on border between Sudan’s Al-Qadarif state and Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Ethiopian gunmen 15 Dec killed at least four Sudanese troops and wounded 20 in Al-Fashqa. Sudan subsequently deployed reinforcements and seized more land in area. Following unsuccessful talks 22-23 Dec between Sudan and Ethiopia to demarcate border, Sudan made further territorial gains in Al-Fashqa and Al-Qureisha border regions. Addis Ababa 29 Dec warned Sudan of counter-offensive if it “does not stop expanding into Ethiopian territories”. Khartoum 31 Dec said its forces had taken control over all border territory it accuses Ethiopia of encroaching upon. In Central and South Darfur states, clashes over gold mining territory between rival factions of holdout rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) and fighting with govt troops early Dec displaced over 27,000 and left two children dead. In South Darfur state, intercommunal clashes late Dec killed at least 25 in several areas. UN Security Council 22 Dec voted to end mandate of UN-AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on 31 Dec. On second anniversary of uprising that led to ouster of former President Bashir, thousands 19 Dec demonstrated in capital Khartoum and across country, demanding acceleration of democratic reforms. Also in Khartoum, thousands 29 Dec attended funeral of individual reportedly tortured to death mid-Dec while in paramilitary Rapid Support Forces custody. U.S. 14 Dec formally removed Sudan’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation. Ethiopia and Sudan 13 Dec agreed to resume negotiations on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Russia 1 Dec signed agreement with Sudan to establish naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast.
Opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) formed unity govt with ruling party on semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago. President Magufuli, who was re-elected in late Oct, 5 Dec unveiled cabinet consisting of 23 ministers and 23 deputy ministers. On semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, ACT 6 Dec agreed to form unity govt with ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party; Zanzibar’s President Hussein Mwinyi same day appointed ACT’s national chairman Seif Sharif Hamad as Zanzibar’s first VP; Hamad sworn in 8 Dec. ACT and other opposition party Civic United Front 20 Dec accused police of killing ACT official and wounding several other people previous day during security operation in Kibutuka village, Lindi region in south; regional police commander 21 Dec denied allegations. VP Samia Suluhu 14 Dec attended Southern Africa regional bloc SADC Defence and Security Troika in Mozambique’s capital Maputo to discuss Islamist insurgency in neighbouring country; extraordinary summit of SADC heads of state and govt scheduled for Jan (see Mozambique).
Political tensions ran high ahead of 14 Jan general elections, and violent crackdown on opposition could further escalate in coming weeks. Police 1 Dec fired tear gas and rubber bullets at opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) leader and presidential hopeful Bobi Wine and his supporters in Kayunga district, leaving several injured; security forces same day blocked Wine and supporters on their way to campaign venue in neighbouring Jinja district, reportedly firing live bullets at Wine’s car. Ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM) supporters 4 Dec clashed with opposition Democratic Party (DP) supporters in Kyotera district; police reportedly intervened, killing DP supporter and injuring at least two others. Police 4 and 27 Dec arrested Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate Patrick Amuriat Oboi for allegedly disobeying police orders in Bushenyi district and violating COVID-19-related campaign ban in Jinja district, respectively. Security forces 27 Dec clashed with Wine and his supporters in Masaka district, leaving Wine’s bodyguard dead and at least two journalists injured. Police 30 Dec arrested Wine in Kalangala district on grounds of COVID-19-related campaign ban, sparking protests; police reportedly fired tear gas to disperse crowd. Govt early Dec froze bank accounts of at least four NGOs involved in election-monitoring activities; after 9 Dec asked U.S.-based technology company Google to shut down 14 YouTube channels for allegedly inciting riots, Google representative 16 Dec said removal of channels would require court order. Uganda Media Council 10 Dec directed all journalists to reapply for accreditation in order “to sanitise the industry”, prompting outcry from Uganda Editors’ Guild and African Centre for Media Excellence. President Museveni 16 Dec appointed his son Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba to head of Special Forces Command. Police 22 Dec arrested prominent human rights lawyer and activist Nicholas Opiyo in Kampala on suspicions of money laundering along with three other lawyers and NUP official; High Court 30 Dec released Opiyo on bail. UN human rights experts 29 Dec urged govt to curb “election-related violence” and “crackdown” on political opponents and activists.
Islamist insurgents moved closer to liquefied natural gas (LNG) site in far north, forcing international oil company to evacuate staff. In far north Cabo Delgado province, Islamist insurgents increasingly targeted strategic towns, moving toward Afungi peninsula where LNG project is located. In Palma district, Islamist insurgents 7 Dec attacked Mute town, 20km from LNG site, and clashed with security forces, reportedly killing soldier; insurgents next day moved to Ngueo town, 2km north of Mute, forcing unknown number of civilians to flee to Palma town; 29 Dec killed five in Olumbe and Monjane villages few kilometres away from LNG site, and two soldiers in ambush on Monjane-Patacua axis on edge of Afungi peninsula. Following attacks, French oil and gas company Total late Dec started to evacuate staff from LNG facility. In neighbouring Nangade district, insurgents 8 Dec ambushed vehicle near Pundanhar town on Palma-Nangade axis, killing civilian, kidnapping two others and temporarily closing route to Palma; 12 Dec killed at least 14 civilians in several villages. In Macomia district, insurgents 10 Dec kidnapped unspecified number of fishermen in Mucojo town, released them few days later; next day killed at least four in Chai area. Southern African Development Community (SADC) Defence and Security Troika 14 Dec met with President Nyusi and Tanzania’s President Magufuli in capital Maputo to discuss security situation in Cabo Delgado; extraordinary summit of SADC heads of state and govt scheduled for 21 Jan. Meanwhile, number two of opposition Renamo party’s armed dissident faction Renamo Military Junta (JMR), Joao Machava, 6 Dec demobilised in Mabote district, Inhambane province (south). JMR leader Mariano Nhongo 11 Dec accused security forces of kidnapping six of his family members in past few days in Gondola district, Manica province (west); 23 Dec announced unilateral ceasefire, promised to negotiate with govt. Elsewhere in Manica province, armed individuals dressed in police uniforms 13 Dec kidnapped former Renamo party MP Sofrimento Matequenha from his home in provincial capital Chimoio; police same day denied abduction; Matequenha’s body found 24 Dec in Pindanganga village, 60km north east of Chimoio.
Authorities continued to harass govt critics and opposition, and political parties held contested internal elections. Police 4 Dec detained Tendai Biti, VP of Nelson Chamisa’s faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), on charges of assault; Biti released on bail next day; opening of trial set for 18 Jan. Authorities 14 Dec arrested mayor of capital Harare and prominent MDC-A official Jacob Mafume on allegations of witness tampering; court 17 Dec denied him bail; Mafume was previously arrested 25 Nov on corruption charges and granted bail 8 Dec. Govt 28 Dec suspended Mafume, deputy mayor Luckson Mukunguma and four other councillors on allegations of incompetence and misconduct of duty. High Court 15 Dec overturned magistrate’s Aug ruling barring prominent human rights lawyer from representing investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Security forces 24 Dec arrested National Patriotic Front member and former pro-ruling party ZANU-PF Chipangano gang leader Jim Kunaka in Harare over allegations of inciting violence in run-up to 31 July anti-corruption protests; judge 29 Dec denied him bail. In Thokozani Khupe’s faction of MDC (MDC-T) extraordinary congress in Harare 27 Dec, Douglas Mwonzora was elected MDC-T leader; Khupe immediately alleged fraud,threatening to file Supreme Court application seeking annulment of results. Tensions subsided after Mwonzora 29-30 Dec appointed Khupe and other rival candidates Morgan Komichi and Elias Mudzuri to senior executive positions. ZANU-PF 5-6 Dec held district coordinating committee (DCC) elections in eight provinces; DCCs had been dissolved in 2012. ZANU-PF elections reportedly marred by fraud and violence, prompting several reruns; notably, riots erupted in Mutare city as party members burned ballot boxes amid allegations of vote-rigging and buying.
Amid lull in post-election violence, President Ouattara took oath for controversial third term and opened dialogue with opposition. Opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) leader and de facto opposition spokesperson Henri Konan Bédié 9 Dec dissolved National Transitional Council, created after Oct presidential election with view to forming transitional govt, called for national dialogue. During swearing-in ceremony, Ouattara 14 Dec mandated PM Hamed Bakayoko to resume dialogue with opposition, with stated aim to find consensus on reform of electoral commission ahead of 2021 legislative elections. Ouattara next day appointed PDCI dissident and presidential candidate in Oct election, Kouadio Konan Bertin, as national reconciliation minister. Opposition boycotted and sharply criticised inauguration: Bédié 7 Dec decried it as “non-event”, while exiled opposition figure, former PM Guillaume Soro, 13 Dec denounced “illegal and illegitimate” ceremony. Govt and opposition representatives, including Bédié, 21 Dec met in economic capital Abidjan, 29 Dec agreed to hold legislative elections in March 2021; disagreements persisted, however, on release of detained and return of exiled opposition leaders, and reform of electoral commission; political dialogue set to resume mid-Jan. Authorities 30 Dec released and placed under judicial supervision opposition leader and presidential candidate in Oct election Pascal Affi N’Guessan, in detention since early Nov on terrorism charges. Meanwhile, NGO Human Rights Watch 2 Dec urged authorities to “investigate the killing of more than 50 people” around Oct presidential election and stop “targeting opposition members through a flawed legal process”. Govt 4 Dec handed diplomatic and ordinary passports to former President Gbagbo, currently in Belgium following his 2019 acquittal of crimes against humanity by International Criminal Court (ICC), 9 Dec said Gbagbo should await end of ICC proceedings before returning to Côte d’Ivoire. Gbagbo’s wing of Ivorian Popular Front party 23 Dec announced end of its ten-year boycott of national elections, said party would take part in 2021 legislative elections.
President Condé was sworn in for controversial third term, and intercommunal violence erupted in south east. Condé 15 Dec took presidential oath for third term, called for unity and end to violence. Opposition remained divided and continued to lose momentum. Main opposition leader and presidential runner-up Cellou Dalein Diallo boycotted swearing-in ceremony and denounced it as “sham”, while several other opposition figures attended. Coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), at forefront of mobilisation against third term since 2019, same day failed to mobilise supporters for protest in capital Conakry against Condé’s alleged “constitutional coup”. Territorial administration and decentralisation Minister Bouréma Condé 11 Dec warned that govt would not tolerate any “breach of the peace”. Authorities 30 Dec reportedly prevented Diallo from leaving country to attend funeral of late Malian opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé. Meanwhile, international community increased pressure on govt to address human rights violations by security forces and stop muzzling opposition. U.S. embassy in Guinea 11 Dec urged authorities to build “more democratic society”. NGO Human Rights Watch 14 Dec called on govt to stop “relentless crackdown” on opposition, and NGO Amnesty International next day urged govt to investigate killings of opposition protesters and others around Oct presidential election. EU Commission 19 Dec called for independent investigation into 17 Dec death in custody of opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) youth leader, Roger Bamba, and release of all political prisoners. Intercommunal violence erupted in Macenta city (south east): ethnic Toma and Manian residents 26-27 Dec clashed over control of cheftaincy, reportedly leaving over 20 dead and dozens more wounded.
Authorities issued international arrest warrant against opposition leader and intercommunal violence broke out near capital Bissau. Attorney General’s Office 18 Dec said it had issued international arrest warrant against runner-up in 2019 presidential election and leader of main opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), Domingos Simões Pereira, without elaborating on charges against him; Pereira, who went into exile in Portugal in early 2020, had early Dec announced his intention to resume political activity in Guinea-Bissau. UN mission Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) ended 31 Dec; UNIOGBIS Head Rosine Sori-Coulibaly mid-Dec said UN would continue to guarantee safety of former PM Aristides Gomes, who took refuge in UN mission headquarters in early 2020. Meanwhile, President Embaló 16 Dec threatened to dissolve National Assembly and call for early legislative elections, due to boycott by PAIGC deputies of parliamentary session on 2021 budget. Intercommunal violence erupted near Bissau: ethnic Yunkun and Thun communities 29 Dec clashed over land dispute in Nhoma town, 25km north of Bissau, leaving at least four dead and several wounded.
Jihadist and criminal violence continued in north east and north west, while authorities came under international scrutiny. Boko Haram (BH) factions continued to launch attacks in north-eastern Borno state despite ongoing military operations. BH combatants 7-30 Dec killed at least 24 security personnel, one civilian and abducted at least 38 people including two aid workers in Damboa, Konduga, Jakana, Mafa and Jere areas. Army 6-8 Dec killed 13 combatants apparently from BH faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) in Magumeri, Bama and Gwoza areas; airstrikes 11 Dec killed “several” JAS combatants in Gwoza area; army next day repelled attack in Askira-Uba area by same faction, killing over 20 combatants. Suspected JAS suicide attack 19 Dec killed three civilians in Konduga town. BH 24 Dec killed 11 civilians in Pemi village. Armed group violence and abductions continued in north west, particularly Katsina state: gunmen 11 Dec stormed secondary school in Kankara town and abducted over 300 schoolboys; govt and local security officials immediately blamed attack on criminal groups but Shekau 15 Dec claimed responsibility; schoolboys released 17 Oct. Also in Katsina, armed group 17 Dec attacked convoy of traditional and religious ruler from Kaura Namoda town (Zamfara state), in Funtua area, killing eight guards; 19 Dec briefly kidnapped about 80 Islamic school students in Dandume area. In Niger state (Middle Belt), armed groups 8-15 Dec killed four and abducted around 30 civilians, prompting 5,000 others to flee. In Enugu state (south east), unidentified gunmen 26 Dec killed Oruku community’s traditional chief in Nkanu East area. Federal parliament 1 Dec summoned President Buhari over insecurity in north, reflecting rising discontent including within ruling party; Buhari rejected convocation, claiming lawmakers lack power to summon him on security matters. Meanwhile, govt suffered international setbacks. U.S. 7 Dec designated Nigeria as “country of particular concern” with regard to religious freedom, paving way for sanctions. Office of International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor 11 Dec said there is “reasonable basis to believe” that both BH and security forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nigeria, concluded ICC investigation is warranted.
Tensions persisted between Japan and China over contested island chain in East China Sea, while Tokyo continued security engagement with broad range of international stakeholders. Amid increased Chinese military activity in East and South China Seas, Japan, France and U.S. 6 Dec confirmed they would hold joint land and sea military drills in May 2021 for first time on one of Japan’s outlying islands. Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force and U.S. military 2-15 Dec held traditional large-scale joint military drill in southwestern Japan and 7 Dec launched separate exercise north west of Japan’s capital Tokyo; both drills focused on repelling attacks on remote islands. Four Chinese H-6K and two Russian Tu-95 bombers 22 Dec took part in joint patrol over Sea of Japan and East China Sea; Japanese Air Self-Defence Force scrambled fighters to monitor bombers. Japanese media reported that two Chinese ships 26 Dec entered Japanese territorial waters near disputed Senkaku Islands; Japanese Coast Guard Service urged violators to leave country's territorial waters. Chinese National Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi 14 Dec discussed via videoconference ongoing tensions in disputed East China Sea; Kyodo News reported that Kishi expressed concerns over Chinese ships “repeatedly sailing close to and entering the waters” around Senkaku Islands, while both ministers reiterated commitment to establish hotline between their officials. Kishi 15 Dec held online talks with German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, during which he called on Berlin to send vessel to participate in joint exercises with Japanese Self-Defence Force units in 2021. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Kishi 22 Dec discussed regional security situation during phone conversation, including East and South China Seas, and reaffirmed continued close cooperation
South Korea protested Chinese and Russian military activity, U.S. accused China of violating UN sanctions, and Seoul criminalised sending propaganda balloons to North Korea. Four Chinese warplanes and 15 Russian aircraft 22 Dec entered Korea Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) for alleged routine training, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; South Korea’s military scrambled air force fighters in response, while South Korean MFA same day reportedly lodged protest with China and Russia; Chinese MFA next day responded that Chinese and Russian warplanes did not enter KADIZ. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for North Korea Alex Wong 1 Dec accused China of “flagrant violation” of its obligation to enforce UN sanctions regime, and announced U.S. was offering up to $5mn reward for information on Chinese sanctions evasion; U.S. 8 Dec imposed sanctions on several Chinese companies for allegedly helping Pyongyang export coal; Chinese MFA 23 Dec responded that govt had always implemented sanctions seriously. On final visit to Seoul 8-11 Dec, U.S. Deputy Sec State Stephen Biegun said North Korea had “squandered” opportunities for progress in negotiations over last two years, and called on Pyongyang to agree to “lay out a map for action” leading to denuclearisation. South Korean parliament 15 Dec approved controversial legislation criminalising flying of propaganda leaflets by balloon toward North Korea; minority opposition lawmakers boycotted vote, saying that govt was sacrificing freedom of expression; human rights groups rallied same day at National Assembly to protest bill. South Korean President Moon Jae-in 4 Dec nominated new ministers of interior, health, land and housing, and gender in effort to refresh administration amid backlash over housing policies, rising COVID-19 cases, and scandal involving justice ministry and top prosecutors. UN Security Council 11 Dec discussed human rights abuses in North Korea in closed-door virtual meeting after seven members raised issue, accusing Pyongyang of using COVID-19 pandemic “to crack down further on the human rights of its own people.”
Cross-strait tensions remained high amid intense Chinese and U.S. military activity. Taiwanese defence ministry claimed series of Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) during month, including: one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft and one Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft 9 and 21 Dec; one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft 1, 2, 6, 7, 26 Dec; one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, one Y-8 tactical reconnaissance aircraft and one Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft 4 Dec; one Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft 10 Dec; one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft 15 Dec; one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, one Y-8 electronic intelligence aircraft, one Y-9 electronic aircraft, and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft 16 Dec; one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft and one Y-8 electronic aircraft 20, 22, 24 Dec. In response, Taiwan scrambled jets, broadcast radio warnings and tracked planes with air defence system on each occasion. Meanwhile, U.S. continued military activity in region and support for Taiwan. U.S. govt 7 Dec notified Congress of new $280mn arms sale package to Taiwan. Aircraft spotters 14 Dec detected U.S. Navy surveillance drone flying within ADIZ. Chinese military 19 Dec said it had “tailed and monitored” guided missile destroyer USS Mustin as it passed through Taiwan Strait, denouncing such missions as “flirtatious glances to Taiwan independence forces”; U.S. Navy said warship had conducted “routine Taiwan Strait transit [...] in accordance with international law”. Two U.S. Navy destroyers, USS John S. McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur, 31 Dec conducted a rare “double transit” of Taiwan Strait. China 20 Dec sailed Shandong aircraft carrier through Taiwan Strait; Chinese navy 21 Dec said that Shandong was on its way to conduct drills in South China Sea; Taiwanese defence ministry same day said it had deployed six ships and eight types of aircraft to monitor situation. Japanese State Minister of Defence Yasuhide Nakayama 25 Dec called on U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to “be strong” in supporting Taiwan, referring to country’s safety as “red line.”
High-intensity violence persisted and intra-Afghan peace talks remained delayed ahead of planned U.S. military drawdown in Jan. Taliban continued to attack district centres in Kunduz, Farah, Uruzgan, Baghlan and elsewhere despite previous self-imposed restrictions regarding reprisals in urban areas. Unclaimed killings and smaller explosions continued to target activists, journalists and other non-combatants around capital Kabul; unknown gunmen 22 Dec attacked vehicle of govt-employed doctors who treat prisoners (including Taliban and Islamic State fighters) at Pul-e Charkhi prison. In Ghazni province, attack 18 Dec killed at least 15 civilians, mostly children, and wounded 20 others; car bomb in Kabul targeting Afghan parliament member Khan Mohammad Wardak 20 Dec killed at least ten civilians and wounded 52 others. Islamic State’s Khorasan Province branch (IS-KP) claimed responsibility for several attacks, including shooting of journalist Malala Maiwand in Jalalabad city on 10 Dec. IS-KP also claimed multiple attacks in Kabul, notably rocket attacks 12 Dec that killed one and injured two, and additional rockets 10 Dec that targeted U.S. Bagram Airfield. Meanwhile, in positive step, govt finalised formation of High Council of National Reconciliation, which 5 Dec convened for first time. Despite initial progress in intra-Afghan talks, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 14 Dec announced both negotiating teams would take 20 days to “consult on the agenda items”, delaying intra-Afghan negotiations until 5 Jan. Agendas leaked 20-21 Dec illustrated stark differences between govt and Taliban regarding fundamental purpose of talks; notably, govt reportedly proposed ceasefire as first topic, while Taliban proposed it as final topic. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller 22 Dec arrived in Kabul in unannounced visit and met with President Ghani, as U.S. military proceeded to reduce its forces from 4,500 to 2,500 in Jan in line with announcement made in Nov.
Govt began moving Rohingya refugees to island in Bay of Bengal despite concerns over living conditions, while violence broke out in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Govt 3-4 Dec transported 1,642 Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar district to Bhasan Char island – silt island in Bay of Bengal – despite concerns of UN, donor govts and international organisations that it is prone to flooding and lacks services, and amid allegations that some refugees had been coerced to go. Ahead of transfer, UN statement 2 Dec called on govt to allow refugees “to make a free and informed decision” about relocating and to provide them with basic services and free movement “to and from the mainland”. MFA 4 Dec emphasised that relocation was part of broader repatriation plan and called on human rights groups to help create “a conducive environment” within Myanmar to allow for a “quick, safe and dignified repatriation”; govt 29 Dec proceeded to transfer second batch of 1,804 refugees to island. Meanwhile, sporadic violence erupted in three districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts 23 years after Parabatya Jana Samhati Samity, representing ethnic minority groups, and then Awami League govt signed 1997 peace accord. Authorities accused armed groups opposing peace accord of factional violence and attacks on Bengali settlers and security forces, including shootout with military 3 Dec that allegedly killed member of anti-accord group United Peoples Democratic Front in Rangamati district; police 13 Dec accused armed hill militants of attacking security forces in Rangamati district, resulting in one attacker killed. NGO Amnesty International 11 Dec said lack of progress in implementing human rights provisions of peace accord behind local grievances. Indian border forces 7 and 14 Dec killed three Bangladeshi cattle smugglers; opposition Bangladesh National Party’s secretary general 14 Dec announced intention to hold countrywide protests against Indian security forces’ “indiscriminate killings” of Bangladeshis, holding ruling Awami League’s policy toward India responsible for deaths. PM Hasina 17 Dec hosted virtual summit with India’s PM Modi during which both leaders signed seven agreements on bilateral cooperation and directed border forces “to work towards bringing such border incidents to zero”.
Uttar Pradesh state authorities launched crackdown on alleged forced conversion to Islam, and anti-Maoist security operations continued. In Uttar Pradesh state, governed by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), police 3 Dec made first arrest under recently approved law criminalising forced religious conversion by marriage; law seeks to curb so-called “love jihad”, conspiracy theory according to which Muslim men marry Hindu women to convert them to Islam in order to alter country’s demographic balance; police arrested 49 individuals in 12 cases throughout month. Also run by BJP, Madhya Pradesh state govt 29 Dec cleared similar bill, still to be approved by state governor. Right-wing Hindu groups 25-31 Dec organised rallies in Madhya Pradesh state, reportedly leading to clashes with Muslims in Ujjain district 25 Dec and vandalized mosque in Indore district 29 Dec; authorities arrested nearly 50 individuals. Meanwhile, anti-Maoist security operations and Maoist violence continued. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), Maoists 2-29 Dec killed three civilians and one police officer in Bijapur, Sukma and Rajnandgaon districts; security forces 16 and 28 Dec shot and killed three Maoists in Sukma and Dantewada districts. In Madhya Pradesh state (centre), security forces 12 Dec shot and killed two Maoists in Balaghat district. In Odisha state (east), Maoists 17 Dec hacked to death civilian in Malkangiri district; security forces 11-12 Dec killed three Maoists in Kandhamal and Malkangiri districts. In Andhra Pradesh state (south east), Maoists 14 and 23 Dec killed two civilians in Visakhapatnam district. In Jharkhand state (east), security forces 16-22 Dec killed four Maoists in Latehar, West Singhbhum, Khunti and Ranchi districts. Tens of thousands of farmers continued to demonstrate throughout month on outskirts of capital New Delhi,demanding govt revoke contentious agriculture laws adopted in Sept they say will deregulate crops and reduce earnings; govt and farmers held several rounds of talks, reaching partial agreement 30 Dec. India’s reported COVID-19 cases 19 Dec surpassed 10mn. Amid border standoff with China, Indian and Chinese diplomats 18 Dec held talks but failed to make any breakthrough; both sides agreed to continue dialogue.
Military clashes persisted along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir), while tensions escalated in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) amid local elections. India 1 Dec claimed Pakistani cross-LoC fire killed oneborder security force officer. Pakistani military said Indian fire 9, 15, 23 and 30 Dec killed total of four soldiers. Pakistani MFA 18 Dec said Indian cross-LoC damaged two UN vehicles; India denied responsibility, UN same day said they were investigating. New Delhipolice 7 Dec arrested five suspected terrorists for alleged involvement in Pakistani attempt to link Kashmiri militant outfits with Sikh separatists. Pakistan’s armed forces 9 Dec reportedly on high alert following intelligence reports of India allegedly preparing an attack across LoC; Pakistan’s FM 18 Dec said that India plans “surgical strike against Pakistan”. In Indian-administered Kashmir, security forces 9 Dec killed two militants in Pulwama district; 13 Dec killed two militants and captured another in Poonch district, alleging theyhad infiltrated from Pakistan’s side of LoC to disrupt ongoing local elections which began 28 Nov. Militant attack on security forces 12 Dec killed two civilians in Baramulla district; 14 Dec attacked home of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader and former Hizbul Mujahideen militant Haji Parvez in regional capital Srinagar, killing one. J&K police 30 Dec announced death of three “terrorists” after 20-hour “encounter” with army on outskirts of Srinagar; families immediately protested outside police office, alleging all three were actually civilians. Opposition alliance accused govt of crackdown during local elections, which concluded 19 Dec with opposition alliance winning 112 of 280 seats. Notably, authorities 9 Dec placed former chief minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti under house arrest for third time in two weeks; Mufti next day tweeted that armed forces were being used “to rig this election and favour a particular party”.In Anantnag district, police 10 Dec detained three journalists covering polls; militants 4 Dec also shot candidate. New Delhi 26 Dec arrested at least 75 Kashmiri political leaders and activists, placing them in “preventive detention” allegedly to pre-empt protests and violence.
PM KP Oli’s decision to dissolve parliament and schedule new elections triggered protests and political crisis. Months of internal tensions within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and increasing pressure on PM KP Oli to resign reached boiling point as Oli 20 Dec dissolved lower house of parliament and announced fresh elections for April/May 2021. The move, authorised by President Bidya Bhandari, drew widespread rebuke for violating 2015 constitution, called into question credibility of offices of PM and president, triggered protests across country and sparked period of political uncertainty. Oli’s decision to sack parliament followed his order (issued with immediate effect following presidential approval) 15 Dec to amend working procedures of Constitutional Council – tasked with making appointments to several key constitutional bodies – allowing PM to take decisions with quorum of three members, dispensing with previous consensus among five council members; both moves viewed as latest to consolidate power and centralise decision-making. Oli’s decision to dissolve parliament was immediately termed unconstitutional by other leaders, political parties, and civil society members for contravening 2015 constitution, which provides only limited pathways for parliamentary dissolution. Protesters late Dec held several mass demonstrations across country against dissolution and filed 13 writs at Supreme Court, which 25 Dec demanded written justification for move. Dissolution also widened NCP’s internal divisions; Oli’s faction 22 Dec expanded party’s central committee with 556 new members, while competing faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal same day removed Oli as party co-chair; disputes also emerged at provincial level as Dahal’s faction 27 Dec filed no-confidence motion against Oli-aligned chief minister in Province 1. Meanwhile, Guo Yezhou, vice minister of Communist Party of China’s International Department, 27-30 Dec visited capital Kathmandu, meeting several political leaders including PM and president reportedly to assess evolving political situation; earlier in month, Vijay Chauthaiwale, Foreign Cell chair of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party 10 Dec visited Nepal and met with PM Oli to discuss bilateral ties.
Tensions remained high between ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and opposition alliance, while deadly militant violence persisted. Political acrimony continued between PTI govt and Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), 11-party opposition alliance including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Alliance 13 Dec held rally in Lahore city, defying govt’s COVID-19 ban on gatherings and disregarding police warnings of potential terrorist attacks by Pakistani Taliban. Govt 15 Dec decided to hold upcoming Senate elections in Feb instead of March 2021, when terms of 52 senators are due to expire, and decided to seek Supreme Court’s opinion on holding polls through open voting instead of secret ballot; opposition rejected both proposed changes, calling them “illegal”. Acting leader of parliamentary opposition, and Nawaz Sharif Muslim League’s former FM Khawaja Asif29 Dec detained on corruption charges; next day, Asif said arrest aimed at breaking party. Meanwhile, militant attacks continued. Police officer 2 Dec shot dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bannu district; militant attack 23 Dec killed soldier in North Waziristan district. In Rawalpindi, explosion 4 Dec killed one and injured seven; counter-terrorism police 14 Dec arrested three Pakistani Taliban militants allegedly involved in explosion and claimed to have foiled an attack on Islamabad Stock Exchange. In Balochistan, five found dead 8 Dec in Kech district according to local police, allegedly resulting from clash with security forces; two civilians killed in 26 Dec bomb blast in Panjgur district, and seven soldiers same day killed in attack on check point in Harnai district; two paramilitary soldiers killed, 13 civilians injured in 29 Dec grenade attack in Kalat division. Police 17 Dec arrested three Laskhar-e-Islam terrorists accused of planning major attack on Christmas day in Peshawar; Sindhi separatist group claimed responsibility for two attacks on 15 Dec. Visiting U.S. Afghanistan peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly sought govt’s help to ensure intra-Afghan negotiations would not be further delayed. Taliban delegation from Qatar-based political office 16-18 Dec visited Islamabad; FM Qureshi met delegation calling for “reduction in violence leading to a ceasefire” but placed responsibility on all stakeholders, while PM Khan called for comprehensive political settlement.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed loyalists to independent oversight commissions while govt’s COVID-19 policy vis-à-vis Muslims sparked outrage and small-scale protests. Parliamentary council – established under 20th amendment to constitution, which grants Gotabaya sweeping powers – early Dec rubber-stamped Gotabaya’s nominees to several independent oversight commissions, including Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission, National Election Commission and National Police Commission. In 10 Dec letter to govt, two UN special rapporteurs expressed concern that 20th constitutional amendment would damage country’s liberal and democratic institutions. Supreme Court 1 Dec dismissed multiple petitions challenging govt’s policy of cremating all COVID-19 victims, including Muslims, in contravention of Islamic burial practices. Cremation against parents’ wishes 9 Dec of 20-day old Muslim baby who died of COVID-19 sparked public outrage and small-scale protests against govt’s cremation policy in capital Colombo and across country’s Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities, as well as in Europe, U.S. and Canada. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation 10 Dec expressed concern over Sri Lankan authorities “insisting on cremation” of Muslim COVID-19 victims. Maldivian govt 14 Dec announced it was considering request by Sri Lanka to bury remains of Sri Lankan Muslims in Maldives; Muslim activists and politicians rejected proposed arrangement and UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief 16 Dec said it could further marginalise Muslims in Sri Lanka. U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation 15 Dec withdrew $480mn development assistance grant to Sri Lanka “due to lack of partner country engagement”.
Tensions persisted in Papua, while authorities banned hardline group Islamic Defenders Front. UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights 1 Dec called for full investigation into escalating violence against civilians and human rights defenders in Papua. Police same day reportedly arrested 15 demonstrators from Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua during protest in Sinjai, South Sulawesi province. United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s leader Benny Wenda 1 Dec announced establishment of provisional govt in exile in UK, with party declaring him interim president; govt called Wenda’s announcement “small-scale treason”, while West Papua Liberation Army and civilian faction West Papua National Committee early Dec both rejected declaration. In Papua province’s Merauke regency, security forces early to mid-Dec reportedly raided West Papua National Committee offices, and arrested 14 members on unknown charges, leaving several injured. Military police 25 Dec named nine soldiers in case pertaining to alleged torture to death of two civilians in Intan Jaya regency in April. Meanwhile, police 7 Dec killed six bodyguards of cleric Rizieq Shihab, leader of hardline group Islamic Defenders Front, after they allegedly attacked officers on outskirts of capital Jakarta; authorities 12 Dec arrested Rizieq for allegedly inciting people to breach COVID-19 regulations; govt 30 Dec banned Islamic Defenders Front referring to terrorism links and disturbance to public order.
Hostilities between Arakan Army (AA) and Tatmadaw paused in Rakhine State as parties initiated direct ceasefire talks. After two years of escalating hostilities in Rakhine State, AA and military informally halted fighting; move follows support by both sides last month to hold polls in all cancelled Rakhine State constituencies and pledge to cooperate to create conducive security environment. Direct talks between AA and Tatmadaw on formal ceasefire commenced late Nov with online meeting and 9 Dec continued with in-person talks hosted by China-backed armed group United Wa State Army in their headquarters in Pangsang city, Shan State; neither set of talks involved civilian govt. Court martial in Rakhine’s regional capital Sittwe 11 Dec sentenced three Tatmadaw soldiers to 20-year prison terms for rape of Rakhine woman in July.
Security forces clashed with militant groups in south as well as with communist rebels across country. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, administration of Cotabato City 15 Dec was officially turned over to BARMM in accordance with Jan 2019 referendum. Clan violence continued at relatively lower levels than previous month, while clashes between insurgents and security forces remained at similar levels. In Maguindanao province, hostilities resumed between members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and military; elements of BIFF under Kagi Karialan 3 Dec attacked police station and fired shots toward military detachment in Datu Piang town; members of BIFF 9 Dec attacked military detachment in Shariff Aguak town and 13 Dec clashed with military in Northern Kabuntalan municipality; mortar shelling 15 Dec killed one civilian and injured six others in Datu Salibo and parts of Datu Unsay municipalities. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remained delayed as main focus was on fighting COVID-19; total cases countrywide rose to over 467,000, with average of 1,000-2,000 new cases daily throughout month. Following military operations against elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) last month, small clashes between soldiers and ASG militants continued in Zamboanga del Norte and Sulu provinces; military 2 Dec clashed with suspected militants in Sibuco municipality; clashes 17 Dec injured at least five soldiers in Patikul municipality; police raid same day killed one militant in Ipil municipality. Meanwhile, clashes between armed forces and communist New People’s Army (NPA) continued in Luzon in north, Visayas in centre and Mindanao in south with at least 27 combatants and civilians killed and three injured throughout month. On island of Negros, unknown gunmen on motorcycles 15 Dec shot and killed a female doctor and her husband who led community’s response to COVID-19 after they were linked to communist rebels.
South China Sea
Amid high-level military activity in region, tensions persisted between China on one hand, and U.S., Taiwan and claimant parties on the other. Amid strained relations between Australia and China, Chinese state news outlet Global Times 1 Dec called Australia “warhound of the US” and warned “its warships must not come to China’s coastal areas (…) or else it will swallow the bitter pills”. Following 14th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and 7th ADMM-Plus conference 10-11 Dec via video conference, all parties said in summary of discussions that they supported “maintenance of peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in and over the South China Sea” and would “settle all the disputes and differences peacefully in accordance with the international law”. Tensions heightened between Taiwan and China throughout month. Taiwan 20 Dec staged live-fire drill in Pratas Islands, Beijing-claimed northernmost islets of South China Sea (SCS), as part of anti-aircraft and anti-sea-landing exercise. Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy 21 Dec announced that newest carrier Shandong had sailed through Taiwan Strait on 20 Dec to hold stage exercises in SCS; Taiwan’s defence ministry said Shandong 17 Dec sailed from northern Chinese port of Dalian escorted by four warships; Taiwan 20 Dec sent six warships and eight aircraft to monitor Chinese ships (see Taiwan Strait). Beijing 22 Dec claimed its military had “expelled” U.S. Navy destroyer John S. McCain after it had “trespassed” in disputed waters near Spratly Islands in SCS; U.S. Navy 23 Dec called statement false and Chinese effort to assert its illegitimate claims. Following 21 Dec virtual summit between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc, both sides called for enhanced security and maritime cooperation for stability in Indo-Pacific region, as part of which Indian Navy Ship Kiltan 26-28 Dec undertook “passing exercise” with Vietnam People’s Navy in SCS.
Authorities reactivated lèse-majesté law prohibiting criticism of monarchy in crackdown against anti-govt demonstrators; sporadic violence continued in deep south. Local human rights organisation Thai Lawyers for Human Rights confirmed that as of 17 Dec at least 33 people, including one minor, were charged with lèse-majesté, suggesting renewed use of dormant law after three-year hiatus as means of cracking down on dissenters. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 18 Dec condemned use of law, particularly against minors. In capital Bangkok, thousands of anti-govt protesters continued to gather throughout month. Following Constitutional Court decision 2 Dec that unanimously cleared PM Prayuth Chan-ocha of any conflict of interest with respect to his use of govt-owned house on 1st Infantry Regiment base, protesters seized on issue as another example of double-standard justice, with some 5,000 rallying at Lad Phrao junction that evening. Protesters 10 Dec rallied at Democracy Monument, 14 October 1973 Memorial, and UN Bangkok Headquarters; small IED bomb same day exploded well in advance of rally at 14 October 1973 Memorial, causing minor damage to structure; protest leader Anon Nampa 14 Dec told reporters that protesters would take break for remainder of year and resume rallies in 2021. Late 31 Dec, small pipe detonated in Bangkok where pro-democracy activists were selling prawns to help farmers affected by COVID-19 pandemic; four people suffered minor injuries. Group of nine U.S. senators 3 Dec introduced resolution in support of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, urging govt to “immediately and unconditionally release political activists and refrain from harassing, intimidating, or persecuting those engaged in peaceful protests”; FM Don Pramudwinai 17 Dec said in response that resolution was “work of lobbyists”. In deep south, two motorcycle gunmen, dressed as women, 8 Dec shot and killed police officer in Khok Pho district, Pattani province; several gunmen 11 Dec shot and killed Muslim assistant village headman at his home in Raman district, Yala province. Govt 20 Dec held provincial elections in first test of democracy since 2019 general elections, which drew accusations of manipulation.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Mostar held first elections in over decade. Mostar, city in south, 20 Dec held first elections in 12 years after EU, U.S. and UK-sponsored agreement in June broke deadlock between major Croat and Bosniak political parties, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA); central election commission revealed HDZ and SDA won largest vote shares of 35-member city council but fell short of outright majority.
EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed and Constitutional Court declared PM Hoti’s govt as illegitimate. Kosovo State Coordinator on Dialogue Skender Hyseni and Serbian Director of Government Office for Kosovo Petar Petkovic 10 Dec met for new round of EU-brokered talks in Brussels led by EU Representative for Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak; meeting produced no significant narrowing of differences on financial claims and property issues. Constitutional Court 21 Dec ruled that PM Hoti’s govt was illegitimate as it received Assembly majority with invalid vote cast by MP Etem Arifi who was convicted for corruption in Aug 2019; acting President Vjosa Osmani 22 Dec began consultations with political parties to set date for snap elections. Kosovo electricity network system operator KOSTT 15 Dec began to operate independently from Serbian operator EMS in newly-established regulatory area covering whole Kosovo territory, including Serb-majority north; Serbian President Vucic warned govt to refrain from such unilateral moves that could hamper ongoing talks. FM Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla 27 Dec accused Serbia of violating Kosovo’s national security through “illegal roads” and “unverified pharmaceutical products”, said Serbia had “undermined” ongoing normalisation process. Chief Prosecutor in Mitrovica municipality next day revealed investigation was underway into how COVID-19 vaccines from Serbia had reached Kosovo’s Serb-run north without prior consultation with local authorities; Vucic same day said distribution of vaccine in northern Kosovo does not violate Brussels agreements.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey cooled, raising prospect of resumption of exploratory talks. Tensions between Greece and Turkey tempered after Ankara late Nov withdrew its seismic survey vessel Oruç Reis from disputed waters, raising prospect that bilateral exploratory talks could resume. Following 10 Dec two-day summit, EU Council refrained from anticipated sanctions on Turkey and instead reaffirmed support for Greece and Republic of Cyprus, condemned Turkey’s “provocative” behaviour in East Med and stated positive agenda remained if Turkey “showed readiness… to resolve differences through dialogue and in accordance with international law”. In phone call with EU Council President Charles Michel on 15 Dec, Turkish President Erdoğan said steps by EU constituted “a new window of opportunity”, stressing Turkey’s intent “to turn a new page with the EU”. Meanwhile, military activities continued. Greece 13-15 Dec held military drills near the easternmost Aegean islands of Samothrace, Limnos, Chios, Samos, Tilos and Halki; Turkey 13 Dec responded with three advisory announcements for demilitarisation of these islands. Turkey 13 and 19 Dec issued advisories disputing Greece’s jurisdiction over airspace south of Kastellorizo, where Greek air force 15 and 21 Dec conducted aeronautical exercises. FMs of Cyprus, Greece and Jordan 8 Dec met in Jordan’s capital Amman to lay groundwork for establishment of permanent secretariat to facilitate regional cooperation. United Arab Emirates (UAE) participated for first time alongside France in joint Greek, Egyptian and Cypriot training exercises held 30 Nov-6 Dec off Egyptian coast. Egypt 17 Dec announced that UAE had joined the East Med Gas Forum as observer.
Govt completed first prisoner swaps with Azerbaijan as part of Russia-brokered ceasefire, while opposition protests calling for PM Pashinyan’s resignation continued. Baku and Yerevan 14 Dec exchanged first group of prisoners of war and civilians that included over 44 Armenian and 14 Azerbaijani detainees, with active participation of Russian peacekeeping forces deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under Nov ceasefire deal; second group of four Armenian and two Azerbaijan detainees released on 28 Dec. Clashes 11-12 Dec took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces near villages under Armenian control in first violation of ceasefire agreement (see Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict). Govt announced that it had lifted some martial law restrictions imposed in Sept, including restrictions on holding protests and strikes. Hundreds of opposition demonstrators 8 Dec gathered in capital Yerevan after PM Nikol Pashinyan ignored calls to step down over Nov ceasefire with Azerbaijan. Thousands of Armenians 19 Dec began three days of mourning for victims of hostilities with Azerbaijan, marching through Yerevan. Hundreds of opposition supporters 22 Dec set up protest camp outside govt buildings in Yerevan in response to calls from opposition for national strike. Pashinyan 29 Dec started official discussions about snap parliamentary elections with three main political parties present at National Assembly; no date for possible vote announced yet. Meanwhile, French and American co-chairs of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group 14 Dec visited Yerevan for first time since Oct 2019: PM Pashinyan raised with co-chairs need to restore negotiations in format of Minsk Group co-chairmanship with aim of comprehensive settlement, and co-chairs stressed that they remained “committed to providing concrete proposals on issues raised during the meetings for future discussions between the sides.” Lack of clarity on new Armenia-Azerbaijan border 16-17 Dec sparked local protests involving hundreds of residents in southern Syunik region with some briefly blocking roads; defence ministry 17 Dec confirmed that Russian border troops would be stationed along state border in Syunik to ease tensions.
Govt completed first prisoner swaps with Armenia as part of Russia-brokered ceasefire and bolstered ties with Turkey. Baku and Yerevan 14 Dec exchanged first group of prisoners of war, detainees and civilians that included over 44 Armenian and 14 Azerbaijani detainees, with active participation of Russian peacekeeping forces deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under Nov ceasefire deal; second group of four Armenian and two Azerbaijani detainees released on 28 Dec. Govt 10 Dec held victory parade in capital Baku with participation of Turkish political and military leadership, including group of Turkish soldiers joining Azerbaijani troops in parade; govt 28 Dec revealed it had lost 2,823 soldiers during war. President Aliyev 10 Dec discussed opening of Turkey’s borders with Armenia with Turkish President Erdoğan; Erdoğan stated that Turkey was ready to reopen border with Armenia if Yerevan takes unspecified “positive steps”, and later recited poem lamenting division of Azerbaijani lands along Aras river that runs between Azerbaijan and Iran, prompting Iranian lawmakers 13 Dec to condemn such “unacceptable and divisive” remarks (see Iran). Clashes 11-12 Dec took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces near villages under Armenian control in first violation of ceasefire agreement (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Govt 15 Dec signed memorandum of understanding with Turkey, under which Ankara is due to supply natural gas to Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan via new gas pipeline from Turkey’s Igdir region; deal could reduce Nakhchivan’s current dependence on Iranian gas. French and American co-chairs of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group 12 Dec visited Baku for first time since start of Oct 2019; Aliyev 12 Dec told co-chairs that they had not been invited. Govt 18 Dec closed land border with Russia until 1 March 2021 due to stark rise in COVID-19 cases in both countries.
Newly-elected parliament held first session, boycotted by opposition parties still demanding snap election. President Zourabichvili 12 Dec inaugurated first session of new parliament, attended only by members of ruling Georgian Dream party amid boycott by opposition parties that demand snap election, release of “political prisoners”, electoral reforms and replacement of electoral administration; five out of eight parties 11 Dec signed symbolic declarations confirming their refusal to enter parliament and cancellation of their party list as talks with Georgian Dream party, facilitated by U.S. and EU ambassadors, had yet to resolve standoff. U.S. embassy and EU delegation 11 Dec issued joint statement expressing “regret that it was not possible to reach a broad-based agreement before the first convocation of the new parliament”. In breakaway South Ossetia, protesters throughout month rallied in front of main governmental headquarters of regional capital Tskhinvali demanding justice for local man reportedly beaten to death in police custody in late Aug, and resignation of de facto Prosecutor General Uruzmag Dzhagayev.
Armenia and Azerbaijan completed first prisoner swaps as part of Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement, and some clashes erupted mid-month. After several weeks of discussion, Baku and Yerevan 14 Dec exchanged first group of prisoners of war, detainees and civilians that included over 44 Armenian and 14 Azerbaijani detainees, with active participation of Russian peacekeeping forces deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) under Nov ceasefire deal; second group of four Armenian and two Azerbaijani detainees released on 28 Dec. In first violation of ceasefire agreement, clashes 11-12 Dec took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces near villages of Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd in Hadrut region under Armenian control; shortly after, Russian peacekeepers deployed to area to stabilise situation. President Aliyev 12 Dec raised incident in his meeting with Minsk Group co-chairs, holding Armenia responsible for new clashes; Armenian MFA next day said Azerbaijani troops exploited absence of peacekeeping forces in area. De facto authorities 16 Dec confirmed handover of nine corpses of its soldiers killed in clashes, and 73 others captured by Azerbaijani forces. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry and State Security Service 13 Dec issued joint statement announcing launch of “anti-terror operation” in response to “acts of provocation” against their servicemen in village of Sur in Nov and on 8 Dec, during which four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and two injured. French and American co-chairs of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group 12-14 Dec visited Baku and Yerevan, but did not travel to NK capital Stepanakert; co-chairs’ meeting with de facto leader of NK Arayik Harutyunyan in Yerevan was cancelled last minute for no clear reason.
Weekly protests continued in Far East, while several security incidents occurred in North Caucasus. Demonstrations 5, 12, 19 and 26 Dec continued in Khabarovsk city in Far East to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of populist Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Furgal; police 19 and 26 Dec detained several protesters. Russian President Putin 17 Dec said that Furgal’s case was not politically motivated. Meanwhile in Karachay-Cherkessia republic in North Caucasus, suicide bombing 11 Dec outside regional domestic intelligence directorate in village of Uchkeken injured six law enforcement officers. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 15 Dec announced that member of illegal armed group, Kazbek Baidulaev, was killed during security operation in Achkhoy-Martanovsky district of Chechnya. Interfax news agency 17 Dec reported that Chechen security services killed two unidentified men in return fire who had thrown explosive device at police in Kurchaloevskii district in Chechnya.
Mass protests over disputed Aug presidential elections continued. Thousands throughout month protested in capital Minsk, calling for free and fair elections and challenging govt’s Nov ban on mass demonstrations. Police 6 Dec arrested more than 300 people during protests, using water cannons, armoured vehicles and military trucks to disperse crowds; police 13 Dec detained 135 people and 20 Dec arrested over 100 demonstrators during opposition protests. Hundreds 27 Dec marched in Minsk demanding resignation of President Lukashenka amid heavy police presence; police detained 13 protesters. U.S. 23 Dec sanctioned four entities and 40 individuals for role in disputed election, while EU 17 Dec imposed third round of sanctions targeting seven entities and 29 individuals. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 4 Dec urged govt to cancel results of disputed Aug election, immediately cease all violence against peaceful protesters and organise new presidential elections. Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 16 Dec received European Parliament’s 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in Brussels on behalf of opposition Coordination Council. Prosecutor General’s Office 22 Dec opened criminal case against Tsikhanouskaya, accusing her and Coordination Council of forming extremist group to overthrow govt.
July ceasefire wore thin following escalation of fighting along line of contact in Donbas conflict zone. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recorded over 200 ceasefire violations in Donetsk oblast on three separate days – 11, 19 and 29 Dec – following months in which recorded daily ceasefire violations had ranged from single digits to just below 100. Areas around Donetsk Filtration Station in Avdiivka, Zolote and Popasna suffered shelling throughout month. Sniper fire and shelling injured seven Ukrainian soldiers; Ukrainian forces sustained one non-live-fire injury. Armed groups 17 Dec captured Ukrainian reconnaissance commander in Luhansk region; body of another Ukrainian soldier was passed to armed forces 17 Dec. Russian-backed forces said shelling killed four of its fighters 18 Dec and one 22 Dec. One civilian was injured 20 Dec after anti-tank missile hit his vehicle; govt forces said missile was launched from area of enemy control. Prisoner swap negotiations remained stalled. Chief OSCE representative to Minsk Trilateral Contact Group, Ambassador Heidi Grau, 16 Dec urged sides to finalise identification of new demining areas. Kyiv 16 Dec opened its second administrative centre for civilians at crossing in Novotroitske, south of Donetsk city, and reopened all entry-exit checkpoints; however, corresponding checkpoints in de facto republics remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Representatives of so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics 2 Dec participated in informal UN Security Council meeting, proposing referendum on status of territories under their de facto control. President Zelenskyy 16 Dec stated that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s understanding of Russia-Ukraine dynamics would “add to resolving Donbas war”. President Putin 17 Dec blamed Kyiv for deepening stalemate in Donbas, warning Ukrainian govt against attempts to unilaterally revise Minsk agreements and promising greater infrastructure and economic support for so-called republics. International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda 11 Dec announced that following preliminary examination of “a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity […] statutory criteria for opening investigations into the situation in Ukraine has been met.”
Prospects for relaunching UN talks remained dim amid gap between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on one hand and Greece and Greek Cypriots on the other. UN Special Envoy to Cyprus Jane Holl Lute throughout month met relevant stakeholders to lay foundations for relaunching UN-sponsored talks. Lute 1 Dec met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who spoke in favour of restarting talks but stressed that federal solution – on which talks in past were based – had not led to any result and that “it [was] time for a solution to be based on sovereign equality; where there are two states co-existing side by side”. Following 16 Dec meeting with Lute in Ankara, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu echoed sentiment, tweeting that “federation project is no longer sustainable. In line with realities on island, Turkish side promotes two-state settlement based on equal sovereignty”. In contrast, following meetings with Lute, Greek Cypriot officials 1 Dec and Greek officials 2 Dec reiterated position that talks should resume where they left off in previous round. In “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, PM Ersan Saner 9 Dec formed new govt following fall of previous one in Oct.
Military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in country’s south east and northern Iraq. Military operations targeting PKK militants in rural areas of country’s south east as well as in northern Iraq continued but at lower intensity owing to harsher winter conditions; military also launched air raids targeting PKK positions in northern Iraq. Govt efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) persisted: police detained more than 60 HDP officials and members throughout month. Court 21 Dec sentenced HDP MP Leyla Güven to 22 years in prison for “terrorist propaganda” and “membership to a terrorist organisation”. Govt continued operations targeting Islamic State (ISIS) throughout month. Police detained over 150 individuals for their alleged ISIS links; notably, police operation in capital Istanbul 16 Dec led to detention of 18 ISIS-linked suspects accused of planning attacks on Turkey. Meanwhile, tensions with Greece cooled following late Nov withdrawal of Turkish seismic survey vessel (see Eastern Mediterranean).
Authorities continued harassment of opposition groups and activists ahead of parliamentary elections in January. Central Election Commission (OSK) 10 Dec launched parliamentary campaign, due to run until 9 Jan, with no opposition parties listed on ballot; opposition movement Halyq Biligi (People’s Rule) 22 Dec demanded postponement of parliamentary elections, citing lack of opposition parties’ participation. In Almaty city, opposition groups 16 Dec marched in unauthorised protest to demand release of political prisoners, fair parliamentary elections and registration of opposition parties. Meanwhile, authorities continued to target civil society and opposition. Notably, coalition of international NGOs 3 Dec said that tax authorities had notified 13 human rights organisations for alleged financial reporting violations in Oct-Nov, including “incorrectly completed declaration forms relating to foreign income”, which carries fine and suspension of activities penalties. Court in north-western city of Aqtobe 21 Dec sentenced activist Alibek Moldin to one year of “freedom limitation’’ for leading banned Koshe party, associated with proscribed opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Authorities in Aqtobe same day forcibly admitted activist Asanali Suyubaev to psychiatric clinic; Suyubaev accused of tearing down poster of ruling Nur Otan party. In city of Keles, district court 22 Dec sentenced activist Marat Duisembiev to three and a half years of “freedom limitation” for involvement with banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party.
Parliament confirmed constitutional referendum, which would strengthen presidential powers, to be held on same day as presidential elections in January. Constitutional Chamber of Supreme Court 2 Dec approved ruling by parliament which 22 Oct extended legislature’s term by up to six months without calling for new elections; prolongation of parliament’s term came under criticism due to concerns over authoritarian tendencies. Lawmakers 10 Dec approved law to hold referendum on 10 Jan, same day as presidential elections, despite constitutional amendments seen as controversial as they could give excessive powers to president; dozens previous day rallied in front of parliament to protest amendments. Former acting President and PM Japarov, along with 17 other candidates, 15 Dec launched electoral campaigns for presidency. Meanwhile, Supreme Court 7 Dec overturned 18-year prison sentence of former PM Sapar Isakov who was convicted on corruption charges in June, sent case for retrial to Birinchi Mai District Court in capital Bishkek.
Amid concerns over widespread food insecurity, reports over harassment of opposition leaders and their relatives emerged. After relatives of opposition leader Mahmurod Odinaev, deputy chairman of Social Democratic Party, said he was missing late Nov after placing Facebook post asking to stage protest over rise in food prices in capital Dushanbe, Prosecutor General’s Office 5 Dec announced arrest of Odinaev on hooliganism charges in capital Dushanbe; authorities same day also reportedly detained Odinaev’s nephew in Hisor city. Meanwhile, NGOs Human Rights Watch and Norwegian Helsinki Committee 4 Dec urged govt to “stop harassing” family of exiled opposition activist Fatkhuddin Saidmukhidinov in apparent move “to force him to cease his online criticism of the government”; authorities late Nov interrogated, summoned and threatened Saidmukhidinov’s relatives. U.S. 7 Dec included Tajikistan on list of ten countries with which it has “particular concern” over religious freedom. After video surfaced in early Dec showing Tajik insurgents who appeared to be fighting against Afghan govt forces in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, govt deployed additional troops along southern border with Afghanistan. After 8-9 Dec visit to Al-Hawl and Al-Roj camps in north-eastern Syria, Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Kuwait Zubaidullo Zubaidzoda 9 Dec announced plan to repatriate families of Tajik Islamic State fighters “within weeks”. World Bank 23 Dec released survey revealing widespread food insecurity and poverty associated with COVID-19 epidemic.
Latin America & Caribbean
Territorial contests between armed groups continued to afflict populations in rural areas. Suspected Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 5 Dec killed at least four members of indigenous community in Santander de Quilichao municipality, Cauca department (south west). National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas 3-15 Dec imposed armed strike in Iscaundé and Guapi municipalities in south-western Nariño and Cauca departments respectively, prohibiting car and boat transport and reportedly confining over 4,000 people to their homes. Suspected ELN combatants 27 Dec killed family of five, including former FARC combatant, in Montecristo municipality, Bolívar department (north). Meanwhile, violence persisted in Antioquia department (north west) as drug trafficking group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) battled splinter groups; notably, spate of AGC attacks 11-13 Dec killed at least seven civilians in Caucasia and El Bagre municipalities. Govt 4 Dec reiterated 31 Dec deadline for armed group turned political party FARC to turn over economic proceeds from decades-long conflict; FARC 15 Dec reiterated official position that all assets have been declared or provided to govt. Govt pursued efforts to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops, paused in 2015, despite vocal opposition from civil society organisations, which argue fumigation poses health, social and environmental risks, and effects on reducing cocaine supply still unclear. Environmental Licensing Authority 19 Dec held public audience; meeting was one of final steps required by Constitutional Court to restart spraying.
President Maduro secured vast parliamentary majority, regaining control of last branch of power outside his grasp. In 6 Dec legislative elections, ruling coalition won over 90% of 277 seats in National Assembly; electoral authority same day reported turnout of 30.5%. Main opposition parties boycotted polls, saying conditions for free and fair vote were not met. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 8 Dec said outgoing opposition-controlled National Assembly would remain only legitimate legislature until free and fair elections are held. In bid to demonstrate retained support from electorate, mainstream opposition 7-12 Dec held “popular consultation”, inviting participants to declare new legislature illegitimate and repudiate Maduro’s “usurpation” of presidency; organising committee 13 Dec said more than 6.4mn voted, but later reduced figure by around 670,000, citing technical difficulties. Guaidó 13 Dec called for nationwide demonstrations on 5 Jan to reject inauguration of new National Assembly. Guaidó-led assembly 26 Dec extended its term – due to expire 4 Jan – for another year and delegated assembly’s functions to small group of legislators, although largest party in Guaido’s coalition, Democratic Action, abstained. Maduro 28 Dec called move “unconstitutional”, and Supreme Court 30 Dec ruled term extension invalid. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 7 Dec said Washington would continue to recognise Guaidó-led assembly as only legitimate legislature; U.S. Treasury 18 Dec issued new round of financial sanctions on several individuals and company for abetting “fraudulent” elections. Office of International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor 14 Dec reiterated there was “reasonable basis” to believe crimes against humanity had been perpetrated in Venezuela since 2017 anti-govt protests, committing to determine in 2021 whether to open full investigation.
Amid challenges to electoral preparations ahead of votes this year, deadly attacks on community leaders persisted. Lawmakers failed to approve new electoral law in its entirety three months away from primary elections set for March 2021, and ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov 2021. National Congress VP Antonio Rivera 4 Dec said elections are likely to be held under current electoral law. National Electoral Council 7 Dec said it had found inconsistencies in 500,000 out of 4.2mn fingerprints submitted for national voter registry, heralding prospect of further disputes over electoral process and legitimacy of results. Unidentified assailants 19 Dec killed journalist Pedro Arcángel Canelas in Dulce del Culmí municipality, Olancho department (east); 26 Dec killed community leader and candidate in upcoming legislative elections Felix Vasquéz in Santiago Puringla municipality, La Paz department (south west); next day killed community leader José Adán Medina in Morazán municipality, Yoro department (north). After Eta and Iota hurricanes hit country last month, Honduran disaster agency 7 Dec estimated around 93,000 still in temporary shelters; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs next day issued alert about health-care provision after hurricanes destroyed dozens of health centres and hospitals. Anti-riot police in Santa Fe municipality in Ocotepeque department (west) 10 Dec tried to stymie caravan of 500 migrants en route to Guatemala from San Pedro Sula city in Cortés department (north west) over alleged failure to show IDs and negative COVID-19 tests; Guatemalan authorities next day reportedly arrested 67 migrants who had managed to continue journey and cross into country. U.S. 7 Dec extended Temporary Protected Status for Honduran nationals, which allows them to live and work in U.S., until Oct 2021. U.S. Congress 22 Dec passed bill requiring upcoming U.S. President Biden to submit to Congress list of corrupt officials in Northern Triangle, and curtailing military funding for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Tensions mounted between President Bukele and electoral authorities ahead of Feb 2021 elections and allegations of govt mismanagement of COVID-19 funds persisted. Bukele 5 Dec said Supreme Electoral Tribunal was hiring private security contractors to transport ballots ahead of legislative and municipal elections scheduled for Feb, suggesting that tribunal is plotting electoral fraud. Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública’s opinion poll, which surveyed 1,265 people, 8 Dec showed 64% of electorate intended to vote for Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party in upcoming elections. Meanwhile, govt’s COVID-19-related spending remained under scrutiny after news outlet El Faro late Nov reported allegations of misuse of funds for hotels repurposed as quarantine centres; Court of Accounts 1 Dec accused finance ministry of blocking its auditors from investigating other possible irregularities. Police Chief Mauricio Arriaza Chicas 8 Dec resigned as deputy security minister ahead of vote in Legislative Assembly on whether his immunity should be lifted following alleged breach of duties; opposition accuses him of failing to make Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya comply with lawmakers’ order to give account of govt’s COVID-19 spending. Attorney General’s office 15 Dec opened judicial proceedings against Arriaza over “dereliction of duty” charges; judge 23 Dec dropped charges citing procedural flaws. Head of El Salvador Journalists’ Association 16 Dec reported 114 attacks on press freedom between Jan and Nov, said such attacks had risen by 281% during Bukele’s first year in office. U.S. 7 Dec extended Temporary Protected Status for Salvadoran nationals, which allows them to live and work in U.S., until Oct 2021. U.S. Congress 22 Dec passed bill requiring upcoming U.S. President Biden to submit to Congress list of corrupt officials in Northern Triangle, and curtailing military funding for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
President Ortega took further steps to muzzle opposition and free speech ahead of 2021 presidential election. Congress 21 Dec passed law essentially banning opposition candidates from running in presidential election scheduled for Nov 2021; bill gives Ortega unilateral power to declare citizens as “coup plotters” and “terrorists” – labels which he has often used to describe opposition – and ban them from standing for election. Organization of American States and EU immediately condemned move; U.S. Treasury same day sanctioned three public officials – Supreme Court VP, National Assembly deputy and police chief in second largest city León – for their support toward undermining “Nicaragua’s democracy”. Govt 23 Dec confiscated properties of media outlets 100% Noticias and Confidencial and of two NGOs which had been shut down after 2018 protests. Local militia 6 Dec killed member of Mayangna indigenous group in Bosawás natural reserve, Jinotega region (north). Following devastating hurricanes last month, residents in Bilwi town, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (north east), 4 Dec demonstrated against govt, accusing authorities of withholding aid delivery to those who do not identify as sympathisers of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2 Dec reported that govt imprisoned over 1,600 anti-govt demonstrators between April 2018 and May 2020. U.S. 7 Dec extended Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguan nationals, which allows them to live and work in U.S., until Oct 2021.
Gang violence continued while authorities pursued efforts to reform constitution despite criticism. Suspected G9 coalition of gangs 3 Dec attacked police patrols in capital Port-au-Prince’s Village de Dieu, Grand Ravine and Delmas areas; no casualties reported. Unidentified gunmen next day shot dead three men in Port-au-Prince’s Pétion-Ville commune. Clashes between rival gangs in Croix-des-Bouquets commune outside capital 17 Dec killed four. General Police Inspectorate 8 Dec questioned 70 police officers suspected of being part of Fantom 509 gang. Anti-govt demonstrations continued throughout month: thousands 10 Dec protested against spike in kidnappings in Gonaïves commune, Artibonite department (north), and Port-au-Prince, where they clashed with security forces. Meanwhile, govt pursued efforts to reform constitution despite widespread criticism from opposition, which views move as illegal: committee in charge of drafting new constitution early Dec said preliminary draft would be ready by 26 Feb and constitutional referendum would take place in March. Core Group for Haiti, which includes U.S., UN, Organization of American States and EU, 12 Dec expressed concern about broad powers conferred by two presidential decrees; Core Group said Nov decree creating National Agency of Intelligence (ANI) confers “quasi-judicial immunity [to ANI agents], thus opening the possibility of abuse”, and another extends qualification of “terrorist act” to wide range of offences. Special adviser to President Moïse 16 Dec announced amendments to ANI decree. U.S. Treasury 10 Dec sanctioned two former govt officials and one former police officer for their alleged involvement in gang-led attack which killed 71 in Port-au-Prince’s La Saline neighbourhood in Nov 2018. U.S. 7 Dec extended Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals, which allows them to live and work in U.S., until Oct 2021.
Cartel violence continued unabated while authorities stripped foreign law enforcement agents of diplomatic immunity. Along border between Michoacán and Jalisco central states, clashes between Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and alliance of Michoacán-based criminal groups in Nov and early Dec killed at least 26 and displaced over 1,000. Suspected CJNG gunmen 18 Dec shot and killed ex-governor of Jalisco state Aristóteles Sandoval in Puerto Vallarta town. Violence also increased in Zacatecas central state: clashes between CJNG and Sinaloa Cartel over control of drug trafficking routes left at least 28 dead 14-18 Dec; unidentified gunmen 9 Dec killed director of media outlet Prensa Libre MX, Jaime Castaño Zacarías, outside Jerez city. Also in centre, suspected Santa Rosa de Lima cartel 18 Dec killed three suspected CJNG members in Celaya city, Guanajuato state. After President López Obrador 6 Dec called for stripping U.S. officials of diplomatic immunity on Mexican soil, Chamber of Deputies 15 Dec approved new national security law requiring all foreign law enforcement agents to relinquish diplomatic immunity; move widely seen as targeting U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials following diplomatic spat over Oct detention in U.S. of former Defence Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos on charges of drug trafficking and involvement in organised crime. Ahead of legislative elections set for July 2021, opposition parties Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), National Action Party (PAN) and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) 5 Dec announced electoral coalition in bid to unseat ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).
Demands for repeal of decades-old agrarian law fuelled mass protests across country, leaving several dead. Agriculture workers late Nov-early Dec initiated protests demanding higher wages; as protests spread northward from country’s south, cutting off transit on highway critical to food supply for capital Lima, police 3 Dec intervened to disperse protesters in Virú town, La Libertad department, leaving one dead. Hundreds of workers from metallurgical plant in La Oroya town, Junín department, 4 Dec joined protesters and blockaded highway in La Oroya district, demanding govt turn over management of mining complex. Congress same day repealed agrarian law but 19-20 Dec failed to reach consensus on law’s replacement, specifically clause on higher base salaries, prompting agricultural workers to renew protests 21 Dec. Congress 29 Dec passed agricultural reform bill, raising base salaries of agricultural workers by 30%. Workers’ unions, who had been demanding increase in daily wage from $11 to $18, immediately decried bill as insufficient. Clashes next day broke out between protesters and police in Chao district, La Libertad department, reportedly leaving two protesters killed, while another individual died in vehicle stranded by protest. Meanwhile, earlier in month, National Police Commander General Orlando Velasco and two other generals 1 Dec resigned in protest at police reform program launched by President Sagasti following heavy-handed response to Nov protests against impeachment of former President Martín Vizcarra; Interior Minister Cluber Aliaga 7 Dec resigned, claiming that use of force by police in Nov was justified.
Middle East & North Africa
Israel normalised relations with Morocco and proceeded with de facto annexation of West Bank, while collapse of its unity govt triggered new elections. In fourth deal of its kind, U.S. President Trump 10 Dec announced normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco. Amid growing speculation over potential normalisation deal with Saudi Arabia, senior Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal 6 Dec condemned normalisation agreements, while Saudi cabinet 8 Dec reiterated commitment to 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Palestinian Authority (PA), Jordan and Egypt 2 Dec agreed to form joint committee to set up international peace conference aimed at resolving Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Qatari capital Doha, PA President Abbas 14 Dec met with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who confirmed Qatar’s support for Palestinian cause. In West Bank, following PA’s decision to resume security cooperation with Israel last month, Israel 2 Dec released more than $1bn of withheld tax revenue to PA in first transfer since June. Israeli forces 4 Dec killed Palestinian teenager during protest against Israeli settlements; 21 Dec killed Palestinian man who allegedly fired toward Israeli officers in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli home demolitions continued in West Bank, including in Jericho, Ramallah and Hebron cities; notices for evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem expanded, notably in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods. Knesset 17 Dec legalised 65 Israeli outposts in West Bank that were previously deemed illegal by domestic Israeli laws. In Gaza, unidentified group 25 Dec reportedly fired rocket into Israel; retaliatory Israeli airstrikes next day wounded at least two Palestinians. EU Heads of Mission 8 Dec visited Gaza to assess impact of COVID-19 outbreak and Israel’s blockade. Armed groups in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, 29 Dec conducted first joint military exercise. Following longstanding tensions within Israeli coalition govt between Blue and White and Likud parties, Knesset 22 Dec failed to meet deadline to pass budget, triggering fourth round of elections in less than two years; new elections scheduled for March 2021. Following postponement of maritime border talks with Lebanon scheduled for early Dec, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 22 Dec said Israel and Lebanon remained “far apart”.
Political deadlock over govt formation persisted while senior officials were charged with negligence for deadly August Beirut blast, prompting pushback from political elite. After Central Bank governor Riad Salameh 1 Dec said subsidies for basic commodities could only continue for two more months, protesters 7 Dec took to streets across country, including in capital Beirut; UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Labour Organization 7 Dec warned removal of subsidies would inflict “social catastrophe”; Diab 29 Dec said rationing foreign reserves could stretch subsidies for another six months. French President Macron and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres in virtual aid conference 2 Dec announced creation of fund handled by World Bank, UN and EU, while reiterating aid was contingent upon formation of new govt and political reforms. PM-designate Hariri – whom lawmakers nominated in Oct to form new govt – 9 Dec presented President Aoun with line-up of new govt but deadlock persisted; Aoun and Hariri 14 Dec blamed each other for delay in govt formation. Meanwhile, Fadi Sawwan – judge responsible for investigating 4 Aug deadly Beirut port explosion – 10 Dec charged caretaker PM Diab and three former ministers for negligence; move sparked criticism among political elite as Diab 10 Dec questioned legitimacy of charges and 14 Dec refused questioning, while caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi 14 Dec said he would not enforce arrest warrants for officials, and two of accused ex-ministers asked Court of Cassation to replace judge. Sawwan 17 Dec suspended investigation for ten days to respond to legal challenges to his authority. After various private universities announced tuition hikes, clashes 19 Dec broke out between police and student protesters. In north, group of Lebanese nationals 26 Dec set fire to refugee settlement, destroying camp and injuring at least four; army 27 Dec announced arrest of two Lebanese and six Syrian nationals allegedly involved in altercation that led to incident. Following postponement of maritime border talks with Israel scheduled for early Dec, Aoun 2 Dec reiterated difficulties in negotiations could be overcome, while U.S. Sec State Pompeo 22 Dec said Israel and Lebanon remained “far apart”.
Fighting escalated between rival armed groups in north east, Russia-Turkey tensions persisted in Idlib, and Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly assaults. Clashes erupted between Turkish-backed groups and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in and around city of Ain Issa: Turkish-backed forces 6 Dec carried out artillery attacks on Ain Issa and nearby villages, wounding at least nine civilians, including two children. Although Russia and SDF 8 Dec reached agreement over redeployment of military units and establishment of three Russian observation posts near Ain Issa, Turkish-backed forces 11, 13 and 14 Dec launched ground assaults targeting SDF positions, and mutual shelling continued. Russia 27 Dec confirmed deployment of additional military units to Ain Issa. Elsewhere in north east, protesters 8, 9 and 15 Dec took to streets in SDF-controlled parts of Deir Ez-Zor city to protest against deteriorating living conditions and high cost of fuel. In Idlib in north west, Turkey withdrew from observation points in regime-controlled territory, while setting up new ones in rebel-controlled parts of province and further strengthening position in Jabal al-Zawiya area near M4 highway throughout month. Militants 29 Dec reportedly wounded three Russian soldiers on patrol near Trumba in Idlib province. Meanwhile, ISIS 2-13 Dec launched series of attacks in Deir Ez-Zor, Homs and Hama cities, killing at least 29 pro-regime fighters and injuring 25 others; in retaliation, Russian forces in coordination with regime forces mid-Dec launched over 170 airstrikes in central desert, reportedly killing 37 ISIS members. ISIS 30 Dec claimed responsibility for attack that killed nearly 40 regime soldiers in eastern Syria. Russian forces 11 Dec conducted joint patrol in Golan Heights, Quneitra province, and established five observation points along disengagement line with Israel. U.S. govt 7 Dec designated rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham among “Entities of Particular Concern”; 22 Dec sanctioned Central Bank, close aide to President Assad and several of first lady’s UK-based relatives. Alleged Israeli airstrikes 4 Dec hit Iran-linked sites in Raqqa city and 6 Dec killed three pro-Iran militants in Deir Ez-Zor province. Govt 24 Dec reported Israeli missiles over western Hama countryside.
Parliament passed law mandating further steps away from 2015 nuclear deal, while U.S. continued to roll out unilateral sanctions. In response to killing of senior Iranian nuclear scientist in Nov, parliament 2 Dec approved law described as “strategic action to lift sanctions” mandating govt to immediately expand uranium enrichment rates to 20 per cent – major increase from current 4.5 per cent and on par with pre-nuclear deal levels – and suspend enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access if sanctions relief fails to materialise by Feb 2021; President Rouhani same day said legislation is “detrimental to the process of diplomatic activities”. UK, France and Germany 7 Dec expressed “great concern” over envisioned steps and denounced Iranian moves to deploy advanced centrifuges at Natanz facility in violation of nuclear deal. After U.S. President-elect Biden 1 Dec expressed willingness to rapidly re-enter nuclear deal once in office, Rouhani 14 Dec remarked “if the P5+1 returns to all its commitments, we will immediately return to all our commitments”. Joint Commission of nuclear deal 16 Dec met at political director level and 21 Dec at ministerial level; joint statement underscored “commitment to preserve the agreement” and noted “prospect of a return of the U.S.” to deal. Iran 31 Dec informed IAEA of intent to enrich at 20 per cent at Fordow facility. Meanwhile, U.S. administration throughout month continued to expand unilateral sanctions designations, including: 8 Dec sanctioning Tehran’s envoy to Huthis in Yemen; 14 Dec designating two Iranian intelligence officials implicated in 2007 disappearance of U.S. citizen; and 16 Dec sanctioning five companies and one individual for involvement in Iranian energy exports. Following 20 Dec rocket attack against embassy in Iraq’s capital Baghdad blamed on “Iranian-backed rogue militia group”, U.S. President Trump 23 Dec warned U.S. would “hold Iran responsible” if U.S. citizen killed; U.S. dispatched B-52 bombers to Persian Gulf and submarine to Middle-East region ahead of first anniversary on 3 Jan of U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Govt 12 Dec executed Ruhollah Zam, manager of popular social media platform critical of govt during 2017 protests, prompting international condemnation.
Mass protests spread in Kurdish region amid clashes between Kurdish armed factions; meanwhile, tensions ran high between U.S. and Iran-backed militias. In Kurdish region, after hundreds of protesters 2 Dec gathered in Sulaymaniyah city to demand disbursement of unpaid salaries, week-long protests spread to other parts of province. Authorities responded by detaining hundreds, shutting down opposition media and using water cannons and live ammunition; clashes left nine people dead, including eight protesters, and 60 injured. Kurdish Peshmerga and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants 13 Dec exchanged fire in Duhok province, killing one Peshmerga soldier and one PKK militant. Peshmerga 16 Dec reportedly foiled attack by Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and PKK militants attempting to infiltrate Kurdish region in Ninewa province; first direct clash between Peshmerga and YPG. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani 22 Dec asked U.S. govt to deploy observers to patrol border with Kurdish-controlled north east of Syria. Meanwhile, unilateral ceasefire announced by pro-Iran militias faced strains as roadside IEDs 9, 10 and 23 Dec hit convoys belonging to U.S.-led international coalition forces; U.S. missile defence system 20 Dec intercepted eight rockets targeting Baghdad’s Green Zone near U.S. embassy, injuring one Iraqi soldier; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 20 Dec blamed attack on Iran-backed militias and U.S. President Trump 23 Dec warned Iran against further attacks on U.S. targets. Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly assaults across country: ISIS militants 3, 5, 7 and 9 Dec attacked security checkpoints in Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar, killing dozen Iraqi soldiers and wounding several more. In response, U.S.-led coalition 5 Dec launched airstrikes in Salah al-Din and Kirkuk provinces, killing at least 11 ISIS militants. Amid worsening economic situation, leaked 2021 draft budget 18 Dec prompted national outcry on grounds that it confirmed govt’s intention to devalue Iraqi dinar and cut public sector salaries; cabinet 21 Dec approved 2021 draft budget.
Deadly bombing in Aden city overshadowed long-awaited progress toward implementing Riyadh Agreement, while fighting in north continued. In positive step, govt and pro-independence Southern Transitional Council (STC) moved toward implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement after Saudi officials 17 Dec announced both sides’ military and security forces had redeployed from Aden and key front lines in Abyan governorate, east of Aden, where new security cordon had been formed by non-aligned Salafist fighters previously based along Yemen’s Red Sea coast; Yemeni state media 18 Dec also announced formation of long-awaited 24-minister cabinet led by returning PM Maen Saeed Abdulmalek to be based in temporary capital Aden. Multiple explosions 30 Dec however rocked Aden airport as new cabinet arrived and disembarked plane, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 100; second attack reportedly struck Aden’s Mashiq Palace, where cabinet due to be based. In north, after seizing key military base west of Marib city in Nov, Huthi fighters intensified attacks throughout month in southern and north-western Marib; STC-linked forces in al-Dhale governorate in early Dec reported wave of Huthi attacks on front lines between their governorate and Huthi-held Ibb governorate. In south, tensions mounted between govt-affiliated forces and STC over United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s control of two military bases in Shebwa governorate; local media 14 Dec reported exchange of artillery fire around major gas export facility overseen by French oil company Total at Balhaf town in Shebwa governorate; French parliamentarians 12 Dec demanded review of UAE control of terminal, citing concerns over allegations of torture at base. Meanwhile, fears persisted throughout month of potentially imminent U.S. decision to designate Huthis as foreign terrorist organisation that could further dent prospects for stalled UN peace process; Washington 10 Dec sanctioned three Huthi security officials for alleged human rights abuses. Saudi and U.S. officials mid-month blamed Huthis for 13 Dec attack on oil tanker off the port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, although Huthis denied responsibility. Saudi and Yemeni govt officials blamed Huthis for what they termed “terrorist” attack on Aden airport on 30 Dec, strengthening case for U.S. designation.
President Tebboune returned to Algeria, and authorities condemned Morocco’s normalisation agreement with Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. Tebboune 13 Dec announced that he would direct revision of electoral law, confirming his intention to speed up promulgation of new constitution and organise early legislative and local elections; video published online was his first public appearance since he left for Germany late Oct to receive COVID-19 treatment. Several opposition parties, including those close to pro-democracy Hirak protest movement, declared anew their opposition to current govt and any election. Tebboune 29 Dec returned to Algeria and same day briefly appeared on television. After U.S. 10 Dec recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and announced normalisation of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, PM Abdelaziz Djerad 12 Dec condemned “foreign manoeuvres which aim to destabilise Algeria” and complained of “a desire to bring the Israeli and Zionist entity to our borders”, while FM same day said U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over disputed territory undermined efforts to end decades-long conflict. Meanwhile, army increasingly resorted to warlike tone. In army’s monthly magazine El Djeich, military leadership 7 Dec called on Algerians to get ready to face national security threats. In El Ancer area, north-eastern Jijel province, army 1 Dec reportedly killed three al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) combatants, including a regional commander and a member of AQIM’s consultative council; more clashes next day reportedly killed soldier; army 16 Dec alleged capturing another AQIM figure. Army 28 Dec said it had retrieved “slice of the ransom” cash – nearly $100,000 – allegedly paid out in Oct to free hostages held by jihadist groups in neighbouring Mali, during recent operation in Jijel province.
President Sisi’s allies won absolute majority in parliament’s lower house, and jihadist insurgency persisted in north Sinai. Following third and final round of legislative elections 7-8 Dec, Mostaqbal Watan party, loyal to Sisi, increased its share of seats to at least 316 from 53 in 596-seat chamber (Sisi still to appoint 28 deputies); Republican People’s Party, another pro-Sisi party, won 50 seats, up from 13; meanwhile opposition further marginalised as several opposition deputies lost seats. Crackdown on dissent continued unabated; NGO Amnesty International 2 Dec said authorities executed at least 57 individuals, including at least 15 sentenced to death in cases relating to political violence, in Oct-Nov alone, nearly twice as many as in 2019. Security forces 3 Dec arrested businessman Sayed Sowerky for allegedly supporting outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province continued to target security forces and local energy infrastructure. Spate of sniper attacks 2-9 Dec killed at least four soldiers in Bir al-Abd, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah areas; roadside bomb 18 Dec killed five soldiers south of Sheikh Zuweid town. Suspected jihadists 10 Dec blew up gas pipeline in Sabika area; 24 Dec detonated explosive at natural gas pipeline near Al-Arish city. Counter-insurgency operations continued in Sinai and elsewhere. Army 8 Dec said ground and air operations had killed 40 suspected jihadist militants since Sept across Sinai; next day struck jihadist group near border with Libya in west, reportedly destroying 21 vehicles. Govt continued to strengthen ties with informal anti-Turkey alliance. Joint naval exercise involving Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and United Arab Emirates took place 30 Nov-6 Dec off coast of Alexandria city; Sisi 6 Dec met with French President Macron in Paris to discuss regional issues, bilateral relations and military cooperation. FM 30 Dec said it had summoned Ethiopia’s top diplomat in Cairo after Addis Ababa 29 Dec said Cairo uses dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as “diversion from internal problems”.
Implementation of Oct ceasefire agreement continued to falter, while political dialogue aimed at unifying country’s divided institutions stalled. Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord (GNA) 7 Dec accused Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar-led Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) of mobilising in south in attempt to take over military base in desert town of Obari; ALAF same day denied claim and instead accused Tripoli of having dispatched “militias, weapons and military equipment toward front lines west of Sirte and Jufra” towns in centre; GNA in following weeks continued to alert foreign partners to suspected ALAF military build-up in south. Meanwhile, ALAF naval forces 7 Dec intercepted Turkish cargo vessel near port city of Derna in east, prompting Turkey’s FM to warn that “targeting Turkish interests in Libya will have grave consequences”; ALAF 9 Dec accused Turkey of “undermining Libyan sovereignty and its resources” by “dispatching military equipment” and “transporting mercenaries and foreign fighters to fight” alongside GNA forces. Turkish parliament 22 Dec extended Ankara’s direct military support to GNA, including deployment of Turkish troops, for another 18 months. In letter to UN Security Council, UN Sec-Gen Guterres 29 Dec proposed to set up international monitoring group to support ceasefire. Meanwhile, political talks stalled. UN Acting Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams 15 Dec said Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) failed to agree on mechanism to choose transitional govt to lead country to elections in Dec 2021 despite six online meetings since face-to-face talks in Tunisia in Nov. UN however moved forward with election preparations and 21 Dec established Legal Committee, consisting of 18 LPDF members, tasked with drafting proposals on legal framework for elections. UN Security Council 15 Dec approved Guterres’s proposal to appoint Bulgarian diplomat Nickolay Mladenov as UN special envoy for Libya; UN 22 Dec however said Mladenov had declined position due to “personal and family reasons”. Meeting of Central Bank of Libya’s board of directors held 16 Dec for first time in five years; participants agreed to devaluate Libyan dinar and fixed official exchange rate of 4.48lyd/$, with aim to unify Libya’s exchange rate system.
Govt resumed diplomatic relations with Israel and scored major diplomatic victory in dispute over Western Sahara. U.S. President Trump 10 Dec announced resumption of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, including immediate reopening of liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat – shut in 2000 – and eventual opening of embassies; as part of deal, U.S. recognised Moroccan sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara. Polisario Front independence movement same day condemned U.S. stance on Western Sahara as “blatant violation” of international law (see Western Sahara). Algerian govt 12 Dec rejected U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, said it undermined efforts to end the decades-long conflict (see Algeria). Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner 22 Dec met with King Mohammed VI in capital Rabat to expand U.S.-brokered deal; Morocco and Israel signed four agreements covering direct flights, visa waivers for diplomats, investment and financial facilitations, and water management.
Upsurge in political tensions marked tenth anniversary of popular uprising which toppled former President Ben Ali. Dispute between centre-left Democratic Trend (DT) and populist Karama coalition MPs 7 Dec escalated into brawl in parliament, leaving one DT deputy wounded; violence reportedly erupted after DT MPs accused Karama deputy of making misogynistic comment and called for investigation. Five major parties in parliament same day called for parliamentary immunity to be lifted to allow prosecution of Karama MPs involved in violence. DT leader Mohamed Abbou 9 Dec called for dissolution of parliament and urged President Saïed to deploy army to protect strategic sites to avoid “state collapse”. MP from second largest parliamentary group Qalb Tounes 10 Dec accused those who “try to dissolve parliament” of “coup d’Etat”. Main trade union and political powerbroker UGTT 15 Dec called for national dialogue to prevent deepening of political, social and economic crisis; following meeting with UGTT, Saïed 30 Dec committed to launch national dialogue in coming weeks “to correct the revolution that has deviated from its goals.” Parliament Speaker and Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi next day declared support for UGTT initiative. Authorities 24 Dec arrested Qalb Tounes leader Nabil Karoui on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. On tenth anniversary of beginning of popular uprising against Ben Ali, protesters disillusioned with political class 17 Dec gathered outside parliament in capital Tunis to ask for assembly’s dissolution. Security forces 17 Dec dispersed sit-in of families of those killed and wounded during 2010-2011 uprising at govt square in Tunis. Military same day fired warning shots to disperse protesters asking for jobs and local development as they were blockading trans-Tunisian gas pipeline facilities in Awlad Marzoug town, Kasserine province (centre). Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated militants 20 Dec kidnapped and beheaded shepherd in Jebel Salloum area, Kasserine province near Algerian border.
Morocco scored major diplomatic victory in battle over disputed Western Sahara while low-level violence continued. U.S. President Trump 10 Dec announced U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of deal under which Morocco agreed to resume diplomatic relations with Israel (see Morocco). Polisario Front independence movement same day condemned U.S. stance on Western Sahara as “blatant violation” of international law, said Trump “attributes to Morocco something which does not belong [to it]”. Algerian govt 12 Dec rejected U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, said it undermined efforts to end decades-long conflict (see Algeria). U.S. Sec State Pompeo 24 Dec launched process to open consulate in Western Saharan city of Dakhla. Meanwhile, Polisario throughout month continued to shell Moroccan defensive positions along East-West sand berm that separates Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic-controlled territory; no significant damages reported.