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CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

February 2021

Global Overview

Outlook for This Month March 2021

Resolution Opportunities

Trends for Last Month February 2021

Improved Situations

CrisisWatch warns of three conflict risks in March.

A deadlocked electoral process in Somalia could fuel more violence after deadly clashes erupted between security forces and opposition supporters in February.

Following heavy fighting in the Central African Republic between the army and a rebel coalition, runoff and re-run elections on 14 March could prove to be a dramatic flashpoint. 

The Huthis’ intensified offensive in Yemen’s Marib governorate could trigger further mass displacement, aggravating the humanitarian crisis, and spark renewed armed conflict in the south and along the Red Sea coast. 

Looking back to February, our monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in eight countries and conflict areas.

In Myanmar, following the 1 February military coup which set off the biggest political crisis in a generation, police crackdowns on pro-democracy mass protests killed dozens.

Haiti’s constitutional crisis took a deadly turn after security forces violently suppressed opposition protests calling on President Moïse to step down. 

In Nigeria, armed groups abducted hundreds in the north west, while intercommunal tensions ran high in the south as the farmer-herder conflict continued to rage.

CrisisWatch also highlights an improved situation in Libya. In an unexpected breakthrough, Libyan representatives at UN-led talks elected a unified transitional leadership to guide the fractured country to general elections in December.

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Latest Updates

Africa

Burkina Faso

Jihadist violence persisted mainly in north and PM Christophe Dabiré was sworn in. In Sahel region in north, jihadist activity continued. In Seno province, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 1 Feb stormed Demni and Gountoudjie villages, killing two civilians and seizing livestock; 4 Feb killed imam and seized livestock in Adoudie village. In neighbouring Oudalan province, suspected ISGS militants 18 Feb killed at least nine civilians between Markoye and Tokabangou villages; army 23-24 Feb killed 11 suspected jihadists in ground and air operation in several areas. In Yagha province, IED 23 Feb killed two civilians near Mansila town. Also in Sahel region, clashes between al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and ISGS militants 8-12 Feb left at least 17 ISGS and four JNIM combatants dead in Oudalan and Soum provinces. In Centre North region’s Sanmatenga province, suspected ISGS militants 3 Feb killed four in Raogo village; 10 Feb clashed with volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) in Kogowendé village, leaving two civilians dead. In Cascades region in south west, members of JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina 9 Feb reportedly attacked Ouo gendarmerie in Comoé province, killing one gendarme. Authorities 8 Feb closed Tambili mining site in South West region following late Jan attack by armed villagers on Djikando mining site in South West region that killed eight. Meanwhile, PM Christophe Dabiré was sworn in 4 Feb; Dabiré same day presented govt’s roadmap with focus on peace and security, institutional reform and economic recovery; also expressed openness to dialogue with jihadist groups. G5 Sahel summit 15-16 Feb held in Chad’s capital N’Djamena; French President Macron announced Paris would not downsize military forces in Sahel until at least mid-2022, called for “civilian surge” to complement military efforts, and continued to oppose dialogue with jihadist leaders.

Mali

Tensions remained high between interim authorities, on one hand, and opposition and civil society, on the other, while jihadist violence continued in centre. Coalition of opposition and civil society groups (M5-RFP) 4 Feb condemned govt’s alleged “convergence of interests” with previous regime and 1 Feb dissolution of electoral commission (CENI); govt said CENI members’ mandate had come to an end, but M5-RFP feared dissolution may be part of strategy to influence course of 2022 presidential election. Acting PM Moctar Ouane 15 Feb met with political parties to discuss institutional reforms and 2022 elections; 19 Feb unveiled govt’s national action plan, including commitment to press ahead with elections and openness to dialogue with jihadists; National Transitional Council 22 Feb approved plan. In central Mopti region’s Douentza circle, jihadists continued to launch deadly attacks on national and international forces: al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) combatants 3 Feb killed nine soldiers in attack on Boni army base, prompting retaliatory French airstrikes that killed 20 militants; suspected JNIM fighters 10 Feb raided UN mission (MINUSMA) camp near Kerena village, killing one UN peacekeeper and wounding 27 more. Elsewhere in Mopti, suspected jihadists 17-18 Feb killed at least nine people in Bandiagara circle; suspected JNIM combatants 25 Feb attacked Dialloubé military outpost, Mopti circle, and gendarmerie post in Bandiagara circle, killing nine gendarmes, and 28 Feb stormed three Dogon villages in Bandiagara and Bankass circles, killing nine people. In Timbuktu region (north),French drone strike 1 Feb reportedly killed 15 JNIM-affiliated Ansarul Islam combatants in Gourma-Rharous circle. Further east in Kidal region, Algiers peace accord follow-up committee 11 Feb met in Kidal city for first time since 2015; attendees – including ex-rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements and govt representatives – discussed demobilisation and reintegration of former rebels into army. G5 Sahel summit 15-16 Feb held in Chad’s capital N’Djamena; French President Macron announced France would not downsize military forces in Sahel until at least mid-2022, called for “civilian surge” to complement military efforts, and continued to oppose dialogue with jihadist leaders.

Niger

Post-election violence flared as opposition rejected victory of ruling-party candidate Mohamed Bazoum in 21 Feb presidential runoff. Second round of presidential election between ruling-party candidate Bazoum and former President Mahamane Ousmane 21 Feb disrupted by deadly incident in Dargol commune, Tillabery region (near Mali border) as landmine killed seven poll workers. Electoral commission 23 Feb announced provisional results, saying Bazoum won with 55.75% of vote. Ousmane same day rejected results, citing electoral fraud, and his supporters immediately took to streets in capital Niamey; police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who reportedly ransacked at least one police station and several shops. In Dosso city, about 100km south of Niamey, protesters same day reportedly burnt down political party premises. Ousmane 24 Feb claimed victory with 50.3% of vote, reiterating that fraud had been committed “pretty much everywhere” and prompting protesters to confront security forces in Niamey’s central market area and south-western town of Kollo. Govt 25 Feb said two died in post-election violence and 468 were arrested; also accused opposition figure Hama Amadou, who was barred from running in presidential election, of being “main person responsible” for unrest; after Amadou next day turned himself in to police in Niamey, police detained him over these allegations. Regional body ECOWAS and UN 25 Feb jointly condemned post-election violence and called on all actors to exercise restraint. Meanwhile in Tillabery region (south west), jihadist activity continued albeit at lower intensity than in Jan: suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 5 Feb seized livestock in Kailou Kouara village, Ouallam department. In Maradi region (south), unidentified gunmen conducted series of attack in Guidan-Roumdji department: 5 Feb attacked Guilbadi village, killing at least one and wounding four others; 8 Feb killed student and seized livestock in Dan Mani village, and same day shot three dead in Gaja village. G5 Sahel summit 15-16 Feb held in Chad’s capital N’Djamena; French President Macron announced France would not downsize military forces in Sahel until at least mid-2022, called for “civilian surge” to complement military efforts, and continued to oppose dialogue with jihadist leaders.

Burundi

Authorities continued crackdown on opposition, and Supreme Court convicted 34 individuals of involvement in 2015 coup attempt against former President Nkurunziza. In Rumonge province, police 31 Jan-2 Feb arrested five civilians suspected of complicity with armed groups. In Bujumbura Rural province’s Kanyosha commune, ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 14 Feb assaulted four members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) and 28 Feb clashed with CNL party meeting attendees, leaving 12 injured on both sides. In Cibitoke province, National Intelligence Services mid-Feb arrested seven civilians for allegedly cooperating with Kinyarwanda speakers in illegal gold trade; armed forces late Feb killed at least two and captured 16 Kinyarwanda-speaking armed group members in Mabayi commune. CNL leader Agathon Rwasa 14 Feb denounced judicial harassment of opposition, said over 140 CNL members remain behind bars despite having served their sentence or been acquitted. Meanwhile, in decision released 2 Feb but dating back to 23 June 2020, Supreme Court convicted in absentia 34 individuals to life imprisonment for involvement in failed coup against former President Nkurunziza in 2015; those convicted include former VP Bernard Busokoza, former president of opposition party Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) Jean Minani, and opposition figure Alexis Sinduhije, whom authorities accuse of leading rebel group RED-Tabara. After President Ndayishimiye late Jan asked National Council of Communication (CNC) to reopen dialogue with media outlets banned in 2015, CNC 1 Feb held follow-up meeting with several of them; gathering however excluded media in exile. Director of Burundian Union of Journalists same day welcomed “step in the right direction”.EU 2 Feb formally restarted dialogue with Burundi, which was interrupted in 2016; in letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, 43 EU parliamentarians 5 Feb opposed resumption of dialogue and cooperation, citing continued human rights violations by Burundian authorities, including arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances.

Cameroon

Violent attacks between govt forces and separatists continued in Anglophone regions, leaving dozens dead; jihadist attacks decreased in Far North. In North West region, govt forces 1 Feb killed two separatists including senior commander near regional capital Bamenda; 6 Feb killed four separatists and captured four others in Ntankah village, also freed four hostages. Security forces 11 Feb beat brother of suspected separatist combatant to near death in Ndu town and circulated video of ordeal on social media, sparking outcry; in response, authorities 15 Feb arrested eight security forces. Armed separatists 15 Feb killed elite army unit (BIR) captain in Kumbo town and 18 Feb killed seven soldiers in IED attacks in Babessi town. In South West region, separatists 2-4 Feb blocked Buea-Kumba highway to stop people from attending semi-final of football championship in Limbe city, killing three security forces at Mbalangi village 3 Feb. Suspected armed separatists 4 Feb fired shots at NGO Médecins Sans Frontières ambulance near Muyuka town, wounding healthcare worker. Armed forces overnight 7-8 Feb killed seven separatists including two prominent leaders during raid in Mbalangi town near Kumba city. Separatists 13 Feb killed three traditional chiefs and kidnapped 30 villagers in Essoh-Attah village. NGO Human Rights Watch 26 Feb said govt forces had killed one civilian and raped at least 20 women during raid on Ebam village in March 2020. In regional capitals Buea and Bamenda, former separatists who have been enrolled in Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration Program 1 and 15 Feb protested against living conditions and failed reintegration promises; in live TV program, former separatist fighter 6 Feb voiced his regret in dropping his weapons and abandoning fight for independent Southern Cameroon state. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin visited Cameroon 28 Jan-3 Feb and lobbied for peace in Anglophone conflict. Meanwhile, Fulani gunmen 22-23 Feb killed five civilians in Nwa town (North West) near border with Nigeria. In Far North region, amid lull in Boko Haram (BH) attacks, sporadic clashes between armed forces and BH 10-15 Feb left at least 11 jihadists dead.

Central African Republic

Armed forces and allies pushed back rebel coalition, but renewed fighting could erupt around 14 March run-off elections. Army, with support from Rwanda and Russia, launched counter-offensive operations against rebel Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), partially reopening capital Bangui’s road lifeline to neighbouring Cameroon 16 Feb. Govt forces and their allies recaptured Bossembélé and Yaloké towns (Ombella-M’Poko prefecture) 4-5 Feb; Bossemptélé and Bozoum towns (Ouham-Pendé prefecture) 7 and 25 Feb respectively; Bouar, Baboua, Cantonnier and Beloko towns (Nana-Mambéré prefecture) 9-11 Feb; Bambari and Ippy towns (Ouaka prefecture) 17-19 Feb; Bossangoa, Benzambé and Kambakota towns (Ouham prefecture) 24-26 Feb; death toll unknown. CPC rebels 9 Jan ambushed UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) convoy 24km north of Bangassou, injuring two peacekeepers; next day reportedly kidnapped Russian mercenary and killed several others near Bambari. Clashes between CPC rebels and armed forces 16 Feb reportedly left at least 14 civilians dead in Bambari; NGO Amnesty International 24 Feb called for investigation. Govt-sponsored demonstrations 12 Feb erupted in Bangui against Angola-led regional efforts to establish dialogue between govt and rebel coalition. Meanwhile, Constitutional Court 1 Feb proclaimed results of Dec 2020 legislative elections, saying 22 out of 140 deputies elected in first round, including five ruling party candidates, while 61 seats require second round and new elections will be held for 57 seats in constituencies where elections could not take place due to insecurity. Main opposition coalition COD-2020 next day rejected results and announced withdrawal from electoral process, citing irregularities and violence; signs of internal dissent however appeared with prominent coalition member rejecting boycott. President Touadéra 13 Feb scheduled run-offs and rerun of first-round elections for 14 March. At start of their trial before International Criminal Court, former anti-Balaka warlords Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona 16 Feb pleaded not guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2013-2014.

Chad

President Déby’s sixth term bid sparked unrest and raid on house of opposition presidential candidate Yaya Dillo turned deadly; intercommunal violence persisted. Ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement 6 Feb chose Déby as candidate for April presidential election. Hundreds of opposition and civil society members same day demonstrated against Déby’s sixth term bid in capital N’Djamena and across country’s south, defying ban on protests; police fired tear gas and arrested at least 14 in N’Djamena, while a dozen members of opposition party Les Transformateurs, including party leader Succès Masra, sought refuge at U.S. embassy. Masra 12 Feb left U.S. embassy after U.S. diplomats said they had received assurances from govt that he “would be allowed to return home unhindered”. Police 13, 20 and 27 Feb used tear gas to disperse opposition protests in N’Djamena and southern Chad and reportedly arrested scores of people. Security forces 28 Feb raided home of opposition presidential candidate Yaya Dillo – a former rebel leader and relative of Déby – in N’Djamena, leaving at least two killed and five wounded; Dillo said presidential guards attacked him and his family while govt said security forces came to arrest Dillo but faced armed resistance and had to retaliate; authorities immediately shut down internet in N’Djamena amid mounting tensions. Meanwhile, 15 opposition parties 2 Feb created coalition to field joint candidate in upcoming presidential election, and 9 Feb elected political newcomer Théophile Bongoro as candidate; opposition heavyweight Saleh Kebzabo’s and four other parties however withdrew from coalition few days later citing irregularities in election process. Intercommunal violence continued notably in south east, where farmer-herder clashes 15-16 Feb left 35 dead and several injured in Mouraye town, Salamat province. At G5 Sahel summit held in N’Djamena, Déby 15 Feb announced immediate deployment of 1,200 troops to tri-border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger; deployment decided in early 2020 was delayed due to insecurity in Lake Chad basin. French President Macron next day ruled out downsizing military forces in Sahel (see Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger entries).

Democratic Republic of Congo

Deadly violence continued unabated in east while President Tshisekedi continued to shift balance of power in his favour following end of coalition with predecessor Joseph Kabila. In North Kivu province, armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 5-28 Feb launched several attacks on civilians in Beni territory, leaving over 60 dead. In Walikale territory, clashes between Maï-Maï Nyatura militia and armed group Nduma Defence of Congo-Renovated (NDC-R) 8 Feb left at least four dead, while clashes between NDC-R factions 13 Feb killed six. In Nyiragongo territory, unidentified gunmen 22 Feb attacked World Food Programme convoy on Goma-Rutshuru road, killing Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and two others. In Ituri province’s Irumu territory, suspected ADF militants 14 Feb killed at least 16, mostly civilians, in Ndalya village; 24-27 Feb killed at least ten in two villages. Also in Irumu, armed group Patriotic and Integrationist Force of Congo (FPIC) 23 Feb killed 11 civilians in Mugangu village; armed forces 27-28 Feb recaptured FPIC stronghold of Mwanga, killing 16. In Djugu territory, armed forces and armed group Cooperative for the Development of Congo 20 Feb clashed in Mungwalu commune, reportedly leaving 27 dead. In South Kivu province’s Fizi territory, Twirwaneho coalition of Banyamulenge militias 16 Feb attacked Kabingo armed forces base, killing soldier. In Haut-Katanga province, Bakata-Katanga separatist militia 14 Feb attacked Kimbebe and Kibati presidential guard camps in country’s second-largest city Lubumbashi; six militiamen, four soldiers and one civilian reportedly killed. Meanwhile, Tshisekedi continued to dismantle past coalition with former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC); over half of senators 2 Feb filed petition calling for removal of Senate bureau chief, Kabila’s ally Alexis Thambwe, who resigned 5 Feb. National Assembly 3 Feb elected former FCC member Christophe Mboso as president and Tshisekedi’s close ally Jean-Marc Kabund as first VP; Kabund had been removed from this position in May 2020 amid power struggle between Tshisekedi and Kabila. Tshisekedi 15 Feb appointed Sama Lukonde – former head of state mining company Gécamines – as PM; Lukonde 22 Feb launched consultations to form govt. Health minister 7 Feb declared new Ebola outbreak in North Kivu.

Djibouti

Opposition parties announced boycott of upcoming presidential election. Opposition parties Union for National Salvation and RADDE late Jan-early Feb said they would not field any candidates in presidential election scheduled for April, alleging National Electoral Commission favours govt and needs extensive reforms; move follows announcement of President Guelleh’s bid for fifth term in early Jan. Amid wave of arrests following Jan attacks by armed opposition group Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD-armé) against security forces in Tadjourah region, Djiboutian League for Human Rights late Jan, 3 and 6 Feb accused govt of arresting civilians based on their kinship rather than actual connections to FRUD-armé.

Eritrea

Govt continued to be accused of perpetrating serious international crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. EU 8 Feb called for withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray, said they were “fuelling the conflict” and “exacerbating ethnic violence”; govt next day rejected accusation, denounced “appalling” statement and criticised EU for past support to Tigray People’s Liberation Front-led Ethiopian govt. NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) 11 Feb accused Asmara of committing serious abuses including “extrajudicial killings” alongside Ethiopian federal forces in Tigray in past few months. NGO Amnesty International 26 Feb accused Eritrean troops of killing hundreds of civilians in Axum city in Nov massacre that “may amount to a crime against humanity”; govt same day dismissed “preposterous accusations”. Tigray conflict continued to affect Eritrean refugees. UN refugee agency (UNHCR) 5 Feb reported “infiltration of armed actors”, killings and abductions in Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray, as well as “forced returns to Eritrea at the hands of Eritreans forces”; said 15,000-20,000 Eritrean refugees are currently dispersed across Tigray and cut off from access to UNHCR. Meanwhile, United Arab Emirates (UAE) started to dismantle military base in Assab port after recently ending operations in nearby Yemen; UAE accused of contributing to Ethiopia’s drone campaign in Tigray. Govt 24 Jan-1 Feb released 70 prisoners, mostly Evangelical and Orthodox Christians, who had been imprisoned in past 12 years; move follows early Dec release of 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses, including prominent conscientious objectors. UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, 24 Feb highlighted lack of tangible improvement in human rights situation in Eritrea, notably on issue of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. HRW 26 Feb called on AU not to endorse Eritrea’s bid for re-election at UN Human Rights Council.

Ethiopia

Deadly clashes in disputed border areas with Sudan continued, and fighting persisted in Tigray regional state amid serious humanitarian crisis. As number of troops grew on both sides, Ethiopian forces along with local militias and Sudanese army throughout month clashed in Al-Fashqa and nearby Al-Qureisha border regions, killing several Sudanese security personnel and civilians, and leaving unknown number of Ethiopian forces dead. Khartoum 14 Feb accused Ethiopian forces of entering Sudan, condemned “aggression” and “unacceptable escalation”. Mauritanian media 17 Feb reported AU had tasked AU Special Envoy to Sudan Mohamed el Hacen Lebatt with mediating border dispute. In Tigray regional state in north, fighting continued between Tigray’s and federal govt’s forces. EU 8 Feb called for withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray, said they were “fuelling the conflict” and “exacerbating ethnic violence”; Eritrea next day rejected accusation(see Eritrea). U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 27 Feb called for “immediate withdrawal” of Eritrean and Amhara regional forces from Tigray and cessation of hostilities. NGO Human Rights Watch 11 Feb accused Ethiopian federal forces of having carried out “apparently indiscriminate shelling of urban areas” in Tigray in Nov. Security forces mid-Feb violently suppressed anti-govt protests in regional capital Mekelle and other towns, death toll unclear. UN 4 Feb said humanitarian situation in Tigray “extremely alarming” and “continues to deteriorate rapidly”, 19 Feb said Tigray faced “very critical malnutrition situation”. In Oromia region in centre, demonstrators early to mid-Feb took to streets, demanding release of prominent Oromo politicians–detained since June–after they launched hunger strike late Jan; security forces early Jan reportedly shot and killed protester in Borana zone. Amid accusations that United Arab Emirates (UAE) contributed to Ethiopia’s drone campaign in Tigray, authorities 3 Feb said they had arrested 15 individuals for allegedly planning to attack UAE embassy in Ethiopia. Amid stalled AU-led negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River, Egypt 24 Feb endorsed Sudan’s proposal for quadripartite mediation by AU, EU, U.S. and UN.

Kenya

Al-Shabaab continued to stage attacks in north east, and power struggle between President Kenyatta and VP Ruto persisted. In Mandera county in north east, Al-Shabaab militants 8 Feb raided Jabibar village, killing one police reservist and one civilian. In neighbouring Wajir county, Al-Shabaab militants 15 Feb attacked police camp in Khrof Arar area, no casualties reported. Amid power struggle between Kenyatta and Ruto, ruling Jubilee Party 8 Feb expelled six senators allied to party leader Ruto for “disciplinary violations”; Political Parties Dispute Tribunal next day suspended senators’ expulsions until appeal hearing, denounced unfair trial by Jubilee Party’s disciplinary committee. Jubilee Party 9 Feb replaced senate majority whip Irungu Kang’ata. Kenyatta 12 Feb called on dissatisfied govt officials to resign, falling short of naming Ruto; 17 Feb replaced eight pro-Ruto senior govt officials. Kenyatta and de facto ally, opposition leader Raila Odinga, continued to inch toward constitutional reform, which Ruto has so far opposed; more than 24 out of 47 county assemblies 23 Feb had voted in favour of draft bill, surpassing required threshold to submit bill to parliament for approval. At border with Somalia, Somali soldiers 1 Feb shot and killed one Kenyan security personnel and injured two others. International Court of Justice 12 Feb rejected Nairobi’s request to postpone March hearing on Kenya-Somalia maritime border dispute.

Somalia

Deadly clashes erupted between security forces and opposition supporters after President Farmajo’s mandate expired; deadlocked electoral process could spark more violence in March. Farmajo and heads of federal member states 3-5 Feb met in Galmudug state capital Dhusamareb but failed to break deadlock over organisation of parliamentary and presidential elections; conditions for holding polls in Gedo region, Jubaland state, among main stumbling blocks. Opposition bloc of 15 presidential candidates 8 Feb said it no longer recognised Farmajo as president after his term expired that day, called for formation of Transitional National Council to lead country to elections; federal govt however maintained by month’s end – on basis of Sept legislation – that govt can stay in power until elections are held. After opposition bloc 14 Feb called for protests, federal govt 17 Feb banned public gatherings, citing rise in COVID-19 cases. Security forces and opposition supporters 19 Feb clashed in capital Mogadishu, leaving at least eight dead. Subsequently, Jubaland and Puntland state presidents pulled out of 21 Feb election talks between Farmajo and heads of federal member states. PM Roble and opposition bloc 25 Feb met in Mogadishu, agreed to launch investigation into 19 Feb clashes, delay protest planned for 26 Feb and continue discussion over political situation. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab attacks 1-21 Feb left at least 26 security personnel and civilians dead in Mudug, Galguduud, Hiraan, Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 13 Feb killed at least one civilian; suspected Al-Shabaab militants next day shot and killed three civilians; two separate Al-Shabaab bombings 28 Feb left at least two security personnel and a civilian dead. Counter-insurgency operations also continued. Security forces 2-28 Feb reportedly killed several dozen Al-Shabaab combatants in Galguduud, Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle, Lower Juba and Bay regions. In Hirshabelle state, security forces and clan militia opposed to Nov 2020 state presidential election outcome 4 Feb clashed in Hiraan regional capital Beledweyne, death toll unknown. At border with Kenya, Somali soldiers 1 Feb shot and killed one Kenyan security personnel and injured two others.

Somaliland

Electoral tensions emerged ahead of polls scheduled for May, and inter-clan violence continued in Togdheer region in centre. Parliament’s upper house 2 Feb approved electoral commission’s Jan scheduling of parliamentary and local elections for 31 May; President Bihi next day signed decree confirming poll date. In capital Hargeisa, police 8 Feb arrested two opposition Justice and Welfare Party (UCID) candidates for parliament and Hargeisa city council; UCID chairman immediately called for their release and accused Bihi of interfering in election process. UCID late Feb said nine party candidates in Awdal region (west) arrested in regional capital Borama, accused minister of commerce of interfering in selection of candidates in Awdal. In Togdheer region, inter-clan clashes 5 Jan left at least one dead in Buhoodle town. After Somaliland suspended all UN programs in Oct in protest at UN-Somalia cooperation agreement, Bihi 3 Feb received UN Envoy to Somalia James Swan.

South Sudan

Govt faced mounting pressure to implement fully Sept 2018 peace agreement as country celebrated first anniversary of transitional unity govt, while intercommunal violence persisted. Body monitoring unification of armed groups into single army — a peace agreement provision – 4 Feb said “protracted delays” in training, graduation and deployment of unified national army “detrimental to lasting peace”. Govt 15 Feb missed self-imposed deadline to finalise appointment of state and local officials, graduate first cohort of unified national army and reconstitute new national assembly. President Kiir 20 Feb formed first state govt, appointing Central Equatoria’s state ministers, county commissioners, chairpersons for state commissions and other officials; 22 Feb formed Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap and Unity states’ govts. Jieng Council of Elders, grouping of prominent ethnic Dinka politicians and elders formerly aligned with Kiir, 19 Feb called on latter and former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar to step aside in next election, said they symbolise “failure of leadership and political deadlock”. Intercommunal violence persisted. Notably, in Lakes state in centre, clashes between Rumbek East and Yirol West counties reportedly left two soldiers and three civilians dead 1 Feb, and three others killed 9-10 Feb; in Warrap state, also centre, two separate intercommunal clashes 2-3 Feb left eight dead, while unidentified gunmen 9 and 13 Feb killed 27 civilians; in Upper Nile state in north east, suspected ethnic Nuer militia 2-3 Feb killed at least 23 people. South Sudan Council of Churches and civil society organisations 15 Feb jointly called on govt to stem intercommunal and other violence, internal displacement and soaring inflation. UN 19 Feb noted “massive escalation” in localised violence since signing of peace agreement in late 2018, said scope of violence now “far exceeds” that of 2013-2019.

Sudan

Deadly clashes in disputed border areas with Ethiopia continued, rebel coalition joined govt following Oct 2020 peace agreement, and protests over deteriorating economic situation held nationwide. Amid troop build-up on both sides, Sudanese army and Ethiopian regular and irregular forces clashed throughout month in Al-Fashqa and nearby Al-Qureisha border regions, killing several Sudanese security personnel and civilians and leaving unknown number of Ethiopian forces dead. Khartoum 14 Feb accused Ethiopian forces of entering Sudan, condemned “aggression” and “unacceptable escalation”, 20 Feb threatened to expel Ethiopian UN peacekeepers stationed in disputed Abyei area between Sudan and South Sudan. Mauritanian media 17 Feb reported AU had tasked Special Envoy to Sudan Mohamed el Hacen Lebatt with mediating border dispute. Following Oct 2020 peace deal with rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), Sovereign Council 4 Feb integrated three SRF members; PM Hamdok 8 Feb appointed seven SRF and 18 members of political coalition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) to cabinet; new cabinet sworn in 10 Feb. In Central Darfur state, holdout rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur 4 Feb said it had repelled attack by “govt militias” in Rukona area, killing 24 and capturing one. Demonstrations over deteriorating economic situation, including rising price of basic commodities, held countrywide; police early Feb reportedly arrested some 100 protesters including in North Kordofan state’s capital Obeid, and seven states had declared state of emergency by 11 Feb. Authorities 11-12 Feb detained four senior figures of dissolved National Congress Party, ruling party under former President Bashir, for allegedly fomenting unrest. Central Bank 21 Feb sharply devalued Sudanese pound in move to address vast gap between official and black-market rates, and to secure debt relief. Amid stalled AU-led negotiations with Egypt and Ethiopia over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River, govt 18 Feb proposed quadripartite mediation by AU, EU, U.S. and UN, drawing support from Egypt.

Tanzania

President Magufuli admitted prevalence of COVID-19 in country amid rise in high-profile cases. Chief State Secretary John Kijazi and semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago’s first VP Seif Sharif Hamad mid-Feb died of COVID-19; Hamad early Feb had become first person in Tanzania to publicly reveal COVID-19 infection since Magufuli declared country coronavirus-free in April 2020. At Kijazi’s funeral, Magufuli 19 Feb acknowledged spread of “respiratory disease”. Head of World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus 20 Feb urged govt to take “robust action” to curb spread of COVID-19; Magufuli next day called on citizens to take precautions and wear face masks. Meanwhile, police 15 Feb arrested Moravian Church Bishop Emmaus Mwamakula, a vocal govt critic, at his home in economic capital Dar es Salaam and next day released him on bail; move comes after Mwamakula in Jan called for demonstrations on 16 Feb as part of campaign for constitutional reform and formation of independent electoral commission. Mwamakula released 16 Feb but demonstrations did not take place. Ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s Publicity Secretary Humphrey Polepole 10 Feb told parliament that Magufuli did not intend to run for third term in 2025; opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency recently accused ruling party MPs of toying with idea of extending presidential tenure beyond constitutional two-term limit.

Uganda

Opposition continued to challenge President Museveni’s re-election, and accused govt of human rights violations. Prominent academic and political activist Stella Nyanzi early Feb said she had fled to neighbouring Kenya late Jan, citing govt’s crackdown on dissent. Opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Bobi Wine 1 Feb lodged complaint with Supreme Court against outcome of 14 Jan presidential election; after Supreme Court 16 Feb rejected additional evidence submitted by Wine on grounds of missed deadline, Wine 22 Feb withdrew petition, citing court’s “unprecedented bias, partiality and double standards”. U.S. State Department 23 Feb called for “credible” investigations into election-related incidents, said U.S. would consider “range of targeted options” to ensure those responsible are held accountable. Meanwhile, Wine 2 Feb claimed around 3,000 NUP supporters had been arrested or abducted by authorities since deadly clashes erupted between NUP protesters and security forces in Nov; 15 Feb released list of 243 people allegedly abducted by security forces under Museveni regime. In response, parliament 4 Feb summoned Internal Affairs Minister General Jeje Odongo, who denied any govt wrongdoing. In national address, Museveni 13 Feb dismissed abduction claims. Military court 15 Feb denied bail to 36 NUP supporters. Wine 17 Feb petitioned UN Human Rights Office in capital Kampala over alleged human rights abuses and abductions of his supporters in run-up to and following elections; security forces same day attacked journalists covering petition delivery, leaving at least four severely injured; U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Natalie E. Brown immediately condemned violence against journalists and called for transparent investigation. Military court next day sentenced seven members of military police to up to three months’ detention for involvement in violence. Meanwhile, govt 10 Feb partially lifted social media ban imposed ahead of last month’s election; Facebook however remained blocked. Earlier in month, International Criminal Court 4 Feb found former commander of armed group Lord’s Resistance Army Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in early 2000s; Ongwen’s lawyer 8 Feb appealed ruling.

Angola

Security forces’ deadly crackdown on protesters caused outrage. In joint statement, NGO Amnesty International and Angolan rights group OMUNGA 2 Feb confirmed security forces had killed at least ten people during heavy crackdown on protesters in Cafunfo mining town, Luanda Norte province, since 30 Jan, said unconfirmed reports revealed high number of activists still unaccounted for, and called for prompt investigation; meanwhile, opposition parties UNITA and CASA-CE joined calls for investigation into killings. Police chief Paulo de Almeida late Jan-early Feb said security forces 30 Jan foiled armed attack on Cafunfo police station by secessionist group Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (LTPM), leaving six dead and 20 injured; LTMP president, José Mateus Zecamutchima, however maintained police went on “shooting spree” against unarmed protesters 30 Jan, leaving at least 25 dead and many missing. Authorities 9 Feb detained Zecamutchima on charges of rebellion; his lawyers 26 Feb raised concern about absence of due process

Mozambique

Govt forces launched large-scale offensive against Islamist insurgents in far north Cabo Delgado province, and authorities announced death of newly-appointed armed forces chief of staff. Govt forces and their allies 5 Feb launched offensive in Muidumbe and Mocimboa da Praia districts in bid to retake port town and district capital Mocimboa da Praia, which has been under insurgents’ control since Aug 2020. Notably, armed forces 8-11 Feb conducted helicopter strikes on insurgent positions along Messalo River, which marks border between Muidumbe and Mocimboa da Praia, death toll unknown. Insurgents mid-month started to resist govt’s offensive, notably attacking security forces in Diaca and Roma villages, Mocimboa da Praia, 15-16 Feb, and wounding soldier in raid on armed forces base in Xitaxi locality, Muidumbe, 16 Feb. In Palma district, aid convoys 2 and 6 Feb reached district capital Palma amid reports of food shortages; military escorted convoys along Nangade-Palma axis, which insurgents have recently targeted in attempt to cut off Palma from supply routes. Also in Palma, insurgents 19 Feb attacked administrative post of Quionga on border with Tanzania, killing four, and 26 Feb killed six in nearby Quirinde village. In Nangade district, insurgents 22-25 Feb killed nine civilians in three villages; govt forces 25 Feb pursued insurgents near Luneque village, killing six. NGO Médecins sans Frontières early Feb returned to Macomia district after eight-month suspension of its activities due to insecurity. President Nyusi 3 Feb offered amnesty to Islamist insurgents, promising there will be no retaliation against those who surrender. Govt 8 Feb announced death of armed forces chief of staff, General Eugenio Mussa, less than three weeks after his appointment; Mussa reportedly died of COVID-19. Govt 12 Feb said Southern African Development Community extraordinary summit on Cabo Delgado insurgency, cancelled in Jan due to COVID-19, will take place in “May or June”. Authorities 16 Feb expelled British journalist Tom Bowker after six years reporting on Mozambique; movefollows late-Jan withdrawal of his accreditation. Meanwhile,Paulo Filipe Nguirande,chief of staff of Renamo Military Junta, armed dissident faction of opposition Renamo party, 12 Feb demobilised in Gorongosa district, Sofala province (centre).

Zimbabwe

Authorities continued to repress opposition and civil society. In capital Harare, authorities 1 Feb arrested MP Joana Mamombe, a member of Nelson Chamisa-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), and two female MDC-A youth leaders, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, during anti-govt protest; Mamombe and Chimbiri later charged with “obstructing or hindering police officer performing duty during [COVID-19] lockdown”, while Marova was released without charge; High Court 9 Feb granted Mamombe and Chimbiri bail.High Court 1 Feb granted bail to Job Sikhala, MDC-A vice chairman who was arrested in Jan on charges of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state”; 19 Feb granted bail to student activist Allan Moyo, who was arrested in Dec 2020 for allegedly inciting violence. Authorities 20 Feb arrested 12 MDC-A members at gunpoint for allegedly breaching COVID-19 regulations in Chinhoyi city, Mashonaland West province; all 12 released on bail 22 Feb.Meanwhile, MDC-A 6 Feb called on armed forces to “rein in some of its rogue elements” amid allegations that soldiers killed civilian and assaulted many others for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations in Midlands province in recent weeks. UN Human Rights Office 12 Feb expressed “concern” after NGO Human Right Watch previous day accused govt of using COVID-19 to crack down on journalists and opposition. UK 1 Feb imposed sanctions, including travel ban and asset freeze, on four security chiefs over allegations of human rights violations, notably crackdown on anti-govt protesters and opposition, since 2017. EU 19 Feb renewed arms embargo against Zimbabwe and asset freeze against state-owned company Zimbabwe Defence Industries for one year, citing “need to investigate the role of security force actors in human rights abuses”.

 

Côte d’Ivoire

Preparations for legislative elections scheduled for 6 March moved forward, while supporters of former President Gbagbo stepped up pressure for his return. Ahead of March election, govt Ombudsman Adama Tounkara toured western and central constituencies – where opposition enforced electoral boycott in Oct 2020 presidential election – to call for reconciliation and unity; Reconciliation Minister Kouadio Konan Bertin 11 Feb called for peaceful election. Candidates 18 Feb signed code of good conduct, pledging to stay away from violence and hate speech; campaign started 26 Feb. Opposition remained divided in two main camps: on one hand, platform Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS), close to Gbagbo, along with Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire, and on the other, Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s branch of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) with Albert Mabri Toikeuse’s Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d’Ivoire. Meanwhile, Assoa Adou, sec gen of Gbagbo’s FPI wing, 11 Feb urged govt to create conditions for Gbagbo’s return in “reasonable timeframe”; govt has maintained Gbagbo’s return is conditioned by proceedings at International Criminal Court, where prosecution’s appeal of his 2019 acquittal of crimes against humanity is still pending. Bertin mid-Feb said he would soon visit Ghana and Europe to meet pro-Gbagbo cadres living in exile, including former Gbagbo Minister Charles Blé Goudé, and possibly Gbagbo himself; Assoa Adou 24 Feb said Gbagbo would return to Côte d’Ivoire mid-March. PM Hamed Bakayoko 18 Feb flew to France to receive treatment for “chronic fatigue”. Head of French foreign intelligence agency Bernard Emié 1 Feb warned Sahel-based jihadist groups aimed to spread to and target Côte d’Ivoire govt 3 Feb said army had been put on high alert.

Guinea

Authorities continued to stifle dissent, and took steps, along with Sierra Leone, to diffuse border tensions. Court in Dixinn, Conakry region, 3 Feb rejected complaint by Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), against security forces’ occupation of UFDG’s headquarters since Oct; Diallo 18 Feb appealed decision. Dixinn court 8 Feb sentenced blogger and opposition figure Mamadi Condé alias “Madic 100 Frontières”, arrested days after Oct presidential election, to five years in prison for spreading “threats, violence and insults” including messages “of a racist or xenophobic nature”; opposition denounced politically motivated trial. Meanwhile, ruling party Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) faced internal dissension. In press conference, newly formed group of dissatisfied RPG members 12 Feb criticised party leadership for “systematically abandoning” their supporters; days later, group’s leader Ibrahima Doumbouya alleged security forces had followed and threatened him, and vowed to call for protests. NGO Amnesty International 2 Feb said authorities must investigate deaths in detention of at least four people, including three UFDG members, in last two months, and end wave of arrests targeting at least 400 opposition and civil society members across country since Oct 2020 election. After Sierra Leone’s president late Jan accused Guinean troops of regularly entering border village of Yenga, both govts 16 Feb signed framework agreement for cooperation; 18 Feb reopened border, which Guinea had closed ahead of presidential election in Oct 2020. Health Minister Rémy Lamah 13 Feb declared new Ebola outbreak in first such resurgence since 2013-2016 epidemic that left over 2,500 people dead; govt next day held emergency strategy meeting.

Guinea-Bissau

Former PM Aristide Gomes 12 Feb left country to neighbouring Senegal; Gomes had sought refuge in UN premises in capital Bissau in early 2020 as authorities initiated several investigations against him.

Nigeria

Criminal groups abducted hundreds in north west, while ethnic and regional tensions ran high in south amid farmer-herder conflict; meanwhile, tensions rose in south east between govt and Biafra secessionists. Criminal groups in Feb reportedly killed at least 112 and kidnapped over 450 people, mostly in Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and Zamfara states (north west), but also in Niger state (Middle Belt). Notably, armed group 17 Feb abducted 42 students and school personnel in Niger state, released them 27 Feb; 26 Feb kidnapped 279 girls in Zamfara state. Meanwhile, Auwalun Daudawa, who masterminded Dec 2020 abduction of 344 students in Katsina state, 8 Feb laid down arms along with five of his troops. Amid rise in herder-farmer and intercommunal violence in south since Jan, clashes between ethnic Hausa and Fulani on one hand, and ethnic Yoruba on the other, early Feb killed two dozen people in Oyo state capital Ibadan (south west). Nobel laureate in literature Wole Soyinka 6 Feb warned situation could spiral into civil war and former President Abdulsalam Abubakar 16 Feb said it could lead to “point of no return”. In Imo state (south east), security forces stepped up operations against Eastern Security Network (ESN), paramilitary wing of outlawed secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); army 18 Feb deployed helicopters and hundreds of troops in Orlu and Orsu areas, razing several ESN camps; IPOB same day said govt had triggered “second Nigeria-Biafra war”. Boko Haram (BH) attacks continued in Borno state (north east) despite military operations. Army 9-10 Feb repelled insurgent attacks on base in Rann town and on Askira Uba town, killing at least 50 combatants. BH splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province 15 Feb killed at least seven soldiers in Marte area; next day launched coordinated attacks in Marte and Gubio areas, death toll unknown; 19 Feb raided several villages in Dikwa area, displacing thousands. BH rocket attack on state capital Maiduguri 23 Feb reportedly left 16 dead. Military 15 Feb said troops had killed some 80 insurgents from BH faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) in “recent” operations in Sambisa forest; at least two senior JAS figures reportedly among those killed.

Senegal

Military claimed major gains against separatists in contested Casamance region. Army 9 Feb said it had overrun three rebel camps in Casamance region in south since launching offensive against separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance in late Jan; move comes after months of lull in longstanding conflict, which last flared up in 2018.

Asia

China/Japan

Tokyo expressed concern over new Chinese Coast Guard Law as Beijing deployed vessels to waters around contested island chain in East China Sea. After new Chinese Coast Guard Law – authorising “all necessary means” to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters “under China’s jurisdiction” – came into effect 1 Feb, Tokyo 3 Feb said it had conveyed “strong concerns” to Beijing over legislation; China 4 Feb claimed new law is in accordance with international law. Japanese govt officials 25 Feb indicated that Japan Coast Guard could directly fire on foreign official vessels aiming to land on Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Meanwhile, Japan Coast Guard reported several incursions of Chinese vessels into disputed waters around Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, including: two Chinese vessels 6 Feb; four Chinese vessels 15-16 Feb, one of which armed with cannon-like weapon; and two Chinese coast guard vessels 20-21 Feb; in each instance, Japan Coast Guard deployed vessels to area to protect fishing ships while urging Chinese ships to leave territorial waters; Tokyo 8 Feb confirmed it had protested to Beijing over recent incursions. Japan 15 Feb announced that it will build three transport ships designed to supply ammunition, fuel and provisions to troops stationed on its outlying islands. Japanese and U.S. coast guard patrol vessels 21 Feb conducted joint exercises and operations near Ogasawara Islands. On diplomatic front, Japan and UK 3 Feb issued joint statement urging all parties to “exercise self-restraint and refrain from activities likely to raise tensions” in East and South China Seas. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken and Japanese FM Toshimitsu Motegi 10 Feb discussed concerns over increasing Chinese assertiveness around disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and reaffirmed strength of U.S.-Japan alliance. In first meeting since Oct, top diplomats of Australia, India, Japan and U.S. 18 Feb met for virtual “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue”, during which they agreed to “strongly” oppose any actions by China to alter status quo in region by force, according to FM Motegi. Japanese defence ministry 20 Feb announced French Navy vessel will conduct surveillance in East China Sea until early March aimed at supporting sanctions on North Korea.

Korean Peninsula

UN report revealed North Korea had funded nuclear and missile development through stolen virtual assets, while U.S. reaffirmed commitment to denuclearising peninsula. Panel of UN experts monitoring sanctions on North Korea 8 Feb concluded in confidential report to UN Security Council that Pyongyang had developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs throughout 2020, in violation of international sanctions, funded with virtual assets estimated at $300 mn that had been stolen through cyberattacks. U.S. Department of Justice 17 Feb indicted three North Korean computer programmers responsible for numerous hacks. U.S. President Biden and South Korean President Moon 3 Feb agreed in first phone call to work on joint comprehensive North Korea strategy to achieve denuclearisation on Korean Peninsula. Seoul and Washington D.C. 5 Feb said officials from both countries held eighth round of negotiations on defence cost-sharing agreement after talks stalled for almost one year. Former first National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong 8 Feb took office as new FM; U.S. Sec State Blinken 9 Feb had call with Eui-yong during which he reaffirmed commitment to denuclearising Korean peninsula; Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi 16 Feb also spoke with new FM to discuss enhanced communication and coordination from all parties to resolve tensions on peninsula. Moon 28 Feb said Tokyo Olympics may be “chance for dialogue” between regional parties. Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 8-12 Feb chaired plenary meeting of ruling party’s central committee during which he accused cabinet of drafting plans with “no big changes” from previous ones that “failed tremendously on almost every sector”; he further reviewed action plans for new five-year strategy, and criticised Seoul for offering cooperation in “non-fundamental areas”. UN 2 Feb released report detailing acts of torture and forced labour in North Korea’s prisons – amounting to possible crimes against humanity – and calling for UN Security Council to refer North Korea to International Criminal Court.

Taiwan Strait

Cross-strait tensions remained high amid persistent Chinese and U.S. military activity in region. U.S. President Biden 10 Feb raised concerns over Beijing’s pressure on Taiwan in first phone conversation with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping; Taiwanese govt 11 Feb thanked Biden for comments. Taiwanese de facto Ambassador to U.S. Hsiao Bi-khim 10 Feb met with acting U.S. Assistant Sec State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim in Washington D.C., in first publicly acknowledged formal meeting under new U.S. administration. Taiwanese Presidential Office 19 Feb announced reshuffle of top officials in charge of defence, national security and China policies. Meanwhile, Taiwanese defence ministry claimed series of Chinese military aircraft entered Air Defence Identification Zones (ADIZ) throughout month, including: one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft 1 Feb; one Y-8 electronic intelligence aircraft and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft 4 Feb; two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircrafts 7 and 18 Feb; one Shaanxi Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft 6, 18, 22 and 23 Feb; two J-16 fighter jets 8 Feb; one Y-8 ASW anti-submarine aircraft and one Y-8 RECCE aircraft 13 Feb; one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft 16 Feb; four J-16 strike fighters, four JH-7 fighter-bombers and one Y-9 EW electronic warfare aircraft 19 Feb; and two Chengdu J-10 fighter jets, two Shenyang J-16 fighter jets, four Xi'an JH-7 fighter-bombers, two Xian H-6K bombers, and one Shaanxi Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft 20 Feb. In response, Taiwan scrambled jets, broadcast radio warnings and tracked planes with air defence system on each occasion. U.S. continued military activity in region: four U.S. military aircraft 1 Feb flew through ADIZ; U.S. Navy 4 Feb sent guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain through Taiwan Strait, prompting China’s military 5 Feb to accuse U.S. of deliberately “creating tensions”. President Tsai Ing-wen 9 Feb confirmed in Lunar New Year message that U.S. military support remains firm.

Afghanistan

Taliban continued deadly attacks, while U.S. reviewed Afghan strategy ahead of May deadline for foreign troop withdrawal. Taliban launched deadly attacks in north and east while group continued slow-but-steady expansion of territorial lines in south as two district centres in Zabul province fell under its control. Taliban attack 3 Feb killed six police officers in Badghis province (north west); separate attacks same day killed 11 security officers in Nangarhar (east) and Sar-e Pul (north) provinces. Taliban 5 Feb killed 18 govt forces while overrunning National Directorate of Security support base in Kunduz province (north); 8 Feb killed 11 soldiers in Balkh province (north); Taliban same day killed three security forces in Ghor province (centre). Five security forces 11 Feb also killed after coming under Taliban attack while escorting UN convoy from capital Kabul to Jalalabad city. Taliban 15 Feb killed seven pro-govt militia members in Kunduz province (north); 17 Feb killed ten pro-govt militia and police in Daikundi province (centre). Meanwhile, after intra-Afghan peace talks abruptly ended in late Jan, negotiators 22 Feb returned to Qatar’s capital Doha to work on agenda. Priority for Afghan govt, U.S. and NATO is reduction in violence leading to ceasefire; Taliban so far have resisted all calls for ceasefire. U.S. Biden administration continued review of strategy in Afghanistan, including whether Taliban respected commitments under Feb 2020 agreement. In open letter, Taliban 16 Feb called on U.S. to honour 2020 agreement and to withdraw international troops by 1 May; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken next day discussed strategic review in call with President Ghani, said that U.S. is committed to peace deal that includes “just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”. NATO defence ministers next day met, but no decision made on whether or when to pull out of Afghanistan; NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg said alliance would postpone final decision and work with U.S. Sec Def General Lloyd Austin on way forward. Austin next day told reporters that Biden administration had not yet made decision but would consult with allies and partners.

Bangladesh

Deadly clashes over local elections persisted, and govt pressed Myanmar to continue repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Violent clashes continued as final phases of local elections held across country. Election-related violence 8 Feb killed one in Tangail district (centre); series of clashes 10 Feb, and 13 Feb injured dozens in Thakurgaon (north west), Rajshahi (west) and Bogra (north) districts; internal Awami League clashes 15 Feb, 19 Feb and 28 Feb left three dead in Chittagong, Noakhali and Nilphamari districts. Scores 26-28 Feb took to street in capital Dhaka against 25 Feb death of journalist imprisoned under controversial Digital Security Act (DSA); scores injured and arrested as police cracked down on protests. Anti-terrorism police 3 Feb arrested two members of banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in Chittagong city (south east) and five alleged Allah’r Dal militants in Dhaka. District court 4 Feb jailed 50 opposition activists, including former Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) parliamentarian, for up to ten years for 2002 attack on PM Hasina motorcade, and High Court 17 Feb upheld death sentences of ten militants convicted for assassination attempt on Hasina in 2000. Special anti-terrorism tribunal 10 and 16 Feb sentenced 13 Ansar al-Islam militants to death, and one to life in prison, for 2015 murders of secular publisher Foysal Aref and U.S.-based Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy. Following Myanmar’s military coup (see Myanmar), foreign ministry 1 Feb said it expected Rohingya repatriation to continue; border security forces same day on alert to secure borders with Myanmar. FM Momen 3 Feb said that Dhaka did not expect fresh influx of refugees; 5 Feb welcomed reports that Myanmar military commanders had visited Rohingya community in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, said would “approach directly” new govt to resume talks about refugee repatriation as soon as possible. Approximately 3,000 Rohingya refugees 15-16 Feb relocated from Cox’s Bazar District to Bhasan Char, low-lying flood-prone island in Bay of Bengal, bringing total of number of refugees transferred to island to more than 10,000 since relocation started in December.

India (non-Kashmir)

India and China struck deal to disengage along part of contested border, while Maoist violence and farmer protests continued. Following nine rounds of talks between military commanders, India and China 11 Feb announced agreement on mutual withdrawal of military forces from Pangong Lake area on unofficial and disputed Himalayan border known as Line of Actual Control; joint communiqué 21 Feb confirmed “smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area” as sides vowed to “continue their communication and dialogue”. China 19 Feb confirmed death of four Chinese soldiers in border clashes in June 2020 – its first admission of any casualties in scuffle which had killed 20 Indian soldiers. Meanwhile, anti-Maoist security operations and Maoist violence continued throughout month. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), security forces 6 Feb killed senior Maoist commander in Dantewada district, while IEDs 7, 24 Feb killed soldier in Bijapur District and border guard in Narayanpur district, respectively; Maoists 15 Feb killed local village official in Naryanpur district and 17 Feb killed villager in Rajnandgaon district. In Bihar state (east), security forces 11 Feb killed Maoist in Lakhisarai district. In Jharkhand state (east), IED 16 Feb killed police constable in Lohardaga district. In Madhya Pradesh (centre), security forces night of 12-13 Feb killed two Maoists in Mandla district. Following violent unrest last month, farmers 6 Feb blocked national and state roads nationwide in protest of govt’s proposed agricultural reforms; PM Modi 8 Feb urged farmers to end their over-two-month long protest and 10 Feb invited farmers to talks. Police in New Delhi 9 Feb arrested man accused of leading protesters who stormed historic Red Fort last month; police 13 Feb arrested climate activist for alleged role in spreading misinformation related to unrest. U.S. President Biden and PM Modi during 8 Feb telephone call agreed to continue close cooperation in Indo-Pacific to promote “stronger regional architecture through the Quad”, referring to informal grouping of U.S., India, Japan and Australia (see South China Sea).

Kashmir

India and Pakistan pledged to respect ceasefire agreement along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir); militant attacks continued in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). India and Pakistan’s directors general of military operations 25 Feb agreed to observe immediately all agreements and ceasefire along LoC; U.S. State Dept same day welcomed agreement, expressed support for direct India-Pakistan dialogue; Indian army northern commander 27 Feb said agreement would have no bearing on counter-terrorism operations in region. Earlier in month, Pakistan claimed Indian fire 2 Feb injured four, and India said Pakistani cross-LoC fire 3 Feb killed soldier in Rajouri district. Indian border forces 8 Feb claimed to have killed Pakistani intruder along international border in Jammu, 10 Feb said they killed another intruder near LoC. In briefing to foreign representatives visiting J&K, senior Indian army officials 18 Feb accused Islamabad of helping terrorists infiltrate across LoC by organising training camps; Pakistani FM 15 Feb said such “guided tours” are intended to divert international community’s attention away from India’s “egregious human rights violations”. Meanwhile, militant attacks continued at high intensity in J&K: militants 6 Feb injured paramilitary soldier in Chanapora area; son of Hindu restaurant owner 17 Feb shot and wounded in regional capital Srinagar, died 28 Feb. Encounter between militants and security forces 18-19 Feb killed one police in Budgam district. Security forces 19 Feb killed three militants in Shopian district; militants same day gunned down two police in Srinagar. In light of attacks, inspector general of Kashmir police 21 Feb directed an increase in security deployment at all vital locations in area. Security forces 24 Feb killed two militants in Anantnag district. Previously, police 13 Feb arrested militant allegedly responsible for killing three Bharatiya Janata Party workers in Kulgram district last year; security forces next day claimed to have foiled terrorist plot planned on anniversary of 2019 Pulwama attack which killed scores of Indian security personnel. J&K police chief same day disclosed arrests of two militant commanders on 6 and 13 Feb. High speed internet services, previously shut down on 4 Aug 2019, 5 Feb restored in J&K.

Nepal

Supreme Court overturned PM KP Oli’s decision to dissolve House of Representatives amid ongoing dispute between ruling party factions. In landmark decision, Supreme Court 23 Feb overturned PM KP Oli’s 20 Dec bid to dissolve House of Representatives – thereby reinstating parliament – and called for winter legislative session to be convened by 8 March; decision widely lauded for safeguarding constitutional framework of 2015 charter and preserving judicial independence. Despite renewed calls for Oli’s resignation following verdict, PM refused to step down and his press adviser 23 Feb stated that while Court’s ruling should be accepted, Oli would be “facing” House of Representatives. Discussions around potential no-confidence motion against Oli gathered pace following court’s decision but were complicated by internal rift within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Competition continued throughout Feb between Oli-led faction and faction led by former PMs Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal as both continued bids to be recognised as legitimate version of party after Election Commission refused in Jan to recognise either wing’s legitimacy; Dahal-Nepal faction 2 Feb submitted new application to Election Commission that could have bearing on formation of new govt. Nepali Congress, second-largest party in parliament and touted as likely “kingmaker” once parliament reconvenes, 25 Feb announced it would not yet take sides despite appeals for support from both NCP factions.

Pakistan

Violent clashes erupted during local elections, and militant attacks continued at high intensity. Political tensions continued between PM Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) govt and Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), 11-party opposition alliance that includes Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). President Alvi 6 Feb signed Elections Amendment Ordinance 2021 to allow upcoming Senate elections to be held with “open and identifiable ballot” rather than secret ballots; PDM same day rejected ordinance, said it violated constitution while Pakistan Bar Council 8 Feb said it is based on “malicious intent”. Local by-elections held throughout Feb sparked low-level violence; notably, clashes between PTI and PML-N party workers 19 Feb killed two in one Punjab province by-election; Election Commission 25 Feb subsequently ordered re-election there on 18 March, said local polls had not been fair or transparent. Meanwhile, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, Pakistani Taliban 3 Feb killed two in North Waziristan district; militants 12 and 18 Feb killed nine soldiers in South Waziristan and 12 Feb killed Ahmadi doctor in Peshawar city; Pakistan Taliban commander 22 Feb shot dead four female aid workers in North Waziristan; security forces next day killed militant commander, and 26 Feb killed another Pakistan Taliban commander in South Waziristan. Sindh police 26 Feb killed two alleged Pakistani Taliban militants in Sukkur city. Afghan Taliban commander 28 Feb shot dead in Peshawar city (KPK). In Balochistan province, explosions targeting Kashmir solidarity rallies 5 Feb killed two and injured at least 24 in Quetta and Sibi cities. Local security forces claimed militants shot dead three Punjabi labourers 8 Feb in Kalat district; militants 14 Feb killed soldier in Kech district, and 18 Feb killed five soldiers in Quetta and Kohlu districts. Inter-governmental body Financial Action Task Force met 25 Feb, said it would keep Pakistan on “grey list” until June plenary. Internationally, Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa 19 Feb met visiting U.S. Central Command head General Kenneth McKenzie, and along with FM Qureshi same day met Russia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov to discuss Afghan peace process; FM Qureshi 26 Feb also met visiting Afghan president’s special envoy.

Sri Lanka

UN Human Rights Council mulled new oversight resolution as govt continued to dismiss deeply critical UN human rights report. Following late Jan report by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet that noted “warning signs” of possible return of “grave human rights violations” and advocated “international action to ensure justice for international crimes” allegedly committed during 26-year civil war, UN Human Rights Council 22 Feb began Spring session where it will consider new resolution to pursue accountability and maintain international oversight over Sri Lanka as 2015 resolution approaches expiration. Govt reiterated harsh response to UN report; foreign affairs ministry 21 Feb labelled it “propaganda” and part of campaign of “premeditated attempts at vilifying Sri Lanka”. Seventeen former UN special rapporteurs and human rights experts 5 Feb issued joint statement expressing grave concerns about “continued reluctance of the Sri Lankan Government to meaningfully uphold the human rights of all”. Pakistani PM Imran Khan 23 Feb visited Sri Lanka, seen as attempt by Sri Lankan govt to court support from Muslim-majority states for countering new UN resolution; Khan welcomed govt’s 26 Feb announcement of reversal of widely criticised policy mandating cremation of bodies of COVID-19 victims; govt had yet to allocate land for burials by month’s end. Meanwhile, presidential commission of inquiry on 2019 Easter bombings 1 Feb submitted long-awaited report to President Rajapaksa, who 19 Feb appointed ministerial committee to look into how to respond to its recommendations, which have not yet been formally made public. Thousands of mostly Tamil and some Muslim demonstrators 3-7 Feb marched 400km from Pottuvil town in eastern province to Polikandy town near Jaffna in northern province in protest of land grabs and Sinhalisation of Tamil-majority areas, militarisation, forced cremations, disappearances, anti-terrorism laws and political prisoners. Govt 1 Feb unilaterally cancelled Feb 2019 agreement with India and Japan for public-private partnership to develop Eastern Container Terminal of Colombo port.

Myanmar

Military coup sparked biggest political crisis in generation as police killed dozens in violent crackdowns on mass protests. Military 1 Feb staged coup after alleging fraud in Nov elections, declaring state of emergency for one year and handing power to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing after detaining State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other senior figures of National League for Democracy party. Police 3 Feb filed charges against Myint for alleged violation of COVID-19 protocols, and against Suu Kyi for alleged import infringements after finding six unauthorised walkie-talkies in her residence. Min Aung Hlaing 1 Feb pledged to hold new election and hand power to winner, without specifying date; medical staff, teachers, govt and private sector workers same day started civil disobedience campaign against military rule, and stopped working. Despite intermittent internet cuts, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to streets nationwide throughout Feb, demanding release of Suu Kyi and end to military rule, including in capital Naypyitaw, Yangon, Mandalay and other cities and towns; police cracked down violently on protesters, killing dozens – including at least 18 on 28 Feb alone – while arresting over 1,000 people. Coup prompted stern international response: UN Security Council 4 Feb called for release of members of govt while UK and U.S. same day urged military to relinquish power. Numerous states imposed sanctions on military leaders, including New Zealand 9 Feb, U.S. 11 Feb, as well as UK and Canada 18 Feb. Ethnic armed groups differed in responses to coup. In Rakhine State, Arakan Army continued informal talks with military to solidify informal ceasefire, while some Arakan National Party members accepted positions in new local and national administrations. In northern Shan State, armed groups Restoration Council of Shan State and Ta-ang National Liberation Army 15-21 Feb clashed in sign of more assertive military posture. In Kokang region, military 2 Feb removed local leadership; as they left, rival Myanmar National Democratic Alliance attacked them, reportedly killing dozen, mostly civilians. Ten ethnic armed groups signatory to Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement 20 Feb announced they would suspend political talks with junta.

Philippines

Low-level violence persisted in south between militant groups and security forces. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, clashes between insurgents and security forces took place at relatively low levels throughout month: police 5 Feb led operation against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) elements in Rajah Buayan municipality; police 9 Feb targeted suspected Dawlah Islamiya elements in South Cotabato, killing one militant; military operations continued in South Upi municipality, as military 12 Feb seized BIFF camp in Pilar village; govt forces 13 Feb overran camp of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants in Madamba municipality. Military operations against elements of ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) continued early Feb in Zamboanga city; smaller cohorts of ASG members 7 and 18 Feb surrendered to govt, notably in Basilan province in Sulu archipelago. 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 13 combatant and civilian casualties throughout Feb. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front remained stalled.

South China Sea

New Chinese Coast Guard Law prompted concern amid continued military activity in South China Sea (SCS) region. China’s Coast Guard Law adopted late Jan came into effect 1 Feb; law authorises use of “all necessary means” to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters “under China’s jurisdiction”. After Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin in Jan filed diplomatic protest with Beijing against law, Chinese embassy in Manila 1 Feb defended it as “domestic legislation” that did not increase the risk of war. Filipino Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana 9 Feb said law was “alarming” and 19 Feb announced Manila will strengthen its naval presence in SCS; U.S. State Dept 19 Feb said it was “concerned” by law. Military activity continued. Chinese MFA 9 Feb denounced U.S. Freedom of Navigation operations in SCS as inconducive to regional peace and stability; USS Russell 17 Feb conducted Freedom of Navigation operation in Spratly Islands. French Defence Minister Florence Parly 8 Feb said French nuclear attack submarine and naval support ship completed patrol through SCS; French Navy Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and La Fayette-class frigate 18 Feb set sail on deployment to South China Sea and Japan ahead of joint exercise with Japan and U.S. in May. Chinese state media 24 and 27 Feb announced armed forces recently held maritime strike exercises. UK Royal Navy 27 Feb suggested carrier strike group will conduct freedom of navigation operation in SCS in May. Meanwhile, Locsin 8 Feb said SCS code of conduct currently being negotiated by South East Asia regional group ASEAN and China will not exclude Western powers such as U.S. from region. U.S. Sec Def Lloyd Austin 10 Feb reiterated commitment to uphold Mutual Defense Treaty with Philippines. In conversation with General Secretary of Vietnamese Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, Chinese President Xi Jinping 8 Feb said that both countries must resist outside interference. In first meeting since Oct, top diplomats of Australia, India, Japan and U.S. 18 Feb held virtual conference for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; according to Japanese FM Toshimitsu Motegi, parties agreed to oppose any Chinese actions to alter status quo in region by force.

Thailand

Protest movement calling for constitutional reform resumed in capital Bangkok while violence returned in deep south after quiet month. Criminal court 9 Feb imprisoned four protest leaders for violation of lèse-majesté law; ruling came day after panel of UN human rights experts expressed “grave concerns” over recent lèse-majesté charges and sentences. In Bangkok, protesters resumed rallies throughout month, calling for release of four jailed protest leaders, amendment of lèse-majesté law and reform of monarchy. Over 1,000 protesters 10 Feb gathered at Pathumwan intersection and scuffled with police; hundreds 13 Feb gathered at Democracy Monument; protesters later same day marched toward Grand Palace and clashed with riot police; separate group of pro-democracy protesters same day met at Nang Loeng police station, where police fired warning shots and media reported 23 protestors and 20 police officers injured during incident and 11 people arrested. Rally of several hundred 19 Feb took place near parliament. Police 28 Feb fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets in clashes with pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok; incident left 23 policemen and ten protesters injured, and police arrested 22 people. Meanwhile, lawmakers 9 Feb agreed that Constitutional Court should rule on legality of proposed constitutional amendments aimed at setting up charter drafting committee; opposition sees recourse to court as move to derail reform efforts; two proposed amendment bills 25 Feb passed second reading. Deep south witnessed uptick in violence after calmer Jan. In Narathiwat province, arsonists 1 Feb set fire to two cell signal towers before targeting police officers responding to fire with IED, wounding five in Si Sakhon district; gunmen 14 Feb fired shots at guard post outside police station in Bacho district. In Pattani province, grenade 13 Feb exploded in parking lot of block of police apartments; militants 16 Feb fired two grenades at Marine outpost in Mai Khen district; gunmen 20 Feb shot and killed Malay-Muslim defence volunteer in Khok Po district. In first publicly acknowledged dialogue in over a year, govt representatives 3 Feb engaged with armed group Barisan Revolusi Nasional to discuss “how to handle peace talks during the COVID-19 time”.

Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo

Opposition Vetëvendosje party won landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections, while U.S. renewed calls for Kosovo-Serbia mutual recognition. Govt 14 Feb held snap parliamentary elections resulting in landslide victory of Vetëvendosje party with 48% of votes, while Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) came in second with 17%; acting leader and PM candidate for PDK Enver Hoxhaj 15 Jan congratulated Vetëvendosje on results. Vetëvendosje will control at least 53 of 120 seats in parliament. Germany and France 22 Feb congratulated Vetëvendosje on victory and called for swift govt formation. Meanwhile, U.S. President Biden 7 Feb urged Serbian President Vučić to reach “comprehensive normalisation agreement with Kosovo centred on mutual recognition”; in response, Vučić same day said Serbia is ready to continue dialogue but will not recognise Kosovo. European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee 23 Feb endorsed Committee report which called on member states to recognise Kosovo in order to contribute to normalisation of Kosovo-Serbia relations; Serbian FM Nikola Selaković next day condemned report as “gross violation of the existing practice of Brussels”. FM Meliza Haradinaj Stublla and Israeli FM Gabi Ashkenazi 1 Feb signed joint declaration establishing diplomatic ties; next day, Selaković expressed dismay over Israeli recognition of Kosovo, and EU said decision diverges from its position on Jerusalem. Lawyers representing former President Thaçi and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leaders at war crimes trial at Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague 16 Feb accused prosecution of hampering investigations by not properly disclosing evidence.

Eastern Mediterranean

Turkey and Greece prepared for next round of talks as fiery rhetoric and local maritime tensions continued. Following meeting between Turkish and Greek delegations 25 Jan in Turkish city Istanbul for “exploratory talks” on their disagreements in Aegean, after which both sides initially issued constructive statements, Greek PM Mitsotakis 4 Feb said talks likely to resume by end of Feb or early March ahead of EU summit scheduled for 25 March; Mitsotakis added “Turkey has to be consistent in terms of its behaviour, this cannot just be a decoy to avoid the discussion [around sanctions] at the EU council in March”. Harsh rhetoric and tensions between sides continued throughout Feb. During 8 Feb visit to Republic of Cyprus, Mitsotakis said that “end of the Turkish occupation and finding a viable solution [for Cyprus] are top priorities of Greek foreign policy”. Turkish President Erdoğan 10 Feb responded, “How can we continue our talks?” after “Mitsotakis targeted us once again”, and warned Athens that it “will come to know the crazy Turks” if its PM continued such language. Turkish Foreign Ministry 11 Feb strongly condemned Friendship Forum held same day in Greek capital Athens attended by Republic of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, France and United Arab Emirates, claiming it was another sign of “hostility toward Turkey”. Ankara 15 Feb announced navigation advisory on hydrographic surveys held 18 Feb-2 March in international waters in central Aegean; Athens 21 Feb announced advisory announcing firing exercise close to Turkey’s announced survey area. Turkey 23 Feb said four Greek F-16s harassed Turkish research vessel near Aegean island of Limnos in international waters, which Greece denied. Separately, Turkish and Greek military officials 6 Feb met for ninth round of technical deconfliction talks under auspices of North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Armenia

Amid worsening political crisis, standoff emerged between PM Pashinyan and military as pressure mounted on PM to resign. Pashinyan 10 Feb told parliament that govt would continue to work in line with roadmap presented in Nov 2020 as opposition rejected his offer to hold snap parliamentary elections in 2021. Opposition insists PM must first resign. Several thousand 22 Feb marched in capital Yerevan, demanding Pashinyan’s resignation over handling of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Sept-Nov 2020; protests continued until end of month. In sign of worsening political crisis, Pashinyan 25 Feb dismissed top military leadership, accusing it of attempted coup after top brass called for his resignation; dismissal prompted thousands same day to protest in Yerevan in support of either army or Pashinyan; President Sarkissian 27 Feb refused to dismiss head of armed forces. Meanwhile, govt and Azerbaijan continued dialogue and cooperation. Notably, authorities 9 Feb swapped prisoners of war and post-ceasefire detainees with mediation of Russian peacekeepers (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Russian President Putin 17 Feb held phone conversation with Pashinyan, reportedly to discuss practical aspects of implementation of Nov ceasefire agreement, as well as Moscow agreements signed in Jan.

Azerbaijan

Govt focused efforts on demining Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone and continued de-escalation process in line with ceasefire. President Aliyev 2 Feb signed decree renaming and restructuring Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action as Mine Action Agency of Republic of Azerbaijan, appointing new director, and making it public legal entity able to receive financial assistance from foreign donors. Turkish Defence Ministry 4 Feb said 20 Turkish-made Mechanic Mine Clearance Machines had been sent to Azerbaijan to support demining efforts in NK conflict zone. Delegation from Azerbaijani Emergencies Ministry 4 Feb visited Russia’s capital Moscow, where it held negotiations on cooperation in clearing Azerbaijani territories of mines and training of Azerbaijani mine specialists by Russian colleagues. Govt and Armenia continued dialogue and cooperation. Notably, authorities 9 Feb swapped prisoners of war and post-ceasefire detainees with mediation of Russian peacekeepers (see Nagorno-Karabakh).

Georgia

PM Gakharia resigned following court’s decision to arrest opposition leader. Tbilisi city court 17 Feb sentenced to pre-trial detention leader of main opposition party United National Movement (UNM) Nika Melia for his role in calling on protesters to take over parliament during June 2019 unrest; Melia previously sentenced to home arrest in July 2019; opposition leaders and prominent politicians same day gathered in support of Melia at UNM headquarters. PM Giorgi Gakharia 18 Feb resigned, citing his opposition to court’s decision that was at odds with position of ruling Georgian Dream party, which supported court’s decision. Georgian Dream same day nominated former Defence Minister Irakli Garibashvili as new PM. Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe chairperson-in-office and Swedish FM Ann Linde 16 Feb visited Georgia for meetings with leadership and to discuss situation in breakaway regions. Restrictions on crossing from Abkhazia to Georgia-controlled territory 11 Feb eased for elders, pensioners and people with special needs; crossings had mostly remained closed, due to COVID-19, for almost a year.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Russian-brokered Nov ceasefire held in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone as Armenia and Azerbaijan continued dialogue and swapped prisoners. In NK conflict zone, situation remained stable throughout Feb. Russian border guards 13 Feb set up additional post near Agarak village in Armenia’s Syunik region (which now borders Azerbaijan) after Azerbaijani troops reportedly fired sporadically in vicinity. Azerbaijani side reported soldier and civilian fatalities in mine explosions in different parts of conflict zone throughout Feb; according to Office of Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General, total of 14 people killed and 60 injured as of 9 Feb since Nov ceasefire agreement. Azerbaijan and Armenia continued cooperation: parties 9 Feb swapped prisoners of war and post-ceasefire detainees with mediation of Russian peacekeepers, with one Azerbaijani prisoner returned to Baku and five Armenian detainees to Yerevan. Armenian side continued search for bodies of its soldiers and civilians killed during war in NK territories controlled by Azerbaijan until mid-month. During first-ever meeting of Armenian, Azerbaijani and de facto NK officials, sides 12 Feb discussed cooperation on missing persons; with International Committee of Red Cross mediation, Armenian side 12 Feb handed over remains of 17 bodies missing during war in NK in early 1990s; Azerbaijani side 16 Feb transferred remains of 106 bodies buried in territories under its control during recent war. Trilateral working group co-chaired by deputy PMs of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan 6, 12 and 27 Feb met and continued work on resuming use of transport links between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in line with 11 Jan Moscow statement. Minsk Group Co-Chairs 16 Feb held separate online meetings with Armenian FM Ara Aivazian and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov, during which they discussed implementation of trilateral agreements on NK. Russian President Putin 17 Feb held phone conversation with Armenian PM Pashinyan reportedly to discuss practical aspects of Nov ceasefire agreement as well as Jan Moscow agreements. Armenia 1 Feb submitted interstate application against Azerbaijan at European Court of Human Rights for violations during 2020 NK war; move follows interstate application against Armenia filed by Azerbaijan in ECHR in Jan.

Russia (Internal)

Protest organisers supporting opposition politician Alexei Navalny announced pause, and authorities arrested suspected Islamist militants reportedly planning attacks in North Caucasus. Several hundred protesters 2 Feb marched in capital Moscow and St. Petersburg city in response to Moscow court’s decision same day to replace Navalny’s suspended sentence with two years and eight months imprisonment. Police immediately began to disperse crowds using force and detained 1,463 people, according to independent NGO OVD-info; Navalny supporters 14 Feb took to streets with candles and flashlights in solidarity with politician. Amid police crackdown on protests, Navalny’s Chief of Staff Leonid Volkov 4 Feb announced that major protests will be postponed until at least Spring and attention diverted to Sept 2021 parliamentary elections. European Court of Human Rights 16 Feb demanded that Russian authorities release Navalny; in response, head of Russian Ministry of Justice Konstantin Chuychenko next day said demand was “unreasonable and unlawful”; court 20 Feb rejected Navalny’s appeal. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 4-6 Feb visited Moscow, where he held talks with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov; during visit, Russian MFA 5 Feb announced that it had expelled members of diplomatic missions of Germany, Sweden and Poland for participating in unauthorised protests held on 23 Jan. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service 17 Feb reported detention of 19 individuals in Karachay-Cherkessia, Rostov Oblast, Kuban and Crimea who were allegedly plotting attacks in North Caucasus, recruiting new supporters and promoting ideology of proscribed Islamist group At-Takfir wal-Hijra. Authorities 18 Feb conducted special operation in Voronezh in south west to suppress activities of supporters of Ukrainian youth group accused of promoting neo-Nazi propaganda and provoking interethnic conflict.

Belarus

While protests over disputed Aug presidential elections continued, opposition leader raised challenge of sustaining momentum amid crackdown. Protests took place on 7, 14, 19, 20, 21 and 28 Feb calling for President Lukashenka’s resignation; police detained dozens. In Brest city, protesters 14 Feb formed human chains holding national flag and chanting “We are together, and we are strong”. Protesters 21 Feb took to streets in capital Minsk in solidarity with detained journalists and political prisoners. Demonstrations 7 Feb held in Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Germany and Estonia marked international day of solidarity with Belarus. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 19 Feb noted that “we have lost the streets, [and] we have no opportunity to fight the violence of the regime”, but she raised prospect of greater organisation in Spring. NGO Human Rights Watch 17 Feb stated that law enforcement previous day conducted nationwide raids targeting human rights defenders and activists, searching their homes and offices and detaining at least 40. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 25 Feb submitted report to UN Human Rights Council describing “human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension” in country; court same day jailed protester Aliaksandr Kardziukou for ten years for attempted murder of police officer and found protester Henadz Shutau, who was killed by security forces in Aug 2020, guilty of disobeying police order.

Ukraine

Casualties in Donbas conflict zone surged while govt sanctioned several Kremlin-friendly public figures. July ceasefire in Donbas – longest-lasting ceasefire in east to date – faced growing strains amid significant uptick in casualties: Ukrainian army during Feb suffered up to a dozen combat-related deaths while Russian-backed forces lost at least eight fighters, per social media reports. Landmines 14 Feb killed three Ukrainian servicemen. In first civilian casualties from live fire since July, shelling 23 Feb killed one civilian and 3, 22 Feb injured two, according to Ukrainian and separatist media reports. Ukrainian commander 20 Feb reported extensive use of heavy weapons in Donbas by so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) forces; DPR-friendly sources, however, suggested Ukrainian forces fired artillery first. Other incidents contributed to deteriorating security in Donbas: Ukrainian security personnel 9 Feb fatally shot man attempting to cross front-line checkpoint after he ignored orders to stop car; car bombing 15 Feb injured DPR battalion commander and his daughter, for which de facto authorities blamed Ukrainian security services. Ukraine’s chief envoy to Minsk Trilateral Contact Group Leonid Kravchuk 8 Feb said armed groups’ aggression warranted return fire. President Zelenskyy 11 Feb brought G7 ambassadors to visit military positions at frontline and spoke of July ceasefire’s success. In capital Kyiv, hundreds 23 Feb protested Odesa сourt’s decision to sentence activist Serhiy Sternenko to seven years in prison for alleged kidnapping, leaving 27 law enforcement officers injured and 24 people arrested. Meanwhile, National Security and Defense Council 19 Feb announced sanctions on Kremlin-friendly politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife; Kremlin press secretary 20 Feb responded that such action fuels concern that Kyiv “will consider it possible to solve the situation in [Donbas] by military means”. Kyiv 2 Feb sanctioned Medvedchuk associate Taras Kozak, accusing him of involvement in Russia-linked coal smuggling scheme and stripping licenses from three television channels he owns. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba 2 Feb held first call during which Blinken pledged “robust U.S. economic and military assistance”; Ukrainian MFA same day said Blinken promised lethal weaponry.

Cyprus

UN scheduled informal meeting after almost four-year hiatus while proposal to share prospective hydrocarbon revenues gained traction. UN 24 Feb announced five-plus-one talks – which includes UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – to be held 27-29 April “to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution”; talks will be held for first time since negotiations collapsed in 2017. Ahead of announcement, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials throughout Feb continued to emphasise preference for solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greek and Greek Cypriot sides continued to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Meanwhile, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 2 Feb visited “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and, after meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, declared “if in Cyprus we manage to find a way to share revenues, then we will have solved 50% of the eastern Mediterranean issue”; proposal followed Jan letter from Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades to UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres that reportedly proposed escrow account to share prospective hydrocarbon revenues between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

Northern Ireland (UK)

Controversial Northern Ireland Protocol faced criticism amid warnings from Unionist leaders of potential return to violence. Amid growing disquiet surrounding Northern Ireland Protocol – provision of UK-EU “Brexit” agreement in effect since 1 Jan 2020 that creates regulatory border in Irish Sea – former Northern Ireland First Minister and co-architect of 1998 Good Friday Agreement David Trimble 20 Feb warned that “there is real potential for those who have engaged in past violence to take action again into their own hands” if protocol is allowed to stand; Trimble criticised protocol, saying it means “Northern Ireland is no longer fully part of the UK”. First Minister Arlene Foster 25 Feb met with Loyalist Community Council (LCC), organisation representing loyalist paramilitary groups; LCC chairman David Campbell 3 Feb said it may be necessary for loyalists “to fight physically to maintain our freedoms within the UK.” Chief Constable Simon Byrne 4 Feb warned of “increasingly febrile” rhetoric around protocol.

Turkey

Ankara continued with military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and south-eastern Turkey while tensions resurfaced with U.S. Military continued operations against PKK in Turkey’s south east and intensified operations against PKK in northern Iraq. In first ground offensive targeting PKK inside northern Iraq since Sept 2020, security forces 10 Feb commenced operation to end PKK’s presence in northern Iraq’s Gara Mountains area in Duhok province, ostensibly also aimed at rescuing 13 Turkish hostages held by PKK since 2015-2016; clashes with PKK 11 Feb killed three special forces personnel. Authorities 13 Feb announced deaths of all hostages as Ankara and PKK blamed each other. Operation ignited fiery domestic debate in immediate aftermath; opposition called on govt to take responsibility. Meanwhile, govt efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party persisted; police detained more than 900 members or affiliates of Kurdish political movement throughout Feb. Security forces continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS) operatives; police detained over 70 individuals for alleged ISIS links. Meanwhile, protests held throughout Feb at Boğazici University in Istanbul city against appointment of Melih Bulu as rector, with demonstrations spreading to universities in Izmir city and capital Ankara; over 300 detained by end of Feb, including individuals accused of belonging to terrorist groups; U.S. State Dept 4 Feb expressed concern about detentions of demonstrators and condemned Turkish officials’ anti-LGBTI rhetoric surrounding protests. Relations with U.S. further strained after 54 U.S. senators 10 Feb signed letter urging President Biden to impose severe sanctions upon Ankara for its assertive foreign policy, targeting of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, acquisition of Russian S-400 missile defence system, and worsening human rights and democracy record. Turkish Foreign Ministry 15 Feb summoned U.S. ambassador to protest State Dept’s statement previous day that apparently questioned PKK’s role in death of 13 Turkish hostages in operation in northern Iraq; U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken same day backtracked, confirming view that “PKK terrorists bear responsibility”.

Kazakhstan

Opposition groups staged protest calling for reform and release of political prisoners. Following 11 Feb EU Parliament resolution citing “worrying deterioration in general situation of human rights and crackdown on civil society organisations”, opposition groups 28 Feb held demonstrations in several cities including Aqtobe, Oral, Almaty and capital Nur-Sultan calling for political reforms and release of political prisoners; authorities detained at least 50 protesters in Almaty city.

Kyrgyzstan

Parliament approved new streamlined govt and unveiled draft constitution, while border incidents triggered small-scale rallies in capital Bishkek and south. Following President Japarov’s election victory in Jan, parliament 3 Feb approved new govt with Ulugbek Maripov serving as PM; Japarov previous day explained “we have shed everything that was excess to requirement. All that is left are 12 ministries.” Govt 9 Feb published draft of new constitution, which reduces members of parliament from 120 to 90, among other provisions; Japarov indicated constitutional referendum could be held in April. Japarov 24 Feb visited Russia’s capital Moscow on first foreign tour as president. Around 30 residents from southern Batken and Jalal-Abad regions 15 Feb rallied in Bishkek to call on govt to resolve border issues with neighbouring countries; previously, around 50 villagers 12 Feb rallied in village in Batken region, claiming Tajik border guards had taken control of pasture earlier in month; separately, locals in Jalal-Abad region 12 Feb met border guard representative amid accusations that Uzbekistan had installed border fence that cut off access to grazing lands. National security chief Kamchybek Tashiev 18 Feb visited Batken region; Tashiev said border talks with Tajik officials would take place in first half of March and with Uzbek officials in second half, and govt intends to demarcate 150km of state border this year. Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-corruption protesters 14 Feb rallied in Bishkek to demand that authorities take measures against widespread corruption. State Committee for National Security 10 Feb announced detention of top Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Maksatbek Hajji Toktomushev, for alleged misuse of funds; dozens of Toktomushev’s supporters 11 Feb rallied in Bishkek to demand his release. Transport minister 18 Feb met Russian counterpart to discuss resumption of regular flights between countries that were largely halted due to COVID-19.

Tajikistan

Security chief visited Afghan capital Kabul to discuss border security and Afghan peace talks. Head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah 14 Feb announced he met with head of Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security Saimumin Yatimov in Afghan capital Kabul to discuss peace efforts and security situation; Abdullah’s aide same day said Tajik authorities are concerned about “unclarity in the ongoing Afghan peace talks, the continuation of violence in Afghanistan, the activation of terrorist groups in Afghanistan’s north, and the growing illegal drugs smuggling via the Afghan-Tajik border”. Earlier in month, Tajik and Russian govt officials 8-9 Feb convened in Russia’s capital Moscow and agreed “measures to expand Tajik-Russian economic ties and industrial cooperation” while Tajik officials requested that Moscow consider resuming air traffic between two countries, which was largely halted due to COVID-19. World Bank 14 Feb approved $8.63 mn for procurement and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

Uzbekistan

Govt brought forward 2021 presidential election while arrest of blogger prompted international criticism. President Mirziyoev 8 Feb signed into law bill, proposed by parliament in Jan, that rescheduled presidential, parliamentary and local elections, formerly held every five years on first Sunday of last ten days in December, to first Sunday of last ten days in October; move implies next polls now scheduled on 24 Oct 2021. NGO Human Rights Watch 12 Feb condemned 30 Jan arrest of video blogger Otabek Sattoriy, calling extortion case against him “dubious”, said Sattoriy’s coverage of sensitive issues put him in “local authorities’ crosshairs”; UK ambassador 5 Feb said if no credible evidence presented, Sattoriy’s case is “concerning” and “undermines media freedom”, while UN resident coordinator in Uzbekistan 10 Feb said in a tweet UN “welcomes the call for fair & impartial application of the law in respect to this case”.

Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia

Territorial contests between armed groups continued to accelerate in Norte de Santander department bordering Venezuela, Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia department and along Pacific Coast.In Norte de Santander, military and National Liberation Army (ELN) early Feb exchanged fire in Hacarí municipality, leaving one ELN combatant dead and forcing at least 50 people to flee. Paramilitary groups’ escalating threats on local population triggered mass displacement of farming communities around Ituango hydroelectric dam, Antioquia; over 500 people mid-Feb fled toward urban centres, while UN 16 Feb estimated 2,000 people forcefully confined due to fighting. Demonstrations 5 Feb erupted in Buenaventura city, Valle del Cauca department (south west along Pacific coast), against mounting insecurity as a result of feud between local criminal organisation’s rival factions. Two drug trafficking groups 20-21 Feb clashed in Nariño department (also south west), leaving at least 11 dead. Under rising political pressure surrounding social leader killings, govt 5 Feb said Attorney General’s Office and govt ombudsman would work to create unified register of social leader violence civil society watchdogs same day released letter which said move is intended to minimise gravity of risk toward social leaders. Meanwhile, President Duque 1 Feb appointed Diego Molano new defence minister to replace Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died from COVID-19 in Jan; in following days, Molano took hardline stance on security, especially counter-narcotics, emphasising need to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops as soon as April. Cuban ambassador to Colombia 8 Feb alerted Colombian authorities to risk of ELN attack in capital Bogotá in coming days; ELN 10 Feb denied claim. Following Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP, established under peace deal between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to handle cases deriving from conflict) accusations in Jan, former FARC commander and current head of FARC political party Rodrigo Londoño 18 Feb acknowledged responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying he and seven co-accused were committed to recounting truth for victims. JEP same day said Colombian military committed 6,400 extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008, significantly more than previously counted.

Ecuador

Deadliest prison riots in country’s history broke out between rival gang members, while post-electoral tensions emerged. Violence overnight 22-23 Feb erupted between rival gangs in Guayaquil, Cuenca and Latacunga prisons, leaving 79 inmates dead and a dozen injured; riots reportedly part of gangs’ battle for leadership within prison system since killing of most powerful gang’s leader Jorge Luis Zambrano in Dec 2020. In response, authorities 23 Feb deployed hundreds of police officers and military personnel inside prison system and in following days reportedly regained control of all three facilities. President Moreno 24 Feb said violence was “orchestrated by those who are in dispute over leadership and drug trafficking across our national territory”, acknowledged prison overcrowding and announced that govt would seek international help to combat organised crime. Meanwhile, tensions mounted following 7 Feb presidential election. Preliminary results next day showed left-wing candidate Andrés Arauz, protégé of former socialist President Rafael Correa, leading with 32.7% of vote, but conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso and environmentalist indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez neck and neck in race for second round. National Electoral Council 16 Feb said it would not conduct partial recount of votes requested 12 Feb by both candidates; 21 Feb confirmed Arauz and Lasso will contest run-off vote scheduled for 11 April. Hundreds of indigenous protesters 23 Feb converged on capital Quito in support of Pérez and to demand recount.

Venezuela

Amid enduring political crisis, civil society created coalition to address tensions and mainstream opposition remained divided over strategy. Large group of civil society organisations, including NGOs, religious bodies, trade unions and country’s main business union Fedecámaras 5 Feb launched platform Foro Cívico Nacional (FNC) in bid to establish counterweight to both govt and opposition, and contribute to solving social and political crisis. FCN’s intention to seek partial, sectoral agreements with govt on economic and humanitarian relief sparked heated debate in opposition circles, with some arguing that approach undermines possibility of full-scale negotiation on “re-institutionalisation”. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 3 Feb rejected idea of participating in regional elections due this year, even as some parties that compose mainstream opposition prepared to take part; National Assembly next day set up committee in charge of processing applications for new National Electoral Council, expected to be appointed in early April. In positive step, govt and Guaidó-led opposition, in collaboration with Pan American Health Organization and UN children’s fund (UNICEF), 11 Feb agreed to cooperate to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines for 6mn people; opposition health policy advisers and govt representatives subsequently met to discuss distribution and oversight, and created joint technical team. Following two-week visit to Venezuela, UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, Alena Douhan, 12 Feb urged U.S., EU and other states to drop sanctions, citing “dramatic” effects on population. Guaidó-led opposition same day accused Douhan of falling into President Maduro’s “propaganda”, said economic collapse began before imposition of economic sanctions. EU Council 22 Feb imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on 19 high-level officials accused of undermining democracy or violating human rights; in response, govt 24 Feb declared head of EU delegation in Caracas Isabel Brilhante “persona non grata”, giving her 72 hours to leave country. EU next day responded with reciprocal measure. Colombian President Duque 8 Feb granted ten-year protection status to about 1mn undocumented Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to work and to access health and education services.

Honduras

Death of female student in police custody sparked protests, while tensions mounted over drug trafficking accusations against President Hernández. Nursing student Keyla Martínez overnight 6-7 Feb died in police custody hours after police arrested her in Intibucá department’s capital La Esperanza (west) for allegedly breaching COVID-19 curfew; police initially said Martínez had committed suicide but Attorney General’s Office 9 Feb said forensic tests found “strong indications” of homicide. Protests against police brutality and gender-based violence, and calling for justice, 8-10 Feb erupted in several cities; in capital Tegucigalpa, police reportedly detained five protesters, and in La Esperanza, protesters set police station’s main gate on fire and clashed with police. In joint statement, EU delegation and UN Office in Honduras 11 Feb called for immediate investigation into Martínez’s death. Meanwhile, U.S. prosecutors 5 Feb confirmed Hernández under U.S. investigation for allegedly using Honduran security forces to protect drug traffickers as part of plan “to use drug trafficking to help assert power”; Hernández 8 Feb denied accusations. Eight U.S. Congress members 23 Feb introduced bill to sanction Hernández and cut military aid to Honduras in light of accusations. Several civil society, private sector and lawyers associations, as well as opposition representatives, next day asked Hernández to resign and called for protests 26 Feb; police that day fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters in capital Tegucigalpa. Ahead of primary elections set for 14 March and general elections in Nov, Congress by month’s end had not yet approved new electoral law setting rules and guidelines for electoral process. Appeals Court 17 Feb authorised Attorney General’s Office to press embezzlement of public funds and money laundering charges against Tegucigalpa mayor and presidential precandidate Nasry ‘Tito’ Asfura.

El Salvador

Political tensions continued to run high as President Bukele accused electoral authorities of fraud ahead of 28 Feb elections. Bukele 7 Feb accused Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) magistrate of orchestrating fraud in upcoming legislative and local elections, after vote simulation using new vote-counting system experienced some glitches that day. Right-wing opposition party Nationalist Republican Alliance lawmaker Ricardo Velásquez Parker 9 Feb filed motion to remove Bukele from office by declaring him mentally unfit, accusing him of sowing division and citing his recurrent attacks on Legislative Assembly. Bukele immediately decried initiative as “coup attempt”. Assembly’s Political Committee 15 Feb started to discuss motion, also called for destitution of health minister for alleged irregularities and conflicts of interest in management of COVID-19 pandemic; move comes after NGO Funde late Jan accused govt of involvement in up to 20 corruption cases, notably in relation to COVID-19. After Attorney General’s Office 3 Feb confirmed arrest of three health ministry employees for suspected involvement in late Jan killing of two members of left-wing opposition party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, police same day said attack was two-sided and accused Attorney General’s Office of releasing partial evidence. Two U.S. Congress members 7 Feb urged Bukele “to fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s independent investigation” and refrain from “stoking divisions in the interest of political gain”. Associated Press 9 Feb reported new U.S. administration refused to meet with Bukele when he was in Washington D.C. in early Feb, allegedly to prevent him from using meeting as show of support before elections. On election day, TSE 28 Feb accused Bukele of violating electoral silence by giving press conference, and announced possible sanctions against him.

Nicaragua

Authorities continued to clamp down on dissent, hamper work of NGOs and restrict civil liberties ahead of Nov presidential election. Govt-controlled National Assembly 2 Feb passed bill to amend Penal Procedure Code, extending maximum pre-charge detention from 48 hours to 90 days. Assembly next day approved “customer protection” law prohibiting banks from denying services to anyone, including state officials under international sanction and their relatives, in violation of international standards; business organisation COSEP immediately said law heightens risk of Nicaragua landing on inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force’s black list. After govt late Jan said all individuals and organisations receiving foreign funds had to register as “foreign agents” at interior ministry before 5 Feb or receive fines of up to $500,000, NGOs Nicaragua Chapter of PEN International and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation 4-5 Feb announced they ceased operations; U.S. 8 Feb denounced govt’s move, underpinned by Oct 2020 “foreign agents” law, said President “Ortega is driving Nicaragua toward dictatorship” and urged him to “change course”; Nicaraguan Platform of NGO Networks 15 Feb reiterated Dec call on Supreme Court of Justice to rule law unconstitutional. UN human rights chief Bachelet 25 Feb urged govt to “end arbitrary detentions, undue restrictions to free circulation, threats and other forms of intimidation” and adopt electoral reforms to guarantee “free, fair and transparent” election; also reiterated request to enter Nicaragua.

Haiti

Political crisis turned deadly as dispute over presidential term reached stalemate. Tensions ran high as opposition continued to claim throughout month that President Moïse’s mandate expired 7 Feb, while Moïse insisted he had another year in office. On 7 Feb, govt said authorities had foiled coup plot and murder attempt against Moïse and arrested 23 alleged coup plotters, including Supreme Court Justice Yvickel Dieujuste Dabresil; opposition had previously approached Dabresil and two other Supreme Court justices as possible interim president to take over from Moïse until presidential election. Govt 8 Feb issued decree ordering retirement of all three; U.S. embassy in Haiti next day expressed concern “about any actions that risk damaging Haiti’s democratic institutions”. Dabresil released 10 Feb. Meanwhile, opposition 8 Feb created parallel govt, appointing Supreme Court Justice Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis as interim president. UN same day validated electoral calendar put forward by govt, and Organization of American States next day confirmed Moïse’s term ends in 2022. Amid constitutional crisis, security forces cracked down on anti-Moïse protesters: police 7, 8 and 10 Feb violently cleared demonstrations in capital Port-au-Prince, using tear gas and rubber bullets and reportedly wounding several journalists. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 9 Feb called for investigation into previous day shooting of two journalists covering protest, and regional bloc Caribbean Community 11 Feb expressed anguish over security situation, urged “all stakeholders to be guided by the Constitution, respect for the rule of law and the electoral process”. Thousands of anti-Moïse protesters 14 and 21 Feb took to streets in Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Les Cayes and Mirebalais; police 14 Feb fired rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who erected barricades in Port-au-Prince, leaving at least one dead and several injured. Thousands 28 Feb marched again in Port-au-Prince in peaceful protest. In country’s biggest prison break in ten years, gang leader and former most wanted fugitive Arnel Joseph 25 Feb escaped Croix-des-Bouquets prison on outskirts of capital with over 400 inmates; authorities 25-26 Feb reportedly killed 25, including Joseph. Hardline police organisation Fantom 509 and elite police unit early Feb clashed in Port-au-Prince, reportedly leaving five dead.

Mexico

Political violence ran high in lead-up to legislative, gubernatorial and municipal elections set for 6 June, as several candidates killed. Unidentified assailants killed Leobardo Ramos Lázaro, mayor of Santa María Chahuites town, Oaxaca state (south) 4 Feb; Juan Gilberto Ortiz Parra, ruling party National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) precandidate for mayor of Úrsulo Galván town, Veracruz state (south) 11 Feb; Gladys Merlín Castro, former mayor of Cosoleacaque town, also Veracruz state, and her daughter, Karla Merlín, MORENA precandidate for Cosoleacaque mayor 15 Feb. Amid growing anger over President Obrador’s backing of ruling party candidate for southern Guerrero state governor, Félix Salgado Macedonio, who is accused of rape, protesters for and against Salgado’s candidacy 24 Feb clashed in Iguala city, leaving at least one injured. Other criminal violence also high. In Jalisco state (centre), police 11 Feb found 18 plastic bags containing human remains on outskirts of state capital Guadalajara; unidentified gunmen 27 Feb opened fire on home in Tonala municipality near Guadalajara, killing at least 11. In Veracruz state, unidentified gunmen 12 Feb attacked municipal police patrol in Córdoba city, killing three. In Chihuahua state (north), unidentified assailants 14 Feb ambushed alleged members of criminal group in Villa Coronado town, killing five. Tamaulipas state (north) Attorney General 2 Feb said 12 officers belonging to elite police unit had been arrested and charged with homicide of 19 mostly Guatemalan migrants whose bodies were found late Jan near U.S. border. Attorney General’s Office 23 Feb asked Congress to strip Tamaulipas governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca of immunity to prosecute him for alleged ties to organised crime and money laundering. U.S. authorities late Feb detained wife of jailed Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on suspicion of drug trafficking. U.S. administration mid-Feb said it will gradually allow into U.S. tens of thousands of asylum seekers currently forced to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings as a result of former U.S. President Trump’s immigration policy; 19 Feb admitted first group of asylum seekers into U.S.

Middle East & North Africa

Israel/Palestine

International Criminal Court (ICC) opened door to potential probe into alleged war crimes, Israel continued de facto annexation of West Bank, and Palestinian factions prepared for elections. In major decision, ICC 5 Feb ruled it has jurisdiction to investigate war crimes that may have been committed in occupied Palestinian territories; U.S. same day expressed “serious concerns” about ICC ruling while PM Netanyahu 6 Feb called it “pure antisemitism”. In West Bank, Israeli forces 1, 3 Feb demolished Bedouin Humsah al Fouqa village for second time, displacing over 130 inhabitants. NGO Jewish National Fund 11 Feb shifted policy, authorising official and direct purchase of West Bank land to expand existing Israeli settlements in Area C or adjacent areas. Israeli settler 5 Feb shot dead Palestinian man near Ras Karkar village. Ahead of Palestinian legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 22 May and 31 July, respectively, representatives of fourteen Palestinian factions at meeting in Egyptian capital Cairo 7-9 Feb agreed to form unity govt following elections; Palestinian Authority President Abbas also formed “electoral court” with jurisdiction over electoral process. To unify party, senior Fatah official 11 Feb attempted to convince imprisoned popular leader Marwan Barghouti not to run for president. Central Elections Committee 17 Feb announced 2.6mn voters (93%) registered to vote in West Bank and Gaza, excluding Jerusalem residents. After Abbas 20 Feb issued decree on public freedoms, Hamas 25 Feb released 45 Fatah-affiliated prisoners. In Gaza, authorities 17 Feb received shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine after Israeli authorities delayed shipment. Egypt 9 Feb opened Rafah border crossing with Gaza indefinitely. Hamas 19 Feb held internal leadership elections. Meanwhile, Israel’s political parties 4 Feb completed electoral slates ahead of 23 March elections. Netanyahu 8 Feb pleaded not guilty in corruption trial. Israel and Syria 18 Feb concluded Russian-mediated prisoner exchange, involving release of Israeli woman and two Syrian shepherds. Israel 3, 15 and 28 Feb reportedly launched airstrikes in southern Syria (see Syria). After explosion 25-26 Feb hit Israeli-owned cargo ship in Gulf of Oman, causing material damage, Defence Minister Benny Gantz 27 Feb suggested “likelihood” of Iranian involvement.

Lebanon

Lebanon Govt formation efforts remained stalled while gunmen killed prominent activist and Hizbollah critic, raising fears of wave of political assassinations. Govt formation remained at standstill amid gulf between PM-designate Hariri and President Aoun on cabinet proposed by Hariri in Dec; leaked list of candidates 17 Feb showed individuals with no political background and some listed without having been consulted. During 9 Feb visit to capital Beirut, Qatari FM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani raised “comprehensive economic program to support Lebanon” once govt formation completed. Amid French-led efforts to establish new govt, Hariri and French President Macron 10 Feb met to discuss situation. Unidentified assailants 3 Feb allegedly abducted Shiite political activist and Hizbollah critic Lokman Slim near Srifa, southern Lebanon; Slim next day found dead from gunshot wounds near Sidon. Following death, activists and supporters of Slim warned of return to 2004-2013 era of political assassinations while many blamed Hizbollah, which 4 Feb condemned killing; Aoun same day called for investigation. Meanwhile, Lebanese army by 4 Feb arrested 30 demonstrators in Tripoli city on riot charges for alleged role in Jan unrest. Court of cassation 18 Feb dismissed Judge Fadi Sawan in charge of investigation into deadly Beirut port blast last Aug; families of victims 18-19 Feb protested decision outside Palace of Justice. Govt 14 Feb began rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations; concerns over fairness of distribution 23 Feb surfaced amid reports of lawmakers receiving preferential access to vaccinations, prompting World Bank to warn it would suspend COVID-19 support if violation of terms of agreement confirmed. UN Security Council 20 Feb extended funding for special tribunal investigating 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former PM Rafik Hariri. Hizbollah 1 Feb claimed it downed Israeli drone, ten days after Israel claimed it shot down drone that allegedly entered its airspace from Lebanon.

Syria

Russia brokered deal to end standoff between regime and Kurdish-led forces in north east while Islamic State (ISIS) continued attacks in central desert. In north east, following Jan clashes between govt and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), both sides 2 Feb agreed to Russian-mediated deal; according to agreement, SDF lifts siege imposed on regime-controlled neighbourhoods in Qamishli and Hassakeh cities, and regime reinstates supply lines to Kurdish-populated areas near Aleppo. In central desert, ISIS attacks 3, 8, 23 and 24 Feb killed over 50 regime and pro-regime security personnel; ISIS 9 Feb reportedly killed four SDF fighters in Abu Khashab desert in Deir Ez-Zor province. Amid attacks, Russia 8 Feb evacuated military positions in Al-Taym oil field, and 19-20 and 23 Feb launched airstrikes killing at least 30 ISIS fighters in Aleppo, Hama and Raqqa provinces. Following regime’s military buildup around Tafas town in western Daraa province, regime and former opposition forces 8 Feb agreed to halt hostilities in Russian-brokered deal. In Idlib province, members of al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Tawhid 7 Feb attacked Russian headquarters near Kafr Nabl city, killing one senior Russian officer and ten Syrian soldiers. Jihadist rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham continued crackdown on rival groups: 7-8 Feb reportedly killed Turkish jihadist and former member of al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Din; 11 Feb detained senior Hurras al-Din member. U.S. airstrikes 25 Feb targeted “infrastructure utilised by Iranian-backed militant groups” in Deir Ez-Zor province in retaliation for rocket attacks in Iraq (see Iraq). After fifth round of Constitutional Committee talks aimed at drafting new constitution failed to make progress in Jan, head of opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission Nasr al-Hariri 3 Feb accused regime of playing for time until it can retake control militarily. Turkey, Russia and Iran 16-17 Feb held 15th round of Astana talks in Russian city Sochi. Syria and Israel 18 Feb concluded Russian-mediated prisoner exchange involving release of Israeli woman and two Syrian shepherds. Israel 3 Feb reportedly launched airstrikes on govt troops and Iran-linked targets in Quneitra province in south, 15 and 28 Feb reportedly struck targets on outskirts of capital Damascus.

Iran

Tehran expanded nuclear activity and edged closer to reducing international monitoring of nuclear sites despite diplomatic efforts to resurrect nuclear deal. Authorities continued to expand nuclear activity in violation of 2015 deal: Iran’s envoy to International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) 2 Feb announced operationalisation of two centrifuge cascades, or sets of centrifuges, at Natanz facility, with work under way on centrifuge cascades at Fordow facility; IAEA 8 Feb reported production of 3.6g of uranium metal, banned for 15 years under 2015 deal, at Isfahan site; IAEA 17 Feb said Iran informed it of intention to set up two centrifuge cascades at Natanz site; E3 (UK, France and Germany) 12 Feb expressed “grave concern”. In indication of Tehran’s willingness to move beyond restrictions solely aimed at nuclear capabilities, IAEA 15 Feb announced Iran will limit agency inspection access to nuclear sites from 23 Feb; IAEA chief Rafael Grossi 20 Feb visited capital Tehran and next day reached temporary measures to ensure “necessary degree of monitoring and verification”. On diplomatic front, U.S. and Iran expressed support for resurrecting 2015 nuclear deal but both called on other to move first: U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 16 Feb said “first step would be Iran returning to compliance” and then “we would do the same” while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei next day said “if we see action on the part of the other side, we will take action, too”. Incoming U.S. ambassador to UN 18 Feb informed presidency of Security Council that U.S. was rescinding Trump administration’s contention of having snapped back all pre-nuclear deal UN sanctions on Iran; Biden administration also relaxed Trump-era restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York. FM Javad Zarif next day reaffirmed U.S. must first “unconditionally and effectively lift all sanctions”. Iran and U.S. expressed support for EU diplomatic role: Zarif 14 Feb said EU could “choreograph” next steps while U.S. 18 Feb indicated it would attend EU-proposed meeting of nuclear deal parties; Iranian Foreign Ministry 28 Feb said “time isn’t ripe” for informal meeting. U.S. 25 Feb launched airstrikes in Syria on Iran-linked targets (see Syria).

Iraq

Iraq Rocket attacks targeted U.S.-led coalition forces while Turkey launched military operation against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Barrage of rockets 15 Feb struck airport hosting international coalition forces and residential areas of central Erbil city in Kurdistan Regional Govt’s territory, killing one U.S. contractor and one civilian as well as injuring 14 others, including one U.S. soldier; newly established pro-Iran Shiite paramilitary group Saraya Awliya al-Dam next day claimed responsibility, citing U.S. troops as main target and vowing further attacks. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken expressed “outrage” and 17 Feb issued joint statement with UK, France, Germany and Italy condemning attack. At least four rockets 20 Feb hit military base hosting U.S. contractors in Balad, north of capital Baghdad, injuring one Iraqi contractor; at least two rockets 22 Feb hit Green Zone in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Ankara 10 Feb launched military operation against PKK in Iraq’s Gara Mountain region, Duhok province that resulted in deaths of three Turkish soldiers and, according to Turkish officials, 13 hostages held by PKK (see Turkey). Turkey 15 Feb also warned of intervention in Sinjar district, Ninewa province, in case of continued PKK activity; paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Front-linked groups warned Turkey not to launch such operations. In south, protests 5 Feb in Nasiriyah city called for basic services, end to corruption and information on whereabouts of local activist Sajjad al-Iraqi allegedly kidnapped in Sept 2020; clashes between demonstrators and security forces 26 Feb in Nasiriyah killed five protesters and injured over 175. Demonstrators in Wasit province in east 7 Feb demanded dismissal of local govt and accountability for protesters who had been killed by security forces. Earlier in month, security forces 1 Feb began vacating Jeddah 5 displacement camp in Ninewa governorate, home to 7,000 people displaced during battles with Islamic State (ISIS); rapid pace has alarmed humanitarian groups that warn of lack of basic services or reprisals over ISIS family ties. Parliament’s Finance Committee 5 Feb voted in favour of cutting 2021 budget in bid to reduce federal deficit; Erbil and Baghdad continued to dispute terms of Kurdistan’s share of budget.

Saudi Arabia

Huthis launched cross-border attacks while U.S. sanctioned senior officials for 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yemen’s Huthis launched series of attacks throughout Feb. Notably, armed group 10, 13 Feb targeted Abha International Airport in south west and 11 Feb launched drone attack on southern town of Khamis Mushayt that hosts major Saudi airbase. Saudi-led coalition 14 Feb said it intercepted two Huthi drones targeting Abha airport. Huthis next day claimed they struck Jeddah and Abha airports. Saudi forces said they intercepted two Huthi drones targeting Abha airport 16 Feb, and two Huthi drones targeting Khamis Mushait 18 Feb. Huthis 28 Feb announced they targeted capital Riyadh with missiles and drones, while threatening to continue attacks. Reports late Feb indicated 23 Jan drone attack on Yamama Palace in Riyadh was launched from Iraqi territory. Declassified U.S. intelligence report 26 Feb concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved operation that led to 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey; U.S. State and Treasury Departments same day announced sanctions on alleged Saudi perpetrators – sanctions, however, did not include Mohammed bin Salman.

Yemen

Huthis intensified military offensive in Marib governorate, threatening further escalation in area, while U.S. changed course to address conflict with renewed focus on mediation. In some of heaviest fighting since 2018, Huthis mid-month significantly stepped up their year-long offensive in Marib governorate where they advanced in north west, west and south of province, making particular progress in western district of Sirwah some 20km from Marib city. Looming battle for Marib city and nearby oil and gas production facilities could trigger more mass displacement, deepen country’s humanitarian and economic crisis, and spark renewed armed conflict in south and along Red Sea coast in March. Govt-aligned forces late Feb announced imminent counter-offensive to expel Huthi forces from Marib governorate, but Huthis held recent gains by end of Feb. Rebels also intensified cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia). In major policy shifts, U.S. President Biden 4 Feb announced that U.S. will halt “offensive support” for Saudi-led coalition’s war effort in Yemen, including transfer of precision-guided munitions, while “stepping up” diplomatic support for UN-led mediation; appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking as new U.S. special envoy to Yemen; and, lastly, revoked Trump administration’s designation of Huthi movement and its three top leaders as “foreign terrorists”. In renewed diplomatic push, Lenderking 22 Feb-3 March travelled to several Gulf countries to meet govt officials and UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths. Meanwhile, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock 18 Feb briefed UN Security Council on Yemen, warning of “worst famine the world has seen in decades”. UN 21 Feb announced that talks proceeding since 24 Jan between Huthis and govt on potential prisoner swap failed to reach agreement.

Algeria

Protesters took to streets on two-year anniversary of pro-democracy Hirak movement, and President Tebboune announced early legislative elections. Despite COVID-19 ban on protests, around 5,000 people 16 Feb demonstrated in Kheratta town, Bejaia province, site of first protest against former President Bouteflika in 2019; thousands 22 Feb took to streets in capital Algiers and other cities to mark two-year anniversary of first Hirak nationwide protest; in apparent resumption of nationwide Friday protests, thousands 26 Feb gathered across country, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Algiers. In address to nation, Tebboune – who 12 Feb returned home from Germany after month-long medical treatment of COVID-19 complication – 18 Feb announced dissolution of lower house of parliament and early legislative elections within six months; also said he was offering pardon to around 55 jailed Hirak movement activists. Tebboune 21 Feb partially reshuffled govt, keeping key figures – including PM Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, symbol of judicial repression against opposition and Hirak activists – in place. Earlier in month, govt 13 Feb accused Bouteflika-era officials of banking on resumption of protests to regain influence. State-owned media 17 Feb broadcast confession of jihadist known as Abu Dahdah who claimed he used social media in collaboration with Hirak activists to encourage protests. Meanwhile, student and Hirak activist Walid Nekiche 1 Feb claimed during his trial that security forces physically and sexually abused him when he was in detention following his Nov 2019 arrest; public prosecutor 7 Feb ordered preliminary investigation into Nekiche’s claims. Local NGOs National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, National Coordination of Algerian Academics for Change and Collective of Lawyers for the Defence of Prisoners of Conscience 13 Feb launched joint committee to combat abuse of prisoners. Court 18 Feb sentenced to death main suspect in 2014 kidnapping and beheading of French citizen Hervé Gourdel; Islamic State affiliate had claimed responsibility for killing.

Egypt

Govt came under parliament’s scrutiny, while jihadist insurgency persisted in North Sinai, albeit at lower level. Amid rumours of imminent cabinet reshuffle since Jan, parliament late Jan-early Feb questioned govt ministers about implementation of govt’s program, voicing strong criticism of several ministers’ performance; head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee Ahmed Al-Sigini late Feb said some ministers should be replaced. Former presidential candidate and leader of Ghad party Ayman Nour 11 Feb launched platform of exiled opposition figures Union of Egyptian National Forces, with stated aim to oust President Sisi. Authorities 6 Feb released TV channel Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein after more than four years of pre-trial detention; Hussein had been accused of spreading false news, joining banned group and receiving foreign funds. NGO Human Rights Watch 19 Feb condemned govt’s targeting of Egypt-based family members of critics living abroad; statement comes after authorities 13 Feb arrested two cousins of U.S.-based rights activist Mohamed Soltan in Menoufiya governorate. In North Sinai, Islamic State affiliate Sinai Province 9 Feb killed six tribal militiamen and reportedly abducted another in Maghara area in central Sinai; IED attacks 10 Feb destroyed army bulldozer in Naga Shabana village south of Rafah, and 12 Feb wounded several soldiers in Sheikh Zuweid area. Govt early Feb announced construction of 36km-long fence to protect Sharm al-Sheikh resort town in southern Sinai from North Sinai violence. Amid stalled AU-led negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River, Egypt 24 Feb endorsed Sudan’s proposal for quadripartite mediation by AU, EU, U.S. and UN. Egypt 8-9 Feb hosted reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions in capital Cairo (see Israel/Palestine); 9 Feb for first time in years “indefinitely” opened Rafah border crossing with Gaza Strip.

Libya

In unexpected breakthrough, participants to UN-led political talks elected new political leadership; implementation of Oct 2020 ceasefire however still on hold. UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum 5 Feb elected heads of unified transitional govt to lead country to general elections scheduled for Dec 2021; winning ticket secured 39 votes of 74, with Abdelhamid Dabaiba, a businessman with ties to former Qadhafi regime, elected PM-designate, Mohamed al-Menfi (representing east) chosen as Presidency Council president-designate, and Musa al-Koni (south) and Abdullah al-Lafi (west) elected Presidency Council VP-designates; vote of confidence in House of Representatives (HoR), currently scheduled on 8 March, needed for new leadership and upcoming cabinet to officially replace Libya’s two rival govts. Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord (GNA) immediately welcomed breakthrough and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, leader of east-based Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF), 6 Feb said he was ready to work with new leadership. UN Security Council 9 Feb welcomed “important milestone in Libyan political process”. In east, in bid to foster unity ahead of vote of confidence, al-Menfi 11 Feb met dozens of tribal elders, academics and activists in Benghazi city, next day met mayor of Tobruk city and pledged to unify all state institutions. Dabaiba 25 Feb delayed submitting list of cabinet members to HoR for approval. AFP 28 Feb leaked UN report alleging at least three delegates had received bribes to vote for Dabaiba in 5 Feb election. Meanwhile, UN Security Council 4 Feb called on Sec-Gen Guterres to deploy advance team to monitor implementation of Oct 2020 ceasefire, and UN Special Envoy for Libya Ján Kubiš 19 Feb met with Haftar in Benghazi city to discuss ceasefire implementation. Unclaimed mortar attack during tenth anniversary celebrations of Libyan uprising 17 Feb killed one child in Sabha city in south. GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha 21 Feb claimed he was target of assassination attempt after gunmen same day opened fire on his motorcade outside capital Tripoli; one person killed and two arrested.

Tunisia

Amid socio-economic crisis, political standstill continued, while protesters took to street in capital Tunis to demand compromise and denounce police brutality. Amid deepening constitutional crisis, President Saïed 3 Feb reiterated refusal to swear in 11 ministers whom PM Hichem Mechichi appointed in Jan, citing breach of constitution over alleged lack of deliberation prior to cabinet reshuffle; in attempt to circumvent Saïed, Mechichi 15 Feb appointed outgoing ministers as interim heads of vacant portfolios. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, which is part of Mechichi’s coalition govt and largest group in parliament, 27 Feb gathered some 20,000 supporters in Tunis to call on Saïed to compromise. Following countrywide demonstrations over deteriorating socio-economic crisis in Jan, NGO Human Rights Watch 5 Feb said police had used “violent tactics to quash protests” and called on authorities to investigate death of protester. Thousands next day took to streets in Tunis to denounce police violence; march coincided with eighth anniversary of politician and human rights defender Chokri Belaïd’s assassination. Amid delays in implementation of Nov agreement between govt and activists from oil-rich Kamour area in south, who demand redistribution of hydrocarbon wealth, army 11 Feb prevented protesters from closing valve of Kamour oil pumping station; protesters 24 Feb staged general strike across Tataouine governorate. Court 24 Feb released on bail media mogul and Qalb Tounes party leader Nabil Karoui, arrested in Dec on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. Explosive device 3 Feb killed four soldiers during counter-terrorism operation in Mount Mghila area (centre west) near Algerian border.

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement said it killed Moroccan soldiers inside Morocco for first time since 1991 ceasefire; Rabat denied claim. Polisario 9 Feb said it raided Moroccan army garrison in Ouarkziz area in southern Morocco previous day, killing three soldiers; Polisario’s claim of inflicting losses on kingdom’s soil is a first since 1991 ceasefire. Moroccan PM Saad-Eddine El Othmani next day denied claim as propaganda war. Bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators 17 Feb urged U.S. President Biden to reverse former U.S. President Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara; group also called on U.S. to recommit to referendum on self-determination as solution to conflict. Position of UN envoy for Western Sahara remained vacant after Polisario Front in Jan rejected appointment of former Romanian PM Petre Roman, citing his ties with Morocco and past participation in event organised inside Morocco-controlled Western Sahara. Polisario late Feb said “UN bears great responsibility for Morocco’s actions” in Western Sahara, including Rabat’s incursion into UN-monitored Guerguerat Buffer Strip in Nov. Rights activist Mahmoud Lemaadel mid-Feb said Morocco had launched brutal crackdown on Western Sahara’s civil society in recent weeks.