Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month February 2021
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month January 2021
CrisisWatch warns of four conflict risks in February.
In Myanmar, the military staged a coup on 1 February after alleging fraud in the November elections won by the ruling National League for Democracy. The military’s seizure of power could trigger mass protests and a violent crackdown.
Amid deadlocked electoral preparations in Somalia, violence could rise when President Farmajo’s mandate ends on 8 February.
The Trump administration’s last-minute designation of Yemen’s Huthis as terrorists could complicate peace efforts, trigger Huthi retaliation and worsen an already dire humanitarian situation.
In Haiti, clashes between the police and protesters could escalate as the opposition’s 7 February deadline for President Moïse to step down draws near.
CrisisWatch foresees an opportunity to de-escalate U.S.-Iran tensions in February as the Biden administration could take important steps toward rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal.
Looking back to January, our monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in sixteen countries and conflict areas, the majority in Africa and the Middle East.
Intercommunal violence in Sudan’s West and South Darfur states killed hundreds and displaced over 100,000 people.
Tit-for-tat attacks in Cameroon between government forces and Anglophone separatists intensified, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll.
Protests against COVID-19 restrictions turned violent in Lebanon’s northern city Tripoli.
CrisisWatch also highlights two improved situations. Qatar signed a reconciliation deal with Gulf countries and Egypt to end a three-and-a-half-year dispute, while Turkey and Greece held talks on eastern Mediterranean issues for the first time since 2016.
Jihadist violence continued unabated in north and PM Christophe Dabiré formed new cabinet following late-2020 elections. In northern Sahel region’s Oudalan province, army airstrikes 4 Jan killed ten Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants near Gountawola village; suspected ISGS militants next day assaulted civilians near Goungam town. In neighbouring Seno province, suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) or ISGS combatants 5 Jan abducted one in Bani commune; suspected ISGS militants 8 Jan killed three in Gorgadji commune. In Soum province (Sahel region), ISGS militants and militants from JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina and Ansarul Islam 2 Jan clashed in Tongomayel commune; at least ten fighters reportedly killed. Violence also persisted in North region. In Koumbri locality in Yatenga province, series of incidents took place early Jan: suspected Katiba Macina militants 4 Jan killed two volunteers (VDPs) fighting alongside security forces and four civilians; suspected VDP 7 Jan abducted two civilians at camp for internally displaced; suspected JNIM combatants 9 Jan clashed with security forces reportedly leaving one soldier and 11 militants killed. UN refugee agency 22 Jan said violence in and around Koumbri had displaced over 11,000 people, mostly women and children, since early Jan. French military 21 Jan said French troops 16-17 Jan killed over 20 jihadists in north near border with Mali. In Plateau-Central region, unidentified assailants 4 Jan stormed Loumbila village; six people killed, including two VDPs. In Cascades region in south west, body of Catholic priest Abbé Rodrigue Sanon, who went missing 19 Jan, was found 21 Jan in Toumousseni forest, 20km from regional capital Banfora. In East region, suspected JNIM militants 2 Jan abducted civilian in Kantchari commune, Tapoa province; suspected JNIM or ISGS militants next day abducted and killed councilman in Coalla commune, Gnagna province; suspected ISGS combatants 7 Jan abducted and next day executed two individuals in Foutouri commune, Komondjari province. President Kaboré, who was re-elected in late 2020, 5 Jan reappointed Christophe Dabiré as PM; Dabiré 10 Jan unveiled new 33-member cabinet featuring opposition figure Zephirin Diabré as state minister for “national reconciliation and social cohesion”.
Amid jihadist attacks against military and international forces, French counter-insurgency operation sparked public outcry. Jihadists launched series of deadly attacks on international forces. In Ménaka region (east), roadside bomb planted by suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 2 Jan killed two French soldiers and wounded another in Tabangout area. In Mopti region’s Douentza circle (centre), suicide bomber from JNIM-linked jihadist group Katiba Serma 8 Jan wounded six French troops in Isey village; IED 21 Jan killed three soldiers in Mondoro area; military overnight 23-24 Jan repelled “complex and simultaneous” jihadist attacks on Boulkessi and Mondoro military bases, six soldiers and around 30 assailants killed. In Timbuktu region (north), suspected JNIM or Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 13 Jan ambushed UN mission (MINUSMA) patrol near Bambara-Maoudé town; four peacekeepers killed and five more wounded. Meanwhile, counter-insurgency operations continued. In Mopti’s Douentza circle, French Operation Barkhane-led airstrikes 2 Jan reportedly killed 15 JNIM fighters in Gassa-Douni locality, and French airstrike next day reportedly killed at least 19 people in Bounti village. French military 5 Jan said 3 Jan airstrike targeted jihadists, while local Fulani advocacy group Tabital Pulaaku next day claimed strike killed civilians during wedding ceremony; NGO Human Rights Watch 21 Jan urged Malian and French govts to launch investigation into incident. Protestors 20 Jan took to streets in capital Bamako against France’s military presence in country; security forces fired tear gas to disperse gathering, which authorities had banned citing COVID-19. In Kidal region in north east, delegations of ex-rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements and leaders of pro-govt Platform coalition’s two branches 8 Jan signed agreement establishing joint management of Aguelhok town following tensions between Tuaregs and Arabs in area. West Africa's regional bloc ECOWAS 12 Jan praised establishment of transition’s main organs, called for “credible and transparent elections” in 2022 and dissolution of National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), governing body of military junta which toppled former President Keïta in 2020. Govt 18 Jan disbanded CNSP.
Jihadists launched large-scale attack, leaving over 100 civilians dead. In Tillabery region (south west), suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 2 Jan stormed ethnic Zarma villages Tchoma Bangou and Zerma Dare in Ouallam department, killing over 100 villagers and wounding at least 26 more; attack reportedly in retaliation for recent killing of several ethnic Fulani civilians or ISGS members in same villages; UN office for humanitarian affairs 6 Jan said attack displaced over 10,000. In response to incident, Interior Minister Alkache Alhada 4 Jan announced deployment of additional soldiers to area bordering Mali. Also in Tillabery region, ISGS militants 5 Jan reportedly extorted taxes and seized livestock in Ndjeleye village, Tera department. Security situation in Diffa region (south east) remained precarious. Notably, roadside bomb planted by suspected Boko Haram (BH) militants 18 Jan reportedly killed four Nigerien soldiers near Chetima Wangou village; also, combatants of BH faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) and BH splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 13 Jan allegedly clashed near Maniram village. Further west, bandits continued attacks against villages bordering Nigeria in Maradi region, involving cattle rustling and kidnappings. Following Dec presidential election, electoral commission 2 Jan released provisional results: ruling-party candidate Mohamed Bazoum obtained 39% of vote, falling short of majority, while former President Mahamane Ousmane came in second with 17%. Constitutional Court 30 Jan confirmed results. Second round of elections scheduled for 21 Feb. Bazoum’s Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism secured 80 of the 171 seats in Dec legislative elections. Cap 20/21 opposition coalition 3 Jan denounced results of legislative elections and first round of presidential election, citing electoral fraud in some areas; later announced it would lodge appeal before Constitutional Court, and called on followers to vote for Ousmane in presidential election run-off.
Authorities continued to repress political opponents, and ruling party elected new head. Security forces and ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 3-22 Jan arrested over a dozen members of opposition parties National Congress for Freedom (CNL) and FRODEBU in several provinces. In Rumonge province, security forces 14-16 Jan killed two former soldiers suspected of supporting rebel groups. Residents in several provinces 20 Dec-23 Jan discovered at least 13 bodies, including some with signs of torture. Truth and Reconciliation Commission – provided for in 2000 Arusha peace accords and tasked with investigating ethnic violence in country’s recent past – 7 Jan presented to parliament intermediary report focused on 1972 mass killings. Civil society platform FORSC 15 Jan criticised it as biased, saying truth commission relied on selected testimonies, did not investigate archives of local administrations, and solely focused on violence against Hutu population, failing to address violence against Tutsis. Ruling party CNDD-FDD 24 Jan elected former Senate President Révérien Ndikuriyo as new party sec gen, replacing President Ndayishimiye; NGO Burundi Human Rights Initiative immediately expressed concerns that Ndikuriyo’s election “seems to consolidate the dominance of hardliners since the 2020 elections” and “does not bode well for human rights”. Meanwhile, govt continued to rebuild relations with foreign partners. EU delegation to Burundi, along with Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands 4 Jan expressed wish for “complete and gradual” normalisation of relations; statement also welcomed “the gestures made especially on the occasion of the end-of-year celebrations”, referring to Ndayishimiye’s late Dec pardoning of four independent media outlet Iwacu journalists, sentenced to two and a half years in prison in Jan 2020 on charges of “threatening state security”.
Violence between govt forces and Anglophone separatists intensified in west leaving high civilian toll; jihadists kept up deadly attacks in Far North. In North West region, armed forces 1 Jan killed two suspected separatists in Wum town, in apparent revenge killing for previous day attack which wounded soldier in same area. Separatists 6 and 8 Jan killed eight security forces and three civilians near North West’s Njikwa town and on Matazem checkpoint between North West and francophone West region; in response, armed forces 9-11 Jan launched raid on Bachua village in West region, reportedly detaining dozens of civilians suspected of supporting separatists. Armed forces 8 Jan killed separatist militia leader Captain Small Pikin in Ndop town. In regional capital Bamenda, unidentified gunmen 13 and 17 Jan killed two civilians, and soldiers 23 Jan killed four teenagers. In South West region, armed forces 10 Jan raided Mautu village and killed nine civilians in what residents described as “execution-style killings”; UN and France in following days condemned killings and called for investigation. Suspected separatists 14-15 Jan reportedly killed at least five soldiers in Muyuka town and Likomba locality. In attempt to disrupt Africa Cup of Nations football championship taking place 16 Jan-7 Feb in several Cameroonian cities including South West’s Limbe, separatists 14 Jan also set construction equipment ablaze outside training stadium in Limbe and imposed regional lockdown. Prior to tournament, soldiers 12-16 Jan conducted mass arrest of civilians in Limbe, regional capital Buea, and Muyuka and Tiko towns. U.S. 1 Jan passed bipartisan resolution calling for ceasefire in Anglophone regions, sanctions on those responsible for atrocities, and for Washington to raise Anglophone conflict at UN. In Far North, Boko Haram (BH) launched almost daily attacks on civilians, notably in Mayo-Tsanaga division. Suspected BH assailants 1-2 Jan killed civilian in Ouzal village; 4 Jan killed three members of self-defence militia in Nguetchewe locality; overnight 7-8 Jan killed at least 14 civilians in Mozogo town; 25 Jan killed two civilians in Waza town, Logone-et-Chari division.
Central African Republic
Coalition of armed groups allied to former President Bozizé launched attacks in push to encircle capital Bangui, while incumbent President Touadéra won 27 Dec presidential election. Newly-formed Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), alliance of country’s six most powerful rebel groups, escalated attacks against govt and UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA); by month’s end, over 200,000 civilians had been forced to flee their homes since conflict started in early Dec. Notably, CPC 3 Jan seized Bangassou city in Mbomou prefecture (south east); MINUSCA 15-16 Jan regained control of town. Army and MINUSCA troops, with support from Rwandan and Russian troops, repelled CPC attacks on Damara city (Ombella-M’Poko prefecture in west) 2 Jan, Bouar city (Nana-Mambéré prefecture in west) 9 and 17 Jan, Grimari city (Ouaka prefecture in centre) 9 Jan and on outskirts of Bangui 13 Jan; death toll unknown. Suspected CPC combatants 15 and 18 Jan ambushed MINUSCA convoys near Grimari and Bangassou, killing three peacekeepers. Military and allied forces mid- to late-Jan launched counter-offensives in bid to break rebel stranglehold on Bangui. Army 24-25 reportedly regained control of Boda city, Lobaye prefecture (west) and govt 25 Jan said military and allied forces had killed 44 rebels in Boyali village, Ombella-M’Poko prefecture. Security forces 11 Jan killed one civilian in Bangui for allegedly breaking night curfew, which was imposed 7 Jan; hours later killed another three who had gathered in protest. Authorities early Jan opened investigation into Bozizé’s alleged role in ongoing “rebellion”, 16-19 Jan arrested two generals and several soldiers and civilians in crackdown on perceived Bozizé sympathisers, and late Jan issued arrest warrant against CPC spokesman Abakar Sabone. Meanwhile, electoral commission 4 Jan declared Touadéra re-elected in first round of presidential election with 53% of votes despite reports of widespread irregularities and low turnout at 35%. Ten of 17 presidential candidates 5 Jan called for annulment of results and new election. Constitutional court 18 Jan confirmed Touadéra’s re-election, which main opposition coalition COD-2020 rejected next day.
Intercommunal violence continued in several regions, while govt faced accusations of interference in armed conflicts in neighbouring Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR). Farmers and herders 1 Jan clashed in Djokhana and Abourakha villages, Salamat region (south east), leaving 16 dead. Farmer-herder clashes 5 Jan killed at least three in Kim locality, Mayo-Kebbi Est region (south west). Brawl between ethnic Arabs and Kanembus over access to well 13 Jan left two dead in Dourbali department, Chari-Baguirmi region (centre). Insecurity in Lake region (west) fuelled population displacement. Following suspected jihadist attack in Bikerom village in Dec, over 1,300 people 4-10 Jan fled Lake Chad islands to seek refuge on mainland. In run-up to April presidential election, opposition and civil society criticised new round of COVID-19 restrictions announced late Dec. Notably, opposition party National Union for Democracy and Renewal led by Saleh Kebzabo 5 Jan said ruling party is preparing “electoral hold-up” under pretext of COVID-19. Amid outcry, Déby 13 Jan lifted most restrictions. Meanwhile, Chad faced accusations of supporting armed groups involved in fighting in neighbouring countries. In Sudan, West Darfur state’s governor 17 Jan said some groups involved in previous day’s attacks in El-Geneina city, which left at least 48 dead, came from Chad; Chadian govt next day denied accusations. Amid fighting in El-Geneina area, over 2,500 people 16-19 Jan sought refuge in eastern Chad’s Adré area. CAR govt 13 Jan presented on television Chadian national arrested during early Jan rebel offensive on outskirts of capital Bangui and implied Chad was complicit in attack. Chadian govt next day denied accusations, condemned recruitment of Chadian nationals by all parties to CAR conflict. After president of CAR National Assembly 25 Jan travelled to Chad, CAR authorities next day refuted alleged accusations toward N’Djamena.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Armed group violence left over 100 civilians killed in east; meanwhile President Tshisekedi secured new majority in parliament amid ongoing political tensions. In Ituri province, clashes between military and armed group Patriotic and Integrationist Force of Congo early Jan reportedly left over two dozen dead on outskirts of provincial capital Bunia; suspected armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 14 Jan killed 46 ethnic pygmies in Abembi Masini village, Irumu territory. In North Kivu province’s Beni territory, ADF 31 Dec-4 Jan killed 48 civilians in Tingwe and Mwenda villages; armed forces 1 Jan clashed with ADF in Loselose village, killing 14 and losing two soldiers; angry mob 16-17 Jan lynched three security force personnel across Beni territory, accusing them of complicity with armed groups. In Rutshuru territory (also North Kivu), local Maï-Maï militia 10 Jan killed six wildlife guards in Virunga National Park; armed forces and Maï-Maï militia 30 Jan reportedly clashed in Bwito chiefdom, leaving at least six dead. In South Kivu province, suspected Maï-Maï militia 6-8 Jan reportedly killed four civilians in Uvira and Mwenga territories. Meanwhile, President Tshisekedi won new round of power struggle with predecessor and former coalition partner Joseph Kabila.Constitutional Court 15 Jan ruled deputies could shift political allegiances without risking to lose their seats, opening way for Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) deputies to defect and join Tshisekedi. Over 300 MPs (out of 500) 22 Jan filed motion of no-confidence against PM Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba (loyal to Kabila); National Assembly 27 Jan approved motion; Ilunga 29 Jan stepped down. Senator Modeste Bahati, appointed 1 Jan by Tshisekedi to identify new majority, 28 Jan submitted list of 391 MPs in support of new parliamentary majority. Protests 18 Jan erupted in Lubumbashi city, Haut-Katanga province, following same-day arrest of Kabila-ally Pastor Ngoy Mulunda for alleged incitement to hate and secessionism; Lubumbashi court 27 Jan sentenced Ngoy to three years in prison. French prosecutors 2 Jan opened investigations against former warlord Roger Lumbala, arrested in Paris in Dec for “complicity in crimes against humanity” during second Congo war (1998-2003), among other charges.
Armed opposition group clashed with state forces for first time in recent years, and ruling party appointed President Guelleh as its candidate for April presidential election. In Tadjourah region, armed opposition group Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD-armé) 14 Jan launched simultaneous attacks on police and military targets in regional capital Tadjourah, leaving at least one gendarme dead and one civilian injured; attacks follow increase in govt repression of group since late Sept. FRUD-armé 17 Jan reportedly clashed with security forces in Giba Giblé. Ahead of presidential election in April, ruling party People’s Rally for Progress 9 Jan appointed party leader and four-term incumbent President Guelleh as its presidential candidate. Supporters of opposition RADDE party held several demonstrations against Guelleh’s fifth term bid in capital Djibouti city.
Reports of country’s involvement in Tigray conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia continued to emerge. As fighting persisted between troops of Ethiopia’s federal govt and regional state of Tigray (see Ethiopia), UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi 14 Jan said UN refugee agency (UNHCR) continues to receive “many reliable reports and first-hand accounts” of human rights violations in Tigray, including “forced return of refugees to Eritrea”; govt next day accused UNHCR of “smear campaigns against Eritrea”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 15 Jan stated as fact that Eritrean forces are involved in Addis Ababa’s military operations in Tigray. Ethiopia 20 Jan denied Eritrean involvement. U.S. State Department 26 Jan said there is “evidence of Eritrean soldiers forcibly returning Eritrean refugees from Tigray to Eritrea”. Amid Sudan-Ethiopia border tensions, FM Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab 5-6 Jan visited Sudan and met with Sudanese PM Hamdok, Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and deputy head Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” to discuss regional security and bilateral ties. President Afwerki 8 Jan also received high-level Sudanese delegation led by Hemedti, discussed conflict in Tigray and bilateral relations. Amid tensions with Yemen over disputed Hanish islands, authorities 9 Jan released two dozen Yemeni fishermen who had been in custody for three months; 21 Jan released additional 80 Yemeni fishermen who had reportedly been arrested inside Yemen’s territorial waters few days earlier.
Further skirmishes with Sudan broke out in disputed border areas, fighting continued in Tigray regional state and intercommunal violence persisted in Benishangul-Gumuz region. After Sudan’s military in Dec reclaimed large swathes of territory in disputed Al-Fashqa area, Ethiopian and Sudanese forces 4 and 10 Jan clashed in Al-Fashqa and nearby Al-Qureisha border regions. Addis Ababa 12 Jan accused Sudan of pushing further into its territory and warned it was running out of patience. Ethiopian militia mid-Jan reportedly killed around a dozen Sudanese farmers in Al-Qureisha and Al-Fashqa. Khartoum 13 Jan said Ethiopian military aircraft had entered its airspace, calling it “a dangerous escalation”; next day closed airspace over Al-Qadarif state until April. Ethiopia 17 Jan released eight Sudanese soldiers captured during Dec border clashes. Sudan’s Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 20 Jan said “Sudan does not want to go to war with Ethiopia”, but warned that it “will not abandon an inch of its territory”. In Tigray region in north, fighting continued between Tigray’s and federal govt’s forces. Security forces throughout month killed or captured dozens of senior Tigrayan leaders; notably, unidentified security forces 13 Jan killed former Ethiopian FM Seyoum Mesfin. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 15 Jan stated as fact that Eritrean forces are involved in military operations in Tigray alongside Ethiopian federal forces (see Eritrea). Amid restricted humanitarian access to Tigray, Tigray official 21 Jan said 4.5mn in need of emergency food assistance; UN 26 Jan said it was receiving reports of “rising hunger and malnutrition”. Meanwhile, in Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, ethnic Gumuz militia 12 Jan reportedly killed at least 80 ethnic Amhara, Agew and Shinasha civilians in Metekel zone. In Southern Nations region in south, unidentified assailants 9-11 Jan killed at least nine civilians in Konso zone. In Afar region in north east, clashes between security forces and Issa militia 23 Jan reportedly left at least 30 police officers killed and 40 more injured in Adaytu village. Talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam early Jan resumed but failed to make progress.
Intercommunal violence flared across country leaving at least two dozen dead; tensions with Somalia remained high. In border area between Turkana and Baringo counties in west, intercommunal clashes and security operations aimed at quellingviolence 11-31 Jan left at least ten dead, including at least four police officers in Kapedo town. In border areas between Isiolo, Garissa and Wajir counties in east, intercommunal clashes early to mid-Jan left at least eight dead. Intercommunal violence mid to late-Jan left four dead in Marsabit county in north, and 18-19 Jan reportedly left at least two dead in Tana River county in south east. In Mandera county in north east, police 11 Jan repelled Al-Shabaab attack on bus in Burashum area; Al-Shabaab militants same day abducted three public servants on Banisa-Takaba road, released them several days later; clashes between Al-Shabaab militants and security forces 15 Jan left civilian dead in Banisa sub-county; security forces 23 Jan killed at least one Al-Shabaab militant near Ashabito town; suspected Al-Shabaab roadside bombing 27 Jan killed at least one security officer along Omarjillo-Arabia road. In neighbouring Wajir county, Al-Shabaab militants 12 Jan robbed bus driver and passengers in Tarbaj sub-county. Electoral commission 26 Jan submitted for approval draft constitutional reform bill to county assemblies after confirming President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s signature campaign to trigger referendum on constitutional reform had secured required 1mn signatures. Kenya 1 Jan began two-year term as non-permanent member of UN Security Council. After Somalia in Dec accused Kenya of hosting and arming Somali militia to launch cross-border attacks, and cut diplomatic relations with Nairobi, deadly fighting night of 24-25 Jan broke out between Somali federal forces and Somalia’s Jubaland state forces in Bula Hawa town, Gedo region, near Kenya’s Mandera county; Mogadishu 25 Jan accused “illegal militias armed by the government of Kenya” of launching attack on Bula Hawa; Nairobi same day denied involvement.
Deadly clashes erupted between federal and Jubaland state forces in Gedo region; amid deadlocked electoral preparations, violence could erupt when President Farmajo’s mandate expires on 8 Feb. In Jubaland state’s Gedo region, fighting overnight 24-25 Jan erupted between federal govt forces and Jubaland state forces in Bula Hawa town near Kenyan border, reportedly killing 21 and displacing at least 30,000; Mogadishu 25 Jan accused “illegal militias armed by the government of Kenya” of launching attack in Bula Hawa; Nairobi same day denied involvement. Meanwhile, PM Roble 9 Jan announced legislative elections would proceed despite federal member states Jubaland and Puntland continuing to boycott electoral process. Opposition bloc of 14 presidential candidates 11 Jan denounced move, warning that partial elections would endanger “the unity and stability of Somalia”. Jubaland and Puntland states 27 Jan appointed regional electoral commissions and called for emergency meeting between federal govt and member states to resolve disputes over electoral process; President Farmajo 30 Jan announced he would meet with heads of federal member states 1-3 Feb. Failure to organise parliamentary and presidential elections as planned by 8 Feb – the day Farmajo’s mandate ends – could trigger violent outbreaks. In south and centre, Al-Shabaab attacks 2-27 Jan left at least 44 security personnel, civilians and officials dead in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, Gedo and Hiraan regions. In capital Mogadishu, string of Al-Shabaab roadside bombings 5-23 Jan killed at least 15 security personnel, civilians and officials; Al-Shabaab attack 31 Jan reportedly left at least 11 dead. Meanwhile, counter-insurgency operations continued. Security forces 7-29 Jan killed several dozen Al-Shabaab militants in Bay, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Gedo, Lower Juba and Mudug regions. U.S. airstrikes 1-19 Jan killed a dozen Al-Shabaab militants in Lower Juba, Middle Juba, Bay and Bakool regions. U.S. mid-Jan said it had completed “repositioning” of most U.S. troops based in Somalia to neighbouring countries.
Electoral commission scheduled long-delayed elections for 31 May, and inter-clan violence broke out in Togdheer region in centre. Amid registration of voters for parliamentary and local elections planned this year, grenade attack by unidentified assailants 12 Jan left at least two injured in voter registration centre in Sool regional capital Lasanod (east). After completing voter registration, electoral commission 16 Jan scheduled polls for 31 May. In Togdheer region, inter-clan fighting 11-20 Jan reportedly left three dead in Buhoodle town, Yayle and Dadan villages.
After months-long deadlock, President Kiir appointed Upper Nile state governor; intercommunal violence persisted. Govt and former rebel opposition groups 18 Jan agreed to power-sharing arrangement for Abyei, Greater Pibor and Ruweng Administrative Areas. After appointing six out of ten deputy state governors in Dec, President Salva Kiir appointed another three 22 Jan; Kiir 29 Jan appointed Upper Nile state governor and deputy governor, ending months-long deadlock with rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar over latter’s initial choice for state governor. Cabinet same day approved establishment of hybrid war crimes court. In Upper Nile state in east, clashes involving several militias continued to spark tensions between Kiir-aligned Dinka Padang and Machar-aligned Nuer communities in Maban county; Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) and Kiir’s forces reportedly clashed throughout month and accused each other of attacking civilians in Maban. In Upper Nile state’s Melut county, cattle raiders 13 Jan killed four,and unidentified assailants 16 Jan killed at least seven civilians.In el-Mogeines border area between Upper Nile state and Sudan’s White Nile state, clashes between South Sudanese gunmen and Sudanese communities early Jan reportedly left at least 17 dead. In Warrap state in centre, unidentified gunmen mid-Jan ambushed vehicle, killing five in Tonj North county; intercommunal clashes 24-30 Jan left at least 14 dead in Tonj North and Tonj South counties. In Lakes state in centre, intercommunal violence early to mid-Jan left at least six dead in Cueibet county; cattle raiders 11-12 Jan killed at least five police officers in Yirol West county. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 15 Jan appointed Nicholas Haysom as new head of UN Mission in South Sudan. Kiir mid-Jan offered to mediate in border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia (see Sudan and Ethiopia).
Intercommunal violence left hundreds dead in West and South Darfur states; skirmishes in disputed border region with Ethiopia persisted. In West and South Darfur states (west), intercommunal fighting between Arab and non-Arab tribes 15-18 Jan left 250 dead and reportedly displaced more than 100,000. Unidentified gunmen 19 Jan attempted to assassinate West Darfur state governor in state capital el-Geneina. Unidentified gunmen 24-25 Jan attacked villages in border area between South and North Darfur states, reportedly killing 11. Holdout rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur late Jan said it had repulsed attack by govt forces in North Darfur state, claimed killing 17. In el-Mogeines border area between Sudan’s White Nile state and South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, clashes between Sudanese communities and South Sudanese gunmen early Jan reportedly left at least 17 dead. After Sudan’s military in Dec reclaimed large swathes of territory in disputed Al-Fashqa area, Sudanese and Ethiopian forces 4 and 10 Jan clashed in Al-Fashqa and Al-Qureisha border regions. Ethiopian militia mid-Jan reportedly killed around a dozen Sudanese farmers in Al-Qureisha and Al-Fashqa. Khartoum 13 Jan said Ethiopian military aircraft had entered its airspace, calling it “a dangerous escalation”; next day closed airspace over Al-Qadarif state until April. Ethiopia 17 Jan released eight Sudanese soldiers it captured during Dec border clashes. Sudan’s Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 20 Jan said “Sudan does not want to go to war with Ethiopia”, but warned that it “will not abandon an inch of its territory”. Sudan and U.S. 6 Jan signed memorandum of understanding to provide Khartoum with loan to clear its arrears to World Bank, which would allow it to access more than $1bn in annual funding; authorities same day signed U.S.-brokered agreement normalising relations with Israel. Talks between Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam early Jan resumed but failed to make progress.
Opposition continued to question legitimacy of 28 Oct 2020 general elections. Opposition party Chadema’s vice-chair and 2020 presidential candidate Tundu Lissu 9 Jan said Chadema had submitted evidence to International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor of election-related incidents committed against opposition members, said incidents could qualify as crimes against humanity. Lissu 13 Jan accused African Union of failing to condemn violence and crackdown on opposition during election period, also regretted that East African Community and Southern Africa regional bloc called elections free and fair despite widespread irregularities. Outgoing U.S. Sec State Pompeo 19 Jan announced visa restrictions on Tanzanian officials for “undermining the democratic process and human rights” in election period; Lissu same day welcomed decision. Meanwhile, Attorney General Adelardus Kilangi early Jan said country would not fully rejoin African Court of Human and People’s Rights (AFCHPR) until African court respected country’s constitution; remark comes after Tanzania’s Nov 2020 withdrawal from Article 34(6) of AFCHPR’s protocol, which allows individuals and NGOs to file cases against govt at African court. Amid ongoing cross-border attacks by Mozambique-based Islamist insurgents in Tanzania, President Magufuli and Mozambican counterpart Nyusi 11 Jan met in Chato town in Geita region, agreed to resume joint commission on defence and security (see Mozambique). Magufuli 25 Jan met with Ethiopian counterpart Sahle-Work in Chato, same day ordered release of over 1,700 Ethiopian migrants imprisoned for entering Tanzania illegally.
General elections 14 Jan held amid violent crackdown and internet shutdown; electoral commission declared victory of President Museveni, which opposition rejected. Police 6 Jan reportedly fired live bullets at convoy of Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate Patrick Amuriat Oboi in Kitagwenda district; 2 and 10 Jan briefly detained Amuriat for allegedly defying police directives and violating traffic rules in Nakasongola and Mpigi districts, respectively. Police 7 Jan dragged opposition National Unity Platform leader and presidential hopeful Bobi Wine out of his car in Namayingo district, reportedly firing tear gas and live bullets; Wine was giving online press conference to announce he had filed complaint with International Criminal Court against President Museveni and nine security officials over alleged incitement to murder, arrests and beatings. Facebook 11 Jan took down alleged fake pro-govt accounts. Uganda Communications Commission next day directed telecommunications providers to block access to social media, and 13 Jan shut down Internet. Elections 14 Jan proceeded without major security incident; security forces next day put Wine under de facto house arrest in capital Kampala. Electoral commission 16 Jan announced Museveni’s re-election with 59% of vote against Wine’s 35%; said ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM) won 310 of 529 seats in parliament. Wine immediately rejected results and accused govt of electoral fraud. Protests against election results erupted same day in Luwero and Masaka districts; security forces reportedly killed two and arrested 23. Govt 18 Jan partially restored Internet access. High Court in Kampala 25 Jan ruled Wine’s house arrest illegal, reportedly prompting security forces to withdraw next day. Meanwhile in Wakiso district, supporters of ruling NRM and opposition Democratic Party 26 Jan took to streets in Entebbe town to contest election of independent candidate Fabrice Rulinda as Entebbe mayor previous day; security forces reportedly fired teargas and live bullets, leaving NRM local official Eric Kyeyune dead and several others injured.
Islamist insurgents targeted liquefied natural gas (LNG) project site in far north and President Nyusi replaced armed forces chief of staff. In far north Cabo Delgado province, Islamist insurgents 1 Jan clashed with security forces in Palma district’s Quitunda village, adjacent to French oil and gas company Total’s fenced-off LNG project site. Oil company Total 4 Jan confirmed suspension of field operations due to security situation and evacuation of most personnel. Insurgents 24 Jan attacked Olumbe village, located few kilometres from LNG site, for second time in just over a week; incident led to intense fighting which reportedly involved company and govt’s Joint Task Force protecting LNG project. In Ibo district, insurgents 5 Jan attacked Quirimba Island, reportedly killing four civilians. In Macomia district, insurgents 7 Jan kidnapped 13 civilians, and later killed at least seven of them in Olumboa village; 22 Jan reportedly attacked Ingoane and Pangane villages, leaving several civilians dead. In Nangade district, insurgents 16-19 Jan killed at least nine and abducted unknown number of civilians in Pundanhar area; 21-22 Jan killed two police officers and four civilians in Mandimba and Namiune villages. In Mocimboa da Praia district, clashes between Islamist insurgents and self-defence militia late Jan reportedly left at least 27 insurgents and three militiamen dead in Panjele village. Nyusi 14 Jan promoted General Eugenio Mussa to armed forces chief of staff, replacing Lázaro Menete; Mussa late 2020 had been appointed commander of Northern Operational Command Post in garrison town of Mueda, headquarters of govt’s campaign against insurgents in Cabo Delgado and previously under police control. Following cross-border attacks into Tanzania in recent months, Nyusi and Tanzanian President Magufuli 11 Jan agreed to resume joint commission on defence and security; Southern African Development Community summit on security situation in Cabo Delgado, scheduled for mid-Jan, indefinitely postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile in centre, suspected members of Renamo Military Junta (JMR), dissident faction of opposition party Renamo, 9 Jan attacked truck convoy in Zove area, Sofala province, killing civilian; attack took place despite unilateral ceasefire announced in Dec by JMR leader Mariano Nhongo.
Authorities continued crackdown on opposition and civil society through legal system. Authorities 8-11 Jan arrested investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and two senior officials of Nelson Chamisa-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere, on charges of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state” which carry maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment; in messages posted online, all three had accused police officer of killing baby in capital Harare 5 Jan. NGO Amnesty International 13 Jan called for “immediate release” of all three, condemned “growing crackdown on […] critical voices”. EU delegation in Zimbabwe same day expressed concern over pre-trial detentions “without serious charges” and warned about high risk of COVID-19 infection in jails. After Harare Magistrate’s Court 14 Jan denied Chin’ono bail, High Court 27 Jan granted him bail; Harare Magistrate’s Court 15 Jan denied Sikhala bail, 18 Jan granted Mahere bail. Mahere 20 Jan announced testing positive for COVID-19, denounced “deplorable” prison conditions. High Court 15 Jan granted bail to Harare mayor and prominent MDC-A official Jacob Mafume; Mafume was arrested in Dec on charges of witness tampering. Three ministers, including FM Sibusiso Busi Moyo (retired senior military official and public face of Oct 2017 coup against then-President Mugabe), died of COVID-19 in Jan amid soaring cases in country.
Several opposition figures returned to political arena, and opposition parties formed competing coalitions ahead of legislative elections scheduled for March. Following late 2020 political dialogue between govt and opposition to alleviate electoral tensions, leader of Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d’Ivoire, Albert Mabri Toikeuse, 11 Jan resurfaced after two months in hiding; National Alliance for Change leader Alphonse Soro next day returned to Côte d’Ivoire after one-year exile in France and 16 Jan rallied ruling party Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), officially ending collaboration with prominent opponent in exile and former PM Guillaume Soro. Electoral commission 3-22 Jan held registration of legislative elections’ candidates. Opposition platform Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS), which is close to former President Laurent Gbagbo, 7 Jan said opposition coalition – made up of EDS, Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire, and Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s Ivorian Popular Front, along with other parties – would participate in legislative elections set for 6 March and aim to field common candidates against RHDP in country’s 205 constituencies. N’Guessan mid-Jan left coalition due to disagreements over selection of nominees, forming new electoral alliance. Guillaume Soro 16 Jan announced his party would boycott polls; his close ally Alain Lobognon, in pre-trial detention since 2019, next day said he would run as independent candidate, in apparent disavowal of Soro.
Authorities continued to use legal means to suppress dissent, while international pressure to halt repression mounted. Court in Dixinn, Conakry region, 13 Jan sentenced Souleymane Condé and Youssouf Dioubaté, members of opposition and civil society coalition National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), to one year in prison on charges of “production and dissemination of data likely to disrupt public order and safety”; FNDC next day said sentence aimed at silencing dissenting voices, denounced “dictatorial regime”. Mafanko court 28 Jan sentenced prominent FNDC leader Oumar Sylla, alias Foniké Mengué, to 11 months in prison on charges of “participation in an illegal gathering”. Meanwhile, crackdown on dissent drew international condemnation. U.S. 20 Jan expressed concern over govt’s “targeting of political opposition” and recent “death in detention of two opposition members”; move follows death in detention of opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea members Roger Bamba 17 Dec and Mamadou Oury Barry 16 Jan. EU 21 Jan called for independent investigation into Barry’s death. France 27 Jan called on govt to “shed light” on recent spate of arrests of opposition figures. Following Condé’s investiture in Dec, PM Kassory Fofana 15 Jan resigned along with govt; Condé immediately reinstated him.
Jihadist attacks and criminal violence continued unabated in north east and north west. Attacks by Boko Haram (BH) factions against military continued in Borno state (north east) despite military operations. Notably, suicide bombing by BH splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 11 Jan killed six soldiers in Talala village and ISWAP insurgents 15 Jan reportedly temporarily took over army base in Marte town; number of casualties unknown. Army 3 Jan launched new counter-insurgency operation to dislodge BH factions from Borno state (notably islands of Lake Chad), parts of Adamawa and Yobe states, reportedly killing over 60 combatants in Yobe state 9-10 Jan and “several” others in airstrikes in Konduga, Kaga and Bama areas of Borno state 12-14 Jan. Armed criminal groups continued to launch attacks and abductions across several regions, reportedly killing at least 71 security personnel and civilians and kidnapping at least 191 people throughout month in Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna states (north west), Niger, Nasarawa and Kogi states (Middle Belt), and Taraba state (east). Meanwhile, security forces continued operations to stem violence in north west. Notably, military 9 Jan reportedly killed at least 50 gunmen in Kaura Namoda area and 17 Jan killed another 35 in two separate clashes in Bungudu and Maradun areas, all Zamfara state. Amid mounting pressure from Senate, President Buhari 26 Jan dismissed four military chiefs. Farmer-herder tensions continued. Governor of Ondo state in south west 18 Jan issued seven-day ultimatum to ethnic Fulani herders to vacate state’s forest reserves which have turned into hideouts for criminals; order yet to be enforced; in Ibarapo area of neighbouring Oyo state, ethnic Yoruba mobs 22 Jan attacked Fulani communities, killing at least three. In Imo state in south east, secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra 25 Jan clashed with security forces in Orlu area, reportedly leaving several killed.
Tensions continued between Japan and China over contested island chain in East China Sea. Japan’s coast guard 13 Jan reported four Chinese ships temporarily entered Japanese territorial waters near disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi 14 Jan held online meeting with UK counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss regional issues; both leaders agreed to “strongly oppose” unilateral changes to status quo in East China Sea through force, and Kishi welcomed PM Johnson’s Nov announcement to deploy carrier strike group led by UK’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth to region in 2021. Incoming Japanese Ambassador to China Hideo Tarumi 20 Jan said Tokyo and Beijing should focus on fighting COVID-19 before holding high-level talks. Chinese govt 22 Jan passed Coast Guard Law allowing coast guard to use “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights. New U.S. Sec Def Lloyd Austin 24 Jan had first telephone call with Kishi during which he reaffirmed that Article 5 of U.S.-Japan security treaty, which stipulates U.S. defence obligations to Japan, covers Senkaku/Diaoyuislands; China 28 Jan responded that islands are “China's inherent territory”.
North Korea held rare ruling party congress and reportedly unveiled new missile, while South Korea called for inter-Korean talks and urged U.S. to pursue dialogue. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 5-12 Jan held Eighth Party Congress of ruling Workers’ Party – first since 2016 and second since 1980 – attended by 250 party executives, over 4,500 delegates and 2,000 spectators; Kim admitted his five-year economic plan had fallen short of goals “on almost every sector” and vowed to place “state defence capabilities on a much higher level”, including by developing nuclear weapons and expanding diplomatic relations, while calling U.S. “biggest enemy”. During congress, ruling party 10 Jan elected Kim as general secretary – assuming title enjoyed by his late father and grandfather; Chinese President Xi Jinping 11 Jan congratulated Kim. Congress 12 Jan concluded with Kim reiterating call for increased military power and “greater nuclear war deterrence”. North Korea 14 Jan staged large military parade, displaying what appeared to be new submarine-launched ballistic missile described by state media as “world’s most powerful weapon”. South Korean President Moon Jae-in 11 Jan reaffirmed commitment to engagement with North Korea, said govt will also strengthen alliance with U.S.; Moon 18 Jan said incoming U.S. administration should hold talks with North Korea to build on progress made under former U.S. administration, and 20 Jan nominated former National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong as FM. South Korean Supreme Court 14 Jan upheld former President Park Geun-hye’s twenty-year prison term for bribery and other crimes. Seoul Central District Court 8 Jan ordered for first time Japan to compensate twelve South Korean “comfort women” forced to work as sex slaves during Japanese occupation; Japanese PM Suga said Japan could not accept ruling and lawsuit should be dropped.
Cross-strait tensions continued to run high amid U.S. lifting of four-decade-old restrictions on interactions with Taiwanese officials and ongoing Chinese military activity. Outgoing U.S. Sec of State Mike Pompeo 9 Jan announced lifting of “self-imposed restrictions” on interactions with Taiwanese officials which had been in place since 1979; China 11 Jan strongly condemned move. Taiwanese presidential office 14 Jan said President Tsai Ing-wen and outgoing U.S. Ambassador to UN Craft had discussed deepening Taiwan-U.S. ties; in response, Chinese MFA 18 Jan announced sanctions on U.S. officials who have engaged in “nasty behaviour on the Taiwan issue”. Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington D.C. 20 Jan attended U.S. President Biden’s inauguration ceremony with official invitation for first time since 1979. China’s Ministry of Defence 28 Jan warned “Taiwan independence” means war; U.S. same day reaffirmed “obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act”. Earlier in month, U.S. Assistant Sec of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper 7 Jan held political and military dialogue with Taiwan. Meanwhile, Taiwanese defence ministry claimed series of Chinese military aircraft entered Air Defence Identification Zones (ADIZ) throughout month, including: one Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft, one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft and one Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft 4 and 18 Jan; one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft 7 Jan; one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft and one Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft 12 Jan; one Y-8 tactical reconnaissance aircraft 20 Jan; eight Chinese bomber planes and four fighter jets 23 Jan; two Chinese Chengdu J-10 fighter jets 28 Jan; and seven military aircraft 31 Jan. In response, Taiwan scrambled jets, broadcast radio warnings and tracked planes with air defence system on each occasion. Tsai 1 Jan said Taiwan’s govt is ready to have “meaningful” dialogue with Beijing; China’s Taiwan Affairs Office same day rebuffed offer. Taiwanese military forces 19 Jan staged drill using tanks, mortars and small arms aimed at repelling attack from China. U.S. continued military activity in region; U.S. Navy surveillance drone 13 Jan flew within Taiwan’s ADIZ.
Taliban stepped up deadly attacks on Afghan security forces, killing dozens; intra-Afghan peace talks resumed after short hiatus. Taliban conducted attacks at high intensity despite winter weather that typically ushers in period of reduced violence; while there was no strategic shift in conflict dynamics, sustained high tempo of conflict could strain intra-Afghan peace process. Taliban infiltrators inside security forces perpetrated numerous attacks involving shootings and poisoning, including: 4 Jan killed nine forces in Kandahar province (south); next day killed seven soldiers in Ghazni province (centre); 8 Jan killed five soldiers in Herat province (west); and 15 Jan killed 13 police officers. Taliban 14 Jan also attacked security outposts in Baghlan (north), killing nine security personnel; repeat attack 18 Jan killed another nine. Taliban attacks on military bases and security posts in Kunduz province (north) 7, 15 and 19 Jan killed 49 security personnel. Meanwhile, Afghan forces backed by U.S. air support repelled Taliban advances around Kandahar city throughout month. Afghan air force bombing 9 Jan killed 18 civilians, mostly children, in Nimroz province (south west); govt allegedly attempted to cover up number of casualties prompting local protests in provincial capital Zarange. Targeted killings by unidentified assailants continued: gunmen 1 Jan killed prominent local journalist Bismillah Adil Aimaq in Ghor province (centre); gunmen 17 Jan killed two female Supreme Court judges in capital Kabul. As violence surged, First VP Amrullah Saleh 18 Jan declared “capital punishment is needed to stop the wave of terror”, referring to imprisoned Taliban fighters. Following three-week break, intra-Afghan negotiations resumed without making significant progress: U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 4-5 Jan returned to Qatar’s capital Doha to meet Taliban, then flew to Kabul to meet Afghan officials. President Ghani declined to meet with Khalilzad after reports he discussed possible interim govt with opposition political leaders. Following call between new U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib 22 Jan, White House same day said Biden administration will review Feb 2020 agreement “to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments”.
Deadly violence broke out amid local elections, while govt continued relocating Rohingya refugees to flood-prone island in Bay of Bengal. Violent incidents erupted in lead-up to local elections for around 60 different municipal bodies; second phase of polls 16 Jan held across country. Gunfight between rival factions from Awami League (AL) party 12 Jan killed one and injured another in Chittagong city (south east), prompting arrest of 26 people, including rebel AL candidate; opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) mayoral candidate 26 Jan disclosed arrest of more than 200 activists, including polling agents. Internal AL clashes 27 Jan killed two. In west, armed clash between two AL factions next day left one injured in Rajhashi district; clash between two rival groups same day left at least twenty injured in Narayanganj district (centre) and killed at least two in Jhenaidah district (south west). BNP councillor candidate Tariqul Islam 16 Jan killed during clash between BNP and AL supporters in Sirajganj district (north-central) shortly after he was declared victorious. AL leader Afsar Sikder 18 Jan died, following beating previous day by supporters of rival party faction in Barisal district (south-central). Six 27 Jan injured in electoral violence in Jhalokathi district. Third and fourth round of local elections scheduled for 30 Jan and 14 Feb, respectively. In south east, gunfight between two rival Rohingya refugee groups in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf subdistrict 10 Jan killed one refugee and injured ten others; gunfight 26 Jan killed another refugee. UN 15 Jan reported that around 3,500 refugees “lost their homes and belongings” after a fire previous day destroyed over 500 shelters in Cox’s Bazar’s Nayapara camp. NGO Save the Children’s Bangladesh director 14 Feb said fire was “another devastating blow” for Rohingyas. Meanwhile, authorities continued transfer of Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar District to Bhasan Char, low-lying flood-prone island in Bay of Bengal; relocated third and fourth batches of refugees, with over 1,700 sent on 29 Jan, despite longstanding concerns about living conditions on island and coercion in sending refugees there. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal 6 Jan announced that unnecessary visitors would be barred from Bhasan Char.
Maoist-related violence persisted, protests against agriculture reforms left one dead, and small-scale tensions erupted at India-China border over unofficial boundary. Anti-Maoist security operations and Maoist violence continued throughout month. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), security forces 13-19 Jan killed three Maoists in Dantewada and Bijapur districts; Maoists 14-30 Jan killed six civilians and two security personnel in Rajnandgaon, Bijapur, Kondagaon, Kanker and Narayanpur districts. In Jharkhand state (east), Maoists 16 and 17 Jan killed two civilians in Latehar and Chatra districts. In Odisha state (east), Maoists 30 Jan killed two civilians in Kandhamal district. In Maharashtra state (west), Maoists 5 Jan killed civilian in Gadchiroli district. Tens of thousands of farmers continued to demonstrate throughout month on outskirts of capital New Delhi, calling on govt to repeal controversial agriculture laws; govt and farmers held several rounds of unsuccessful talks. Farmers 26 Jan rallied in New Delhi on Republic Day to protest govt agricultural reforms; one protester died and hundreds of demonstrators and police officers were injured in clashes, which climaxed with protesters storming city’s historic Red Fort. Internationally, amid months-long border standoff with China, Indian army 8 Jan apprehended Chinese soldier who reportedly crossed Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and 11 Jan handed him over to China. Indian and Chinese military officials 24 Jan held talks on disengagement of forces along LAC, agreeing to continue efforts to ensure “restraint of the front-line troops”. Indian army 25 Jan said Indian and Chinese troops had been involved in “minor face-off” at Naku La pass in north-eastern Sikkim state on 20 Jan, adding that it was “resolved by local commanders”. In Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, Indian fishing boat – allegedly engaged in illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters – 18 Jan reportedly collided with Sri Lankan navy ship, causing it to sink and four fishermen to drown; India 21 Jan lodged “strong protest” with Sri Lanka. FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Nepali FM Pradeep Gyawali 15 Jan reportedly discussed India-Nepal border dispute. India 1 Jan began its two-year tenure as non-permanent member of UN Security Council.
India-Pakistan tensions continued as both sides accused each other of supporting terrorism amid military clashes along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir). Cross-LOC incidents continued throughout month. India claimed Pakistani cross-LoC fire 1 and 11 Jan killed one soldier and injured a child; said Pakistani firing 19 Jan responsible for injuring four soldiers and three militants killed during incident; also alleged two Indian soldiers killed 21 and 24 Jan. Pakistan claimed Indian cross-LoC fire 14 Jan killed one soldier; 10 and 22 Jan injured three civilians. Earlier in month, Pakistani FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi 9 Jan rejected accusation made by Indian external affairs ministry that it held “farcical trials” of UN-designated individuals to avoid blacklisting by inter-govt agency Financial Action Task Force. U.S. State Department same day called on Pakistan to hold Laskhar-e-Jhangvi leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi “accountable for his involvement in terrorist attacks, including the Mumbai attacks”; Lakhvi previous day sentenced to three concurrent five-year sentences for terrorism financing in Pakistan. Pakistan’s MFA 10 Jan expressed concern over India becoming chair of three key panels of UN Security Council including the Taliban sanctions and counter-terrorism committees, claimed that India is “state sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism” and “massive violator of human rights”. In Jammu and Kashmir, militant attacks continued: grenade attack 2 Jan injured at least six civilians in Pulwama district; militant attack on security forces 6 Jan injured two civilians when grenade missed intended target in regional capital Srinagar. Militant grenade attack 27 Jan killed one soldier and injured three in Kulgam district. Qureshi 22 Jan said “the onus lies on India” to reverse steps and improve situation in Kashmir. Earlier in month, after family members claimed that security forces 30 Dec killed three civilians who had no links to militancy and demanded investigation into incident, Kashmir’s police 1 Jan said three individuals had provided logistical support to militants. Police 10 Jan charged army captain with killing and branding three labourers as terrorists in Shopian district last July to claim reward money.
Amid anti-govt protests, Supreme Court continued to consider legality of PM KP Oli’s Dec decision to dissolve lower house of parliament. As Supreme Court considered cases against Oli’s dissolution of parliament, court 28 Jan issued two contempt of court notices to PM after he 22 Jan mocked senior lawyers petitioning against dissolution; contempt of court notices also followed several statements by Oli calling on Supreme Court to rule in his favour, including 3 Jan claim that issue did not warrant judicial review. Street protests against Oli’s move continued as faction of ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by former PMs Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal 22 Jan led demonstrations in capital Kathmandu; police response to 25 Jan civil society-led march on PM’s residence widely criticised as heavy-handed as police beat peaceful demonstrators and used water cannons; opposition Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party both announced nationwide protests throughout first half of Feb. Election Commission 24 Jan decided not to recognise either of two competing factions of NCP – led by Oli on one side, and Dahal and Nepal on other – as legitimate wing of party, creating new legal uncertainties about party’s future. Meanwhile, FM Pradeep Gyawali visited India 14-16 Jan to discuss bilateral cooperation but made no notable progress on boundary dispute, which had triggered May 2020 diplomatic standoff.
Tensions between ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and opposition persisted while Islamic State (ISIS) claimed major attack on Hazara community. Political tensions ran high between PTI govt and Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), 11-party opposition alliance including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), as opposition held anti-govt rallies throughout month. Demonstrators 3 Jan gathered in Punjab province’s Bahawalpur district, calling for PM Khan’s resignation; 19 Jan held rally in capital Islamabad calling for an early ruling by Election Commission of Pakistan on 2014 case alleging PTI received funding from illegal foreign sources. Meanwhile, violence and militant attacks continued. In Balochistan province (south west), ISIS 3 Jan claimed responsibility for killing 11 miners from Hazara Shia community in Machh, small mining town. Protests by Shia political parties and other groups condemning killings were held countywide, including in Karachi city which has large Shia population. Khan 9 Jan met with Hazara delegate members in Balochistan’s capital Quetta and reiterated claims that India was backing ISIS to ferment sectarian strife (see Kashmir). Also in Balochistan, militant attack on Frontier Corps checkpost 9 Jan injured four in Turbat city. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (north west), cross-border attack by militants on checkpost 6 Jan killed one soldier in Mohmand district; attack on polio vaccination team 12 Jan killed police officer in Karak district; militant attack 15 Jan killed soldier in North Waziristan district. Across border, bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province 28 Jan reportedly killed chief of Pakistani militant group Laskhar-e-Islami. Supreme Court same day acquitted Omar Saeed Sheikh, principal accused in 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl; in response, U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken said U.S. was ready to prosecute Sheikh. Pakistani govt continued engagement in Afghan peace process; Pakistan FM 21 Jan urged incoming U.S. administration to “persevere” with peace process. Earlier, U.S. Afghanistan peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 4 Jan met with army chief Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence director general Lt. General Hamid, day before intra-Afghan talks resumed in Qatar’s capital Doha. In confirmation hearing, new U.S. Sec Def General Lloyd Austin 12 Jan called Pakistan “essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan”.
UN human rights office (OHCHR) issued highly critical report about country’s trajectory and called on international support to avert future abuses. OHCHR 27 Jan issued report – pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/1 – criticising country’s failure “to address past violations” and “risk of human rights violations being repeated”: said govt “proactively obstructing investigations and trials” and called for “enhanced monitoring and strong preventive action” by international community; govt 27 Jan rejected report as “speculative, presumptive and unsubstantiated”, and beyond mandate given by Human Rights Council. Earlier in month, Tamil political parties, civil society groups and religious leaders 15 Jan jointly called for UN to establish international accountability mechanism and rejected domestic accountability process. President Gotabaya 21 Jan appointed Commission of Inquiry to review work of past commissions established to investigate human rights violations. Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar 6 Jan met with Gotabaya in capital Colombo; Jaishankar said it is in country’s “own interest” that Tamil aspirations for “equality, justice, peace and dignity” are met, urged govt to maintain devolution of power enshrined in 13th constitutional amendment, which some of Gotabaya’s close allies seek to abolish. Gotabaya 13 Jan announced deal with India and Japan to jointly develop container terminal in Colombo port; PM Mahinda Rajapaksa 31 Jan promised major change to deal following protests against Indian involvement by nationalist monks and trade unions. Jaffna University authorities, on orders from central govt, 8 Jan demolished memorial to Tamil civilians killed during civil war, sparking student protests along with domestic and international backlash; university’s vice chancellor 10 Jan promised to reconstruct monument, reportedly after India’s ambassador to Sri Lanka raised concern with PM. Amid growing criticism from opposition over govt’s policies, Gotabaya 9 Jan called on opponents to engage in “civilised politics without misleading the public” and appeared to threaten to kill prominent opposition MP Harin Fernando who had earlier criticised him; Fernando next day requested police protection. Health minister 7 Jan told parliament that govt would continue to cremate all COVID-19 victims in contravention of Islamic burial practices and contrary to World Health Organization guidelines.
Military staged coup d’état following escalating tensions with civilian govt over Nov election. Following Nov polls which saw landslide election victory for ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), military late month demanded postponement of new parliament due to convene in capital Naypyitaw on 1 Feb; asked for delay while allegations of electoral malpractice investigated; govt refused after Union Election Commission rejected fraud allegations and international observers called poll a success. Military 31 Jan said “Tatmadaw categorically denies it is impeding Myanmar’s democratic transition”; early morning 1 Feb seized power as it declared one-year state of emergency, imposed communications blackout and detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other senior NLD figures, as well as cabinet ministers and civil society representatives; office of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlain same day announced that military would name new election commission and hold fresh elections. Previously, tensions mounted as Tatmadaw and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) throughout month made unsubstantiated claims that there were over ten million errors in electoral lists and equating them with fraud. Group of 203 opposition and military MPs 11 Jan signed request for Speaker of Union parliament to convene special session to discuss electoral disputes; speaker next day refused request, said parliament had no authority over elections; military statement 14 Jan suggested that speaker’s decision was unconstitutional. USDP 14 Jan convened more than 1,000 demonstrators against election commission’s conduct of polls in Mandalay Region’s Pyawbwe township. Meanwhile, Commander-in-Chief’s office 7 Jan called for elections to be held in remaining townships of Rakhine and Shan State where Nov poll was cancelled on security grounds; Zaw Htay next day stated delayed vote could not be held since military had not provided security guarantees. Informal ceasefire in Rakhine State continued to hold. Following meetings between Arakan Army (AA) and military, AA 1 Jan released three NLD election candidates previously held hostage since Oct. Speaking as chairperson of National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, Aung San Suu Kyi 1 Jan said constitutional amendment to establish democratic federal union was “absolutely necessary”.
Clashes in south between militant groups and security forces continued. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, clashes between insurgents and security forces continued at relatively lower levels than Dec. Suspected elements of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters late Dec and early Jan attacked indigenous people in land dispute in municipality of South Upi, ambushing town’s mayor who emerged unharmed; unidentified armed men 8 Jan ambushed town councillor who survived attack; unidentified armed men 14 Jan shot and killed three soldiers and civilian in Poona-Piagapo municipality, Lanao del Norte province. Military operations against elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group continued, including operation 11 Jan aimed at recovery of firearms and prevention of kidnapping in waters of Indanan, Sulu province; meanwhile, smaller cohorts of Abu Sayyaf members surrendered to govt late Dec and throughout month. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front remained delayed due to COVID-19; average of new daily cases across country rose slightly to 1,950-2,200 compared to last month. Clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces continued throughout month in Visayas islands in centre, Mindanao island in south and Luzon island in north, killing at least eight combatants and civilians, and injuring three.
South China Sea
Tensions continued between China and U.S. amid military activity, targeted sanctions on both sides, and new Chinese law authorising coast guard’s use of force. Outgoing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross 14 Jan announced blacklisting of China National Offshore Oil Corporation and imposed visa restrictions on Chinese navy officials, ruling party and state-owned enterprises, citing “China’s reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea”; U.S. Dept of Defense same day released names of nine additional blacklisted “Communist Chinese military companies”. China 20 Jan imposed sanctions on 28 U.S. individuals, including former Sec of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien and former Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, citing actions that “gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs”. Japan 19 Jan submitted note verbale to UN Sec-Gen rejecting China’s claims of sovereignty in SCS as contravening international law. In significant policy change, Chinese govt 22 Jan passed Coast Guard Law allowing coast guard to use “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights”. Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin 27 Jan said he filed diplomatic protest over China’s Coast Guard Law, calling it “verbal act of war to any country who defies [it]”. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 24 Jan said that U.S. aircraft carrier group led by USS Theodore Roosevelt had entered SCS to promote “freedom of the seas.” China 26 Jan announced military drills held 27-30 Jan in SCS. New U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 27 Jan told Locsin that U.S. stands with South East Asian claimants in SCS and underscored importance of U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty for security of both nations. UK and Japan 14 Jan vowed to “strongly oppose” unilateral changes to status quo in SCS through force. Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency 14 Jan reported intercepting Chinese survey ship, Xiang Yang Hong 03, 13 Jan as it conducted unauthorised activities in Sunda Strait; vessel’s automatic identification system had been switched off three times 8-12 Jan in violation of requirements for transit through strait; Xiang Yang Hong 03 13 Jan exited Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
Amid small-scale protests, authorities continued arrests of anti-govt supporters under lèse-majesté law. In effort to intimidate opponents and quash protest movement, govt resorted to law prohibiting criticism of monarchy: as of late Jan, at least 55 people had been summoned by police on lèse-majesté charges since law was revived in Nov – including at least 39 counts throughout Jan. Notably, Progressive Movement and former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit 18 Jan staged Facebook Live event questioning govt’s decision to grant license to produce COVID-19 vaccine solely to company Siam Bioscience owned by Crown Property Bureau; in response, PM Prayuth Chan-ocha next day said he would prosecute those who “distorted” information about country’s vaccine strategy and Digital Economy and Society Ministry 20 Jan filed lawsuit against Thanathorn, accusing him of defaming monarchy. Protest leader Parit Chiwarak 20 Jan answered police summons to hear lèse-majesté charges against him and some of his fellow leaders. Meanwhile, only 11 members of 21-member govt-backed reconciliation committee, proposed by parliament in Oct with view to defusing political tensions, 18 Jan attended first meeting; opposition parties and pro-reform groups spurned initiative as “insincere”. Small groups of protesters continued to gather throughout month, most dispersed by police: We Volunteer (WeVo) group 16 Jan staged small protest at Victory Monument in capital Bangkok; police rapidly and forcibly broke up protest and arrested six people; later same day, about ten protesters gathered at Sam Yan Mitrtown shopping mall to demand release of those arrested. After protest ended, assailants on motorcycle hurled small IED outside mall, injuring two police officers, one reporter and one bystander. Member of WeVo 18 Jan filed complaint with police stating that members of Internal Security Operations Command 16 Jan had abducted him after Victory Monument protest; police 20 Jan summoned him to face charges of submitting false police report.
Europe & Central Asia
Acting President dissolved parliament and announced snap elections, which Central Election Commission banned former PM Kurti from running in. Following Constitutional Court ruling in Dec that PM Hoti’s govt was illegitimate, acting President Vjosa Osmani 6 Jan dissolved parliament and announced snap parliamentary elections scheduled for 14 Feb. Former PM and leader of Vetëvendosje party Kurti and Osmani 14 Jan confirmed they would run together as part of Vetëvendosje’s electoral list. In controversial decision, electoral commission 20 Jan banned Kurti and 46 other candidates from running, citing criminal convictions in last three years (Kurti was handed suspended sentence in Jan 2018 for throwing tear gas in parliament). Vetëvendosje, Alliance for Future of Kosovo and four smaller parties subsequently appealed commission’s decision; in response, outgoing PM Hoti 22 Jan said parties had obligation to respect ban, while Osmani 24 Jan urged commission to act impartially otherwise she would “be obliged to take all measures to protect the integrity” of commission and electoral process. Meanwhile, Osmani 11-12 Jan travelled to Brussels and met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, European Parliament Speaker David Sassoli and EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák; during meetings, Osmani emphasised that Kosovo had fulfilled all formal requirements for visa liberalisation and encouraged EU “to be more vocal in relations with Serbia ... to implement the agreement signed in Brussels”.
Greece and Turkey relaunched “exploratory talks” on their differences in Aegean Sea after almost five-year hiatus amid low-level military tensions. Following conciliatory messages earlier in month, Turkish and Greek officials 25 Jan met in Turkey’s capital Istanbul for first time since 2016 to launch 61st round of so-called “exploratory talks” on issues in Aegean; no details were revealed on content of talks but sides agreed to continue them in next round in Greece’s capital Athens in coming months. Prior to talks, differences surfaced over their scope: Greek PM Mitsotakis 13 Jan said Greece hoped talks would continue where they left off in 2016, focused exclusively on maritime delimitation issues, while Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 15 Jan said “there is no point in having these talks” if Athens does not want to discuss other issues, such as sovereignty over disputed islands. International powers welcomed dialogue: U.S. and UK 12 Jan expressed support and Germany 16 Jan called talks “important step” and “good news for the entire region”;German FM Heiko Maas 18 Jan visited Ankara and reiterated support. Despite Athens and Ankara 18 Jan holding military-to-military talks at NATO, some military tensions in Aegean continued throughout month. Notably, Greece 12 and 13 Jan held military exercises near islands of Limnos, Samothrace and Psara, prompting Turkey to call for islands to be demilitarised; Greece 14 Jan also held aeronautical exercise in disputed airspace south of Kastellorizo island. Ankara 16 Jan said Greek exercises both violated demilitarised status of islands and impinged on area in which Turkish navy conducted firing drills.
Authorities attended Russian-sponsored talks with Azerbaijan on steps to further implement Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire. PM Pashinyan 11 Jan met Russian President Putin and Azerbaijani President Aliyev in Russia’s capital Moscow for Russian-initiated trilateral talks following deadly Autumn 2020 escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone; talks – which build on ninth point of Nov ceasefire relating to opening of all regional economic and transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Armenia – concluded with signing of joint statement on steps to develop economic ties and infrastructure projects (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Meanwhile, after Pashinyan late-Dec invited all political forces for consultations on early parliamentary elections in 2021, ruling My Step party initiated internal consultations to plan snap elections. Former President Robert Kocharyan 27 Jan stated his interest to run in elections to take prime ministerial seat. French President Emmanuel Macron 7 Jan held call with Pashinyan to present France’s plans to assist country with humanitarian aid and reiterated commitment to find political solution for region. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 7 Jan said Turkey may be open to normalise relations with Armenia. Azerbaijan 15 Jan filed case against Armenia with European Court of Human Rights for human rights violations during recent conflict and in past 30 years; Armenia 16 Jan announced intention to file similar complaint against Azerbaijan with European Court of Human Rights.
Authorities attended Russian-sponsored talks with Armenia on steps to further implement Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire. President Aliyev 11 Jan met Russian President Putin and Armenian PM Pashinyan in Russia’s capital Moscow for Russian-initiated trilateral talks following deadly Autumn 2020 escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone; talks – which build on ninth point of Nov ceasefire relating to opening of all regional economic and transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Armenia - concluded with signing of joint statement on steps to develop economic ties and infrastructure projects (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Aliyev 5 Jan announced plans to build international airport in Fizuli district to enable foreign visitors to visit Shusha, town in Nagorno-Karabakh, and 15 Jan visited town. Govt 15 Jan filed case against Armenia with European Court of Human Rights for human rights violations during recent conflict and in past 30 years; Armenia 16 Jan announced intention to file similar complaint against Azerbaijan with European Court of Human Rights.
Opposition parties largely continued to boycott parliament, while protests persisted in de facto South Ossetia over death in police custody. Amid opposition boycott of parliament following disputed late Oct election, four members of opposition Alliance of Patriots 5 Jan quit opposition party and took seats in parliament in line with calls from ruling Georgian Dream party; two members of opposition Citizens Party 29 Jan also took seats, while other opposition members continued boycott throughout month. Georgian Dream 11 Jan offered to establish independent commission, which would also include foreign diplomats as well as local and international NGOs, to recount remaining ballots from 2020 elections; main opposition parties 26 Jan called on Georgian Dream to return to talks; according to law, mandates of MPs will be cancelled unless all those elected take seats by end of Jan. Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream founder, 11 Jan announced that he quit party chairmanship and politics “for good”. In breakaway South Ossetia, small-scale protests demanding resignation of de facto Prosecutor General Uruzmag Dzhagayev and justice for local man reportedly beaten to death in police custody in late Aug continued; protests over lack of investigation, which started early Dec, held throughout month in main square of regional capital Tskhinvali in front of governmental headquarters. Many local parliamentarians also continued boycott of parliamentary sessions to protest lack of investigation into death in custody; boycott, which started in Sept, left numerous senior de facto govt positions vacant due to lack of functioning parliament able to conduct approvals of govt nominations. Five former South Ossetia senior officials, including two ex-presidents, 14 Jan proposed mediation between de facto South Ossetia president and protesters. Meanwhile, de facto entity Abkhazia suffered stark increase in COVID-19 deaths throughout month, bringing the total to 11,301 confirmed cases, with 161 deaths 26 Jan. European Court of Human Rights 21 Jan declared Russia in breach of European Convention on Human Rights due to “administrative practice” revealing evidence of civilians being killed and houses looted in South Ossetia and its buffer zones in period after 2008 ceasefire.
Ceasefire continued to hold, and Russia hosted Azerbaijan and Armenia for trilateral talks to consolidate Nov 2020 agreement and develop economic ties in region. Russian-brokered Nov ceasefire largely held despite occasional incidents mainly near towns of Stepanakert and Shusha. Armenia 13 Jan reported one soldier injured in shooting; Baku denied incident. Armenia and Azerbaijan reported soldiers and civilians killed in mine explosions in different parts of conflict zone throughout month. Russian President Putin, Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 11 Jan met in Russia’s capital Moscow for Russian-initiated trilateral talks. Talks concluded with signing of joint statement on steps to develop economic ties and infrastructure projects – building on ninth point of ceasefire agreement relating to opening of all regional economic and transport links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Armenia. Statement indicated that working group will be set up to help unblock transport and communication lines between Azerbaijan and Armenia; group 30 Jan held first meeting to focus on key tasks, with rail and road links as priorities. Armenian, Azerbaijan and Russian representatives 30 Jan agreed to set up three other subgroups on transport issue during meeting held in Moscow. Pashinyan 11 Jan noted that exchange of prisoners of war and detained civilians – which he described as most sensitive issue – excluded from joint statement. Previously, Armenian MFA 9 Jan condemned Baku’s decision to prosecute Armenian soldiers detained during war, accused Azerbaijan of refusing to comply with eighth point of ceasefire agreement mandating parties to exchange all prisoners and casualties; Azerbaijan MFA same day responded that Armenian soldiers were sent to Azerbaijan after ceasefire so they are not considered prisoners of war. Aliyev’s aide 22 Jan said exchange of prisoners of war will continue. Russia 28 Jan facilitated exchange of five Armenian prisoners of war with one Azerbaijani detainee. After Armenian FM Ara Aivazian 5 Jan visited Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) main city Stepanakert, which sparked complaints in Azerbaijani social media and political groups, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 18 Jan reaffirmed right to free travel between Armenia and NK, urged Armenian officials to avoid politicised statements when visiting Stepanakert.
Detention of opposition politician Alexei Navalny sparked nationwide protests, which authorities promptly repressed. Authorities 17 Jan arrested opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had just returned from Germany where he sought medical treatment after being poisoned in Aug 2020 with lethal nerve agent; next day sentenced him to 30 days in custody for allegedly violating his probation as part of suspended sentence he received in 2014 for embezzlement. Subsequently, tens of thousands 23 Jan took to streets in over 190 cities from Vladivostok in Far East to capital Moscow to rally in support of Navalny. President Putin 25 Jan condemned mass protests, calling them “illegal and dangerous”; independent NGO OVD-Info 26 Jan revealed over 3,800 protesters arrested and detained, including over 1,500 in Moscow. Tens of thousands of protesters 31 Jan assembled again in at least 85 cities; OVD-Info same day revealed police detained 5,000. Navalny’s arrest prompted international response as EU, UK, U.S. and Germany 17-18 Jan condemned his detention and demanded his immediate release; FMs of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and U.S. (G7) 26 Jan also called for Navalny’s release and condemned “violent suppression by police forces” of protests. Meanwhile in North Caucasus, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 20 Jan confirmed that security forces killed Islamic State-affiliated warlord Aslan Byutukayev, involved in preparation of terrorist attacks across country, and five members of his armed group in counter-insurgency operation; Kadyrov subsequently declared that “insurgency in Chechen Republic is completely finished”. In Far East, demonstrations 2, 16, 23 and 31 Jan continued in Khabarovsk city to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of populist Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Furgal; police detained several protesters.
U.S. and Russia extended nuclear arms control treaty New START. After their first telephone call on 26 Jan, U.S. President Biden and Russian President Putin agreed to extend New START for five years until 5 Feb 2026. Meanwhile, Russia 15 Jan began its withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty – multilateral accord permitting signatories to undertake non-military reconnaissance flights over other countries – citing U.S.’s withdrawal in Nov 2020 that had “significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states”; formal withdrawal could take up to six months.
Mass protests over disputed Aug presidential elections continued. Hundreds of people 3, 10, 17, 23 and 31 Jan protested in capital Minsk, calling for President Lukashenka’s resignation; police detained dozens. Notably, police 23 Jan arrested around 100 people in Minsk who formed human chains in demonstrations demanding free and fair elections. Prosecutor General Andrey Shved 4 Jan announced proposed changes to legislation to strengthen prosecution powers to ensure nobody “who had endangered the public order …would get away from strict responsibility”. Authorities 6 Jan extended pre-trial detention of opposition leader Maryya Kalesnikava until 8 March; Kalesnikava was arrested in Sept 2020 and charged with calling for action aimed at damaging national security. Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 9 Jan met with Lithuanian FM Gabrielius Landsbergis to secure support for opposition; Tsikhanouskaya 18 Jan announced that she requested Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) support to secure her safety when she returns to Belarus and called for OSCE-facilitated talks between EU, Lukashenka and opposition to resolve crisis.
Ceasefire in Donbas area held tenuously, while diplomatic engagement to address conflict situation in east continued. In Donbas conflict zone, combat deaths rose compared to previous month: casualties and shelling were concentrated east of Mariupol (southern Donetsk oblast), north west of Donetsk city and near Popasna-Zolote (Luhansk oblast). Sniper fire 11 Jan andshelling 21 Jan killed two Ukrainian soldiers; four were injured in combat on 14, 15, 25, 26 Jan. Russia-backed separatists reported four combat-related deaths on 2, 14, 21 and 23 Jan. One civilian 3 Jan sustained shrapnel injury while trying to dismantle explosive in Blahodatne in govt-controlled Donetsk region. On diplomatic front, advisers of Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) 12 Jan attended Berlin meeting, which Kyiv described as “complicated but constructive”, and sides agreed to work “on new approaches to conflict road map” in Trilateral Conflict Group (TCG). “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” 19 Jan invited their own “civil representatives” to join TCG political subgroup meeting, mirroring Kyiv’s move in June 2020 and prompting Kyiv’s subsequent complaints. At Berlin meeting, sides failed to agree on mechanisms to safeguard fragile ceasefire; sides agreed to restore gas supplies to govt-controlled front-line town of Maryinka for first time since July 2014 but separatists subsequently withdrew safety guarantees, accusing Kyiv of shelling them and saying front-line infrastructure repairs would depend on Kyiv’s willingness to negotiate with them directly. Meanwhile, two out of seven civilian cross-line checkpoints were operational during month: one in Donetsk and one in Luhansk. De facto republics kept their corresponding sides of two new checkpoints near Luhansk region’s towns of Zolote and Shchasti closed; sides still discussing future openings. Russia Today chief editor Margarita Simonyan 28 Jan gave speech in Donetsk calling for “Mother Russia to take Donbas home” and make it part of Russian federation.
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders expressed willingness to convene for UN-led talks in coming months. UN special envoy on Cyprus dispute Jane Holl Lute continued groundwork to prepare for relaunching talks. Lute 11 Jan met separately Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades; following meeting, Republic of Cyprus announced UN Sec-Gen Guterres was exploring option of organising five-party conference – which would include leaders of two Cypriot communities, as well as three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – to assess current state of affairs and prospects for relaunching talks; Tatar said that five-party meeting in Feb or March 2021 was possible and reiterated that he would “pursue an agreement on the basis of sovereign equality within a two-state solution framework”; Tatar 26 Jan said: “We deserve our own state to be recognized”. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 22 Jan said talks will be held in New York in next two months with EU as observer. Tensions over hydrocarbon explorations in disputed waters around island remained at low ebb after Turkey 13 Jan withdrew its survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa (see Eastern Mediterranean).
Military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in country’s south east and northern Iraq. Military throughout month continued operations targeting PKK militants in rural areas of country’s south east, mainly in Bitlis, Mardin and Diyarbakır provinces; fatalities further decreased this month likely owing to harsh winter conditions in mountainous areas. Military also continued air raids targeting PKK positions in northern Iraq during month. Following recent clashes in northern Iraq between PKK/People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), Defence Minister Hulusi Akar 19 Jan visited Iraq’s capital Baghdad and later Erbil to meet high-ranking Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials; following meeting with KRGPM Masrour Barzani, Akar said: “We should increase our cooperation and together stand against the PKK with determination”, and pledged military support to oust PKK from Sinjar if requested. Govt efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) persisted: police detained more than 80 HDP members or affiliates throughout month; notably, Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office 13 Jan reportedly launched proceedings to remove immunity of nine HDP MPs, including party’s co-chair Pervin Buldan, for allegedly inciting violence during 2014 Kobani protests. Govt continued operations targeting Islamic State (ISIS), as police throughout month detained over 180 individuals for their alleged links to ISIS; notably, police operation in Şanlıurfa city 12 Jan apprehended ISIS member who was allegedly involved in ISIS terrorist attacks in Turkey in 2015 (Suruç) and 2016 (Sultanahmet).
Amid stifling of dissent and exclusion of opposition in run-up to vote, ruling party won unopposed parliamentary election. In lead-up to local and parliamentary elections on 10 Jan, authorities in capital Nur-Sultan and Aqtobe city 4-6 Jan arrested and sentenced to seven-15 days imprisonment four activists – including election observer – for allegedly calling for local protests; police 6 Jan detained activist in southern city of Shymkent. On election day, authorities reportedly detained dozens of protesters across country, including two dozen in Almaty city; Deputy Interior Minister Arystangani Zapparov 10 Jan said all detainees were released without charges. Central Election Commission – which last month excluded opposition parties from polls – 11 Jan announced ruling Nur Otan party won over 71% of vote; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe same day stated that “an uncompetitive campaign and systemic de-facto limitations on constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms left voters without genuine choice”. Meanwhile, authorities targeted civil society groups; tax authorities 15-25 Jan fined and later suspended one election-monitoring group and two human rights organisations over alleged financial irregularities; authorities 18 Jan fined fourth group. Court in western city of Atyrau 22 Jan imposed three-year parole restriction on activist Maks Boqaev ahead of his expected release 4 Feb; authorities sentenced Boqaev on extremism charges in 2016 after he allegedly organised unsanctioned protest. Ordabasy district court in southern region of Turkistan 26 Jan sentenced activist to one year “freedom limitation” for involvement with banned Koshe party, associated with proscribed opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Administrative court in northern Kokshetau city 28 Jan sentenced activist to 12 days imprisonment for allegedly taking part in unsanctioned rally 25 Jan in city’s central square.
Former acting President and PM Sadyr Japarov won presidential election and voters approved constitutional reformon strengthening presidential powers. After country 10 Jan held presidential election, preliminary election results showed victory for former acting President and PM Japarov, who was freed from prison by protesters in Oct 2020 after contested parliamentary election results sparked violent protests; Japarov same day vowed not to “repeat the mistakes of previous governments”. Opposition presidential candidates Adakhan Madumarov and Abdil Segizbayev 11 Jan reportedly rejected preliminary election results showing victory for Japarov; Japarov next day declared: “There will be no dictatorship as some scaremongers say”. EU 11 Jan welcomed “orderly and well-administered Presidential election” but noted low voter turnout and “uneven playing field for the candidates, abuse of administrative resources and violations of campaigning procedures”. Central Election Commission 20 Jan officially declared Japarov winner with over 79% of vote, and announced result of constitutional referendum also held 10 Jan, which offered choice between presidential and parliamentary systems of govt; 80% of voters opted for presidential system which will grant president greater powers, while just over 10% cast ballots for current parliamentary system. Japarov 28 Jan sworn in as president during inauguration ceremony in capital Bishkek. Military Prosecutor’s Office 25 Jan announced former head of State Committee for National Security Abdil Segizbayev was placed in custody on charges of abuse of office.
Trial on deadly security incident at dam last year proceeded; video surfaced showing small-scale protest in Fergana region. Tashkent City Court 5 Jan resumed closed-door trial of May 2020 incident at Sardoba dam, which left six people dead and forced 70,000 people to flee their homes in eastern region of Sirdaryo; trial, which started 21 Dec, involved 17 defendants, including officials of state railway company and construction company, accused of negligence, abuse of office, violation of safety regulations and other offenses. NGO Human Rights Watch 7 Jan said authorities are “severely hindering the work of independent nongovernmental organizations” due to “excessive and burdensome registration requirements”, and called on govt to amend its legislation and allow independent groups to register. Video 13 Jan surfaced apparently showing dozens of people blocking road to protest power cuts in Altyaryk district in far-eastern Fergana region; protesters reportedly dispersed after state officials arrived and promised to resolve energy supply issues.
Latin America & Caribbean
Armed groups continued to vie for control of territory in rural areas. Clashes between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident factions and Gaitanista Drug Cartel (AGC) over territorial control further intensified in several regions. FARC dissident factions 18th and 52nd Fronts 2 Jan circulated pamphlet in Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia and Córdoba departments (north west), vowing to purge AGC and any other resistance from Nudo de Paramillo mountains. Govt ombudsman 8 Jan warned about accelerating combat between FARC dissidents and AGC-affiliated groups in Cauca, Putumayo and Caquetá departments (south west). Meanwhile, violence involving military, National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissident factions continued in Cauca. Notably, suspected ELN combatants 15 Dec killed municipal councillor for Argelia municipality in El Plateado area; councilman was prominent defender of peasants’ land rights and strong advocate for coca crops substitution. Twelve more councillors from Argelia were evacuated to capital Bogotá 26 Jan after facing threats to their lives. On two-year anniversary of ELN bomb attack on police training academy in Bogotá, President Duque 17 Jan reiterated request for Cuba to extradite ELN leadership to face trial as suspected masterminds of attack, which left 22 dead, and other crimes. Special Jurisdiction for Peace (established under govt-FARC peace deal to handle cases deriving from conflict) 28 Jan charged eight former FARC high-ranking members with war crimes for kidnapping more than 21,000 people during decades-long conflict, including current head of FARC political party Rodrigo Londoño. Duque 4 Jan announced goal to manually eradicate 130,000 hectares of coca in 2021 – a similar number to what was achieved in 2020. Meanwhile, legal challenges continued to delay resumption of aerial fumigation, halted in 2015 over health concerns. Pasto regional court (Nariño department, south west) 14 Jan ruled that govt must undertake prior consultation with indigenous and ethnic communities in order to resume spraying. In letter to new U.S. administration, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities 21 Jan asked for protection against armed group violence.
President Maduro consolidated power with inauguration of new National Assembly. Newly-elected lawmakers – in their vast majority supporters of ruling socialist party – 5 Jan took office and elected Maduro’s key ally Jorge Rodríguez as assembly’s president. Assembly 7 Jan approved creation of special commission for dialogue, peace and national reconciliation, along with another special commission in charge of investigating alleged wrongdoing by 2016-2021 National Assembly headed by Juan Guaidó. Ruling-party legislators late Jan asked attorney general to prohibit Guaidó and 20 other opposition leaders from leaving country. Disagreements over strategy and decision-making continued to plague mainstream opposition. In virtual plenary of 2016-2021 assembly 5 Jan, Democratic Action, largest party in Guaidó’s coalition, opposed creation of Political Council to oversee Delegate Commission, made up of 20 legislators in charge of assembly’s functions; Democratic Action had abstained from approving creation of Delegate Commission in Dec. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 6 Jan rejected newly-elected assembly, but stopped short of endorsing opposition’s argument that Guaidó-led assembly remains country’s legitimate parliament; while European Parliament 21 Jan issued resolution calling on EU Council to recognise Guaidó as country’s legitimate interim president, EU member states 25 Jan said Guaidó was part of democratic opposition. Outgoing U.S. administration 19 Jan imposed sanctions on three individuals, 14 entities and six vessels for contributing “to evade U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector”; same day deferred for 18 months removal of Venezuelan nationals from U.S. Following U.S. President Biden’s inauguration 20 Jan, Maduro 23 Jan called for “new path” in Venezuela-U.S. relations. Meanwhile, govt stepped up harassment of independent media and NGOs. Notably, pro-govt media and authorities early Jan accused journalists of news website Efecto Cocuyo and others of taking money from UK govt to act as anti-govt “mercenaries”; authorities 12 Jan arrested five employees of HIV-prevention NGO Blue Positive on charges of criminal association and money laundering. Tensions flared up with Guyana over disputed oil-rich maritime territory (see Guyana).
Fresh allegations of President Hernández’s involvement in drug trafficking emerged, and thousands departed for U.S. U.S. prosecutors 8 Jan accused Hernández of aiding prominent drug trafficker to deliver tons of cocaine to U.S. in 2013 in exchange for hefty bribes and access to his laboratory; prosecutors also accused former army chief, René Orlando Ponce, of providing logistical support to same trafficker. Govt and Ponce immediately rejected U.S. accusations, claiming they are part of revenge campaign by captured drug traffickers. Three opposition deputies 14 Jan presented formal impeachment request against Hernández, but Congress 25 Jan repealed motion. Meanwhile, gang violence continued amid competition for control of drug markets. Authorities late Dec to mid-Jan found at least 15 bodies in plastic bags in several cities across country including Tegucigalpa, Tela, San Pedro Sula, Choloma and Santa Bárbara. Ahead of general elections set for Nov, Congress 14 Jan failed to pass new electoral law; stumbling blocks include party presence in polling stations and reimbursement of party campaigning expenses. Ruling National Party 25 Jan said law will be discussed after primaries scheduled for March. In joint statement, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras govts 11 Jan said they will coordinate efforts to curb irregular migration. Caravan of 6,000-9,000 U.S.-bound Hondurans, split into two groups, 14-15 Jan departed from San Pedro Sula city in Cortés department (north west). Thousands 15-16 Jan pushed past Honduran and Guatemalan security forces and crossed into Guatemala. Guatemalan army 17 Jan cracked down on caravan in Chiquimula department, using sticks and tear gas and reportedly injuring at least four; Honduran govt same day exhorted Guatemalan govt to investigate incident. Guatemalan authorities 25 Jan said they had returned over 4,800 Hondurans to their country of origin.
Rare attack on political activists left two dead, while political tensions ran high ahead of legislative and municipal elections planned for Feb. Unidentified assailant 31 Jan opened fire on leftist opposition party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) members in capital San Salvador, killing two and wounding three others. President Bukele shortly after suggested attack had been staged by FMLN, sparking outrage. On occasion of anniversary of Jan 1992 peace accords that ended 12-year civil war, Bukele lashed out at two peace accord signatories, opposition parties FMLN and Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Bukele 16 Jan said anniversary day would no longer commemorate “agreement between corrupt actors”, but remember conflict’s victims; Bukele in Dec had called peace accords “farce” signed by parties’ leadership for their own benefit. New reports of irregularities in prison system emerged, hinting at possible govt-gangs dialogue process. Notably, online newspaper El Faro 12 Jan claimed director of prisons authorised in Oct transfer of MS-13 gang leader Chino Milo from maximum-security jail Izalco Fase III to hospital for “medical emergency” despite lack of apparent health problems; Milo is close to one of MS-13’s heads who is reportedly having conversations with govt officials. U.S. prosecutors 14 Jan charged 14 MS-13 senior leaders, 11 of whom are in El Salvador, with terrorism. Meanwhile, court 5 Jan found former President Tony Saca and his wife guilty of illicit enrichment and ordered them to repay govt $4.4mn. Judge 6 Jan ordered new trial against former President Mauricio Funes on money-laundering charges. Judge investigating 1981 El Mozote massacre of around 1,000 civilians allegedly perpetrated by military officers was granted access to Catholic Church’s archives 25 Jan, after Archbishop of San Salvador Escobar Alas initially opposed inspection. In joint statement, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras govts 11 Jan said they will coordinate efforts to curb irregular migration. Guatemalan authorities 18 Jan said at least 300 Salvadorans had entered country through Nueva Anguiatú crossing point same day, trying to join caravan of Honduran migrants en route to U.S. (see Honduras); 25 Jan returned over 100 Salvadorans to their home country.
Govt continued to harass political opponents and opposition remained plagued by divisions ahead of Nov general elections. Police 2 Jan besieged group of political opponents from Citizens for Freedom (CxL) party and cut off drinking-water supply in their refuge in capital Managua. Police 3-9 Jan raided homes of several opposition leaders and journalist Aníbal Toruño, head of Radio Darío, in Managua, Masaya and León cities. Govt 11 Jan said it was open to national dialogue with opposition and civil society, but only after elections. National Assembly 18 Jan ratified constitutional amendment to introduce life sentence for hate crimes; amendment entered into force 25 Jan. Meanwhile, opposition groups Civic Alliance (which withdrew from opposition platform National Coalition late last year) and CxL 13 Jan agreed to join forces to “transition from the current dictatorship” in Nov elections. CxL President Kitty Monterrey same day said National Coalition platform and its founding member Blue and White National Unity “do not exist”. Appointments in National Assembly’s committees also deepened fractures within opposition Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC). Five PLC deputies 14 Jan opposed redesignation of four parliamentary committee seats to PLC members; party 25 Jan expelled two of them, along with two other party members.
Tensions flared up with Venezuela over disputed oil-rich territory. Venezuelan National Assembly 7 Jan rejected last month’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that court has jurisdiction to hear suit brought by Guyana over demarcation of its land border with Venezuela; ruling over Essequibo province, which is controlled and administered by Guyana but has long been claimed by Venezuela, may ultimately determine which country has rights to oil and gas fields off Essequibo. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro same day vowed to “reconquer” disputed province and announced creation of new maritime territory dubbed “strategic zone of national development” in area that Guyana says encompasses its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. Regional bloc Caribbean Community 12 Jan said it “firmly repudiates any acts of aggression by Venezuela against Guyana” and supports “maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana”. Guyana and U.S. 8 Jan started joint coast guard exercise off Essequibo, and commander of U.S. Southern Command 11 Jan arrived in Guyana for three-day visit. Govt 23 Jan accused Venezuelan navy of intercepting two fishing vessels in Guyana’s territorial waters and detaining 12 fishermen 21 Jan, condemned “wanton act of aggression”; Venezuela 25 Jan said fishermen were detained in Venezuela’s waters, issued warning against further “illegal incursions” into its territory, saying it will exercise “sacred right to defend [its] sovereignty”.
Political crisis and widespread insecurity persisted, and violence could escalate when deadline set by opposition for President Moïse to step down expires in Feb. In open letter to Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro, group of opposition leaders 2 Jan accused Moïse of having “deliberately refused to organise legislative elections” in late 2019 to start ruling by decree, and denounced “return to dictatorship”; Almagro 6 Jan reiterated OAS support for govt’s plan to organise electoral process this year. Provisional Electoral Council 8 Jan scheduled constitutional referendum for 25 April, first round of presidential and legislative elections for 19 Sept, and run-offs for 21 Nov, along with municipal and local elections. Hundreds 15 Jan demonstrated across country, rejecting electoral calendar and calling for Moïse to step down by 7 Feb, pursuant to argument that Moïse’s five-year mandate started in 2016 (Moïse maintains his term began when he took office in 2017); brief clashes between protesters and police reported in capital Port-au-Prince. Hundreds 20 Jan again marched through Port-au-Prince to demand Moïse’s resignation, clashed with police, leaving several injured. Gang and criminal violence remained high. Police 2 Jan carried out operation against alleged “heavily armed bandits in military uniforms” in Cannan suburb on outskirts of Port-au-Prince, reportedly killing at least three and arresting seven. Unidentified gunmen 3-7 Jan kidnapped three police officers and killed another in Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 19 Jan expressed concern that “persistent insecurity, poverty and structural inequalities in Haiti coupled with increasing political tensions may lead to a pattern of public discontent followed by violent police repression and other human rights violations”. In rare move, Moïse 25 Jan acknowledged surge in kidnappings for ransom, urged citizens to assist police to quell gang violence.
Authorities cleared former Defence Minister Salvador Cienfuegos of drug trafficking charges following his release from U.S. custody; meanwhile, gang violence remained high. In Guanajuato state (centre), deadly turf war between Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (CSRL) and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) continued in Santa Rosa de Lima territory. Suspected CJNG gunmen 7 Jan shot nine people dead in Celaya municipality. CSRL members next day killed four, set house on fire, and left threatening message addressed to CJNG in same municipality. Clashes between suspected CJNG and security forces 11 Jan in Villagrán and Celaya municipalities left one police officer and at least nine assailants killed. Unidentified assailants overnight 12-13 Jan shot dead family of five inside their home in Irapuato municipality. In neighbouring Jalisco state (also centre), authorities 13 Jan found 17 plastic bags containing human remains in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga municipality; unidentified gunmen 30 Jan opened fire at civilians in Ojuelos municipality, killing seven. Territorial disputes between cartels also continued to claim lives in neighbouring Michoacán state. Two clashes between CJNG and suspected members of United Cartels — alliance of cartels and organised crime groups – 9-15 Jan left at least 16 dead along Michoacán-Jalisco border; local militia mid-month also clashed with CJNG. In Tamaulipas state (north), authorities 23 Jan found 19 burnt bodies in vehicles in Santa Anita town close to U.S. border; Guatemalan migrants reportedly among victims. Ahead of June legislative, gubernatorial and local elections, unidentified assailants 12 Jan shot dead member of Guanajuato state parliament in Juventino Rosas municipality. Authorities 14 Jan cleared former Defence Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos – who was arrested in U.S. in Oct on charges of organised crime and allowed to return to Mexico in Nov following Mexican govt pressure – of all charges. U.S. next day reserved right to reinitiate investigation against Cienfuegos, said move questioned bilateral security cooperation; Mexican govt had promised thorough investigation of Cienfuegos in return for his release from U.S. custody. Govt 25 Jan announced President López Obrador tested positive for COVID-19.
Middle East & North Africa
Israel continued de facto annexation of West Bank while Palestinian Authority (PA) set date for elections this year following breakthrough in talks between Hamas and Fatah. Israel advanced de facto annexation of West Bank: govt 11 Jan announced construction of nearly 800 settler homes in Itamar, Beit El, Shavei Shomron, Oranit and Givat Zeev settlements as well as Nofei Nehemia outpost; UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 18 Jan urged govt to “halt and reverse” decision. Israeli govt 19 Jan issued tenders for 2,572 settler units in East Jerusalem. Elsewhere in West Bank, Israeli forces 1 Jan shot and injured Palestinian man; 5 and 26 Jan reportedly killed Palestinian man over alleged knife attacks. In major breakthrough, Palestinian political parties Hamas and Fatah 6 Jan agreed to hold elections in Palestinian territories, which will be first in 15 years; PA President Abbas 15 Jan signed decree setting legislative and presidential elections for 22 May and 31 July, respectively. Guterres 16 Jan welcomed deal, calling it “a crucial step towards Palestinian unity”. Palestinian PM Shtayyeh 18 Jan called on EU to send team of international observers to monitor polls. Meanwhile, Palestinian MFA 11 Jan called on UN Security Council to stop Israeli govt’s excavations at Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade, specifically at Western Wall/al-Buraq Square and near al-Maghariba/Dung Gate, accusing Israel of “Judaising” some sites. Following 11 Jan meeting of “Munich Quartet” (Germany, Jordan, Egypt and France) in Egyptian capital Cairo aimed at reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace process, four FMs called for relaunch of “credible negotiations”. New U.S. administration 26 Jan confirmed commitment to two-state solution. In Gaza, unidentified assailants 18 Jan reportedly fired two rockets into Israel; Israeli airstrikes same day struck Hamas targets. After normalisation deal with Israel announced in Oct, Sudan 6 Jan formally signed Abraham Accords in its capital Khartoum. World Health Organization and human rights organisations criticised Israeli govt for withholding COVID-19 vaccines from Palestinians in occupied territories: NGO Amnesty International 6 Jan accused govt of “institutionalized discrimination”. Jerusalem’s District Court 11 Jan postponed PM Netanyahu’s corruption trial to 8 Feb. In Syria, suspected Israeli air raids struck Iran-linked targets (see Syria).
Amid worsening economic crisis and COVID-19 lockdown, deadly protests erupted; meanwhile, govt formation remained stalled. Govt 14 Jan imposed 11-day lockdown; 21 Jan extended it by two weeks. Taxi drivers 20 Jan clashed with security forces in capital Beirut in protest against lockdown measures; clashes reportedly left some protesters injured. In northern city Tripoli, protests against lockdown and lack of govt support 25-28 Jan turned violent; protesters 28 Jan set municipality building on fire whilesecurity forces responded with live bullets amid clashes that left one protester dead and more than 400 people injured, including 40 soldiers and police. Meanwhile, relations between PM-designate Hariri – whom lawmakers nominated in Oct 2020 to form new govt – and President Aoun reached new low after leaked video 12 Jan showed Aoun accusing Hariri of lying about their exchanges over govt formation process. Gebran Bassil – leader of largest Christian political party Free Patriotic Movement – 10 Jan ruled out joining new govt, citing Hariri’s insistence on appointing all ministers. In response to deepening economic crisis, World Bank 12 Jan approved credit of $246mn to support 147,000 vulnerable families that will enable cash assistance of 100,000 Lebanese lira per person per month – equivalent to $12 on black market. NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Jan lamented “sharp decline in human rights” due to “failure to address the massive political and economic crises”. Swiss authorities 19 Jan said they had requested legal assistance from Lebanon’s judiciary with investigation into money laundering and possible embezzlement tied to Central Bank; Central Bank’s governor Riad Salameh same day denied allegations, 21 Jan answered questions from Lebanon’s public prosecutor; in separate case, judge 28 Jan charged Salameh with dereliction of duty and breach of trust over alleged mishandling of foreign currency scheme. Internationally, caretaker FM Charbel Wehbe 12 Jan filed complaint to UN Security Council about Israel’s violations of Lebanese airspace. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh 2 Jan claimed Lebanon owed its missile capabilities to Iran, describing it as “front line of confrontation”; Aoun next day said “the Lebanese have no partner in preserving [their] independence”.
Tensions continued in north east as fighting broke out between Kurdish-led and pro-govt forces; Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly attacks. In north east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and govt-affiliated troops 23 Jan clashed in Qamishli city in Hassakeh province, reportedly wounding two pro-govt fighters after they opened fire on Kurdish-controlled post. Prior to fighting, SDF 10 Jan arrested regime officers and soldiers in Qamishli and 14 Jan cut off supply lines to regime-forces in Qamishli and Hassakeh cities. Kurdish security forces 31 Jan reportedly opened fire on pro-govt demonstrators protesting siege in Hassakeh, killing one and injuring four. Turkey blamed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) for 2 Jan vehicle-borne IED attack in Ras al-Ayn city near Turkish border, which killed two children, and for 30 Jan car bomb that killed at least five in Afrin town, Aleppo province. IEDs 2 and 31 Jan also killed at least 13 civilians in Aleppo province. In north west, Russia continued airstrikes targeting southern countryside of Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces. Turkey 12 Jan evacuated last observation points in regime-controlled territory while mid-month further strengthened positions in southern Idlib. Also in north west, jihadist group Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade 17 Jan claimed previous day attack that reportedly injured three Turkish troops in Aleppo province. Meanwhile, ISIS continued attacks in centre and east: suspected ISIS attack 3 Jan reportedly killed at least nine govt troops in Hama province and attack in Deir Ez-Zor province 11 Jan killed at least eight pro-govt forces; in retaliation, Russia 17-19 Jan conducted 40 airstrikes targeting ISIS-linked targets in Aleppo, Hama and Raqqa provinces. In south, govt forces 11 Jan reportedly threatened to restore security control over western part of Daraa province unless reconciled former rebels cleared area of ISIS and al-Qaeda-backed cells. In Daraa, unknown assailants launched targeted killings of civil servants and IED attacks against former rebels continued. Suspected Israeli air raids 6 Jan reportedly struck Iran-linked targets in south and southern outskirts of capital Damascus, killing at least three; 13 Jan hit Iran-linked targets in Deir Ez-Zor province, killing dozens of pro-govt forces.
Tehran continued to violate 2015 nuclear deal and tensions with outgoing Trump administration ran high; new U.S. administration could take steps to re-enter nuclear deal in Feb. Iran 4 Jan began enriching uranium at 20 per cent – major increase from current 4.5 per cent cap and on par with pre-nuclear deal levels; FM Javad Zarif same day underscored that move and Iran’s other violations “are fully reversible upon full compliance by all”. U.S. 4 Jan called move “nuclear extortion” while UK, France and Germany (E3) 6 Jan said it “carries very significant proliferation-related risks”. International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi 11 Jan underscored that “we have weeks” to salvage nuclear deal. IAEA 13 Jan reported Iran was working on components for production of uranium metal at Isfahan plant, banned by nuclear deal until 2031; E3 16 Jan said move “has potentially grave military implications”. Meanwhile, outgoing Trump administration continued to impose unilateral sanctions, including 13 Jan on two Iranian foundations, and 15 Jan on Iranian shipping and metals with potential military application, as well as on three Iranian organisations. Regional tensions persisted: FM Zarif 2 Jan claimed that “Israeli agent provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans” in Iraq; Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) same day described Lebanon as “front line of confrontation” (see Lebanon) and 4 Jan detained South Korean-flagged tanker along with its crew. U.S. 8, 17 and 27 Jan dispatched B-52 bombers to region. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 12 Jan alleged existence of “Iran-al-Qaeda Axis”; FM Zarif same day called accusation “warmongering lies”. Iran launched multiple military drills, including 15 Jan test firing ballistic missiles and drones. As U.S. President Biden’s new administration 20 Jan entered office, hopes rose of U.S. taking steps to re-enter nuclear deal in Feb in case of Iran’s full compliance, as Biden previously pledged; FM Zarif 22 Jan suggested that U.S. had to take initiative, while warning that window of opportunity “will not be open forever”; U.S. 29 Jan appointed Robert Malley, Obama-era official previously involved in negotiations on 2015 nuclear agreement, as special envoy for Iran.
Islamic State (ISIS) launched one of deadliest suicide attack in years in capital Baghdad; tensions persisted between U.S. and Iran-backed militias and anti-govt protests resurged in south. Twin suicide bombings in centre of Baghdad 21 Jan killed at least 32 people and wounded over 110 in one of deadliest attacks on civilians in Baghdad in years; ISIS next day claimed responsibility. PM Kadhimi 28 Jan said security forces killed senior ISIS figure Abu Yaser al-Issawi. Earlier in month, thousands of protesters 3 Jan gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad to commemorate one-year anniversary of U.S. killing of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Unit’s (PMU) deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, calling for retaliation and withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; PMU chairman Faleh al-Fayadh, and leading member of Kataib Hizbollah and acting deputy chairman of PMU Abu Fadak attended rally. Iraqi court 7 Jan issued arrest warrant for U.S. President Trump, citing investigation into U.S. killing of Soleimani and Muhandis. Outgoing U.S. administration 8 Jan sanctioned al-Fayadh over human rights violations, which Iraqi MFA 9 Jan denounced as “unacceptable”; U.S. 13 Jan also added Fadak to list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In south, anti-govt protesters 8-10 Jan took to streets in Nasiriyah city in Dhi Qar province, demanding release of detained activists; clashes between protesters and security forces 10 Jan reportedly killed one policeman and wounded dozens more police and protesters. After army commanders 10 Jan sent soldiers to calm down tensions, soldiers and police reportedly clashed as former defended demonstrators; authorities same day detained those involved in violence and launched investigation; protesters 12 Jan continued to gather in Nasiriyah. Prominent activist Alaa al-Rikabi 15 Jan announced formation of Imtidad party, seeking to represent “October Revolution” protest movement formed in 2019. Cabinet 19 Jan postponed general elections, initially scheduled for 6 June, until 10 Oct due to incomplete technical preparations. Deadlock in parliament over 2021 budget persisted over Kurdish region’s budget and govt’s proposal to increase taxation on salaries and pensions.
Country signed reconciliation deal to end three-and-a-half-year intra-Gulf dispute. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emiratesand Bahrain agreed to reopen their land, air and sea borders with Qatar after all four states and Egypt 5 Jan signed al-Ula Declaration at Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh; agreement ends three-and-a-half-year blockade of Doha by three neighbouring states and Egypt who cut ties with Qatar in July 2017.
Country signed reconciliation deal to end three-and-a-half-year intra-Gulf dispute. Saudi Arabia along with United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain agreed to reopen their land, air and sea borders with Qatar after all four states and Egypt 5 Jan signed al-Ula Declaration at Gulf Cooperation Council summit in capital Riyadh; agreement ends three-and-a-half-year blockade of Doha by three neighbouring states and Egypt who cut ties with Qatar in July 2017. Huthis 17 Jan reportedly launched projectile into Saudi Arabia that hit village in southern Jazan region, injuring three civilians. Saudi forces 23 Jan reportedly intercepted “hostile air target” over Riyadh that was attributed to Yemen’s Huthi movement but claimed by formerly unknown Iraqi group al-Wa'ada al-Haq Brigades (The Righteous Promise). U.S. 26 Jan announced temporary pause on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE; U.S. Sec State Anthony Blinken same day said administration wanted to ensure proposed sales “advances our strategic objectives”. Italy 29 Jan halted “export of missiles and bombs” to Riyadh and UAE, saying “respect for human rights is an unbreakable commitment.”
Outgoing U.S. administration designated Huthi group and leaders as terrorists, potentially imperilling aid and diplomatic efforts and risking Huthi retaliation. In one of its final acts in office, outgoing U.S. Trump administration 11 Jan designated Huthi movement as Foreign Terrorist Organisation and Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity, and three top leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, all of which came into force on 19 Jan. Move comes after Huthis early Jan warned of “reciprocal responses” to designation; possible retaliation in Feb could include ban on contact with U.S. citizens, freezing communication channels with UN, and cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and maritime traffic in Red Sea. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock 14 Jan warned designation would precipitate “a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years” while UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths same day warned it would have “chilling effect” on his efforts to mediate end to conflict. Speaking at his 19 Jan Senate confirmation hearing, incoming U.S. Sec State Anthony Blinken promised to immediately review designation and launch review of Yemen policy; new U.S. Biden administration 25 Jan approved all transactions involving Huthis for one month while designation faces review, and next day announced temporary pause on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, fighting continued along Yemen’s major front lines in Hodeida, al-Dhale and Marib governorates; intense clashes were reported along Red Sea coast in first two weeks of month, prompting UN mission 7 Jan to issue statement of concern after wedding hall 1 Jan was hit during fighting, reportedly killing five. Huthis 17 Jan reportedly launched projectile into Saudi Arabia that hitvillage in southern Jazan region, injuring three civilians; Huthis denied responsibility of 23 Jan missile attack on Riyadh (see Saudi Arabia). In south, tensions rose between Southern Transitional Council (STC) and govt after President Hadi 15 Jan appointed former PM Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr as head of Shura Council without consulting STC, which accused govt of breaching Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement.
United Arab Emirates
Country signed reconciliation deal to end three-and-a-half-year intra-Gulf dispute. United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Bahrain agreed to reopen their land, air and sea borders with Qatar after all four states and Egypt 5 Jan signed al-Ula Declaration at Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh; agreement ends three-and-a-half-year blockade of Doha by three neighbouring states and Egypt who cut ties with Qatar in July 2017. U.S. 26 Jan announced temporary pause on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE; U.S. Sec State Anthony Blinken same day said administration wanted to ensure proposed sales “advances our strategic objectives”. Italy 29 Jan halted “export of missiles and bombs” to Saudi Arabia and UAE, saying “respect for human rights is an unbreakable commitment.”
Authorities continued to use legal means to stifle peaceful activism, and army held large-scale military exercise at border with Morocco. Crackdown on pro-democracy Hirak protest movement activists continued. Court 4 Jan sentenced 25-year-old activist Walid Kechida to three years in prison for “offending president and precepts of Islam”; Kechida 31 Jan released after jail term reduced to one year in appeal trial same day. Court 18 Jan handed eighteen-month sentence to 45-year-old activist Dalila Touat, close to Hirak, on charges of “insulting a state body, slander, and circulating publications affecting public order”. Meanwhile, Algiers courts sentenced several Bouteflika-era officials to prison on corruption charges. Notably, Algiers court 4 Jan handed former PM Ahmed Ouyahia, who has been imprisoned since June 2019 for other offenses, additional seven-year jail term; and Court of Cassation 28 Jan confirmed Ouyahia and other former PM Abdelmalek Sellal’s 15- and 12-year prison sentences, first handed in 2019. Military appeals court in Blida city 2 Jan acquitted former military intelligence chief Gen Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène, former President Bouteflika’s brother and adviser Saïd, and two others; all four had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2019 for plotting to “damage state’s and army’s authority”. President Tebboune 1 Jan signed into law new constitution, approved by referendum in Nov 2020, paving way for revision of electoral law and early legislative elections. Tebboune 10 Jan returned to Germany for medical treatment of foot complication after COVID-19 infection previously kept him abroad for two months in late 2020. In Tipaza region, west of Algiers, army early Jan reportedly killed at least six suspected al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb combatants. In Tebessa region in east, roadside bomb 14 Jan killed five civilians. Amid simmering tensions between Morocco and Polisario Front independence movement in Western Sahara, army 17-18 Jan held large-scale military exercise in Tindouf area near border with Morocco and Western Sahara territory, in apparent warning to Rabat not to pursue Polisario combatants into Algerian territory (see Morocco, Western Sahara).
Jihadist violence left several dead in North Sinai, and govt mended ties with Qatar after years-long dispute. In North Sinai, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province continued to target security forces. Spate of IED attacks 1, 3, 11 and 26 Jan killed at least four security forces personnel in Bir al-Abd area; 3-10 Jan left unknown number of casualties in and around Rafah city at border with Gaza strip; 21 Jan killed at least one security forces personnel in Sheikh Zuweid area. Suspected jihadists 2 Jan reportedly kidnapped nine civilians near Bir al-Abd town; 17 Jan detonated explosive at gas pipeline near Al-Arish city. Parliament’s lower house 12 Jan elected former head of Supreme Constitutional Court Hanafy Ali El-Gebali as speaker; lower house currently dominated by Mostaqbal Watan party, loyal to President Sisi, following last year’s legislative elections. Police 25 Jan arrested cartoonist Ashraf Hamdi after he posted online video commemorating 2011 uprising that overthrew former President Mubarak. In concerted move to end over-three-year-long Qatar blockade, Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, 5 Jan signed reconciliation agreement with Doha, vowing to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties; Cairo 12 Jan reopened Egyptian airspace to Qatari flights; 20 Jan exchanged official memoranda with Qatar on resuming diplomatic relations. Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam resumed early Jan but failed to make progress.
Participants to UN-led political talks agreed on mechanism for choosing transitional govt, while implementation of Oct 2020 ceasefire continued to falter. In apparent breakthrough, UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) 19 Jan agreed on hybrid mechanism to choose transitional three-member Presidency Council and PM to lead country to elections scheduled for Dec 2021; LPDF members to elect PM with 70% of votes, and simultaneously to be divided into three regions to elect with 70% of votes their representative on Presidency Council; votes scheduled for Feb; back-up list-based system to kick in if abovementioned voting procedure fails. Meanwhile, Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord (GNA) and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar-led Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) continued to accuse each other of pursuing military build-up in violation of ceasefire signed in Oct, and missed 23 Jan deadline to ensure departure from Libya of all foreign fighters. ALAF 13 Jan accused Turkey of continuing to send military equipment to GNA, and media including U.S.-based TV channel CNN 22 Jan alleged ALAF-allied Russian military contractors had recently dug 70km trench fortification from Sirte city to Jufra airbase to prevent possible GNA military offensive in central and eastern Libya. New U.S. administration 28 Jan called on all external parties, including Turkey and Russia, to immediately cease military operations in Libya and withdraw their forces; United Arab Emirates next day said it was ready to cooperate with UN and U.S. to find “diplomatic and political solutions” to conflict. Central Bank of Libya early Jan introduced new unified exchange rate, devaluing Libyan dinar by 300% in attempt to alleviate faltering economy; move prompted major spike in price of basic food commodities, with bread and oil prices rising by 30% by mid-Jan. Rival finance ministers 12 Jan met to discuss unification of 2021 national budgets. UN Sec Gen Antonio Guterres 18 Jan appointed former Slovakian FM Ján Kubiš as new UN envoy to Libya; Kubiš due to take office in early Feb. UN Security Council mid-Jan also extended sine die mandate of UN Acting Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams to allow her to continue political dialogue efforts.
Authorities continued to build on normalisation deal with Israel, while tensions persisted in Western Sahara territory. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 23 Jan said new U.S. administration under President Biden will build on Morocco-Israel normalisation agreement, in exchange for which U.S. last Dec recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Israeli govt 24 Jan approved normalisation agreement and 26 Jan reopened diplomatic mission in capital Rabat after govts 21 Jan signed agreement allowing direct flights between two countries; new agreement forms part of provisions of Joint Declaration signed by Morocco and Israel 22 Dec. Meanwhile, tensions persisted in Western Sahara region; Algeria 17-18 Jan held large-scale military exercise in Tindouf area near border with Morocco (see Western Sahara).
Amid deteriorating socio-economic crisis, riots and protests erupted across country, leaving at least one dead. After govt 14 Jan implemented new COVID-19-related nationwide lockdown, street riots overnight 15-16 Jan erupted in capital Tunis and over 15 other locations across country, mainly in underprivileged peri-urban areas; discontent fueled mainly by deteriorating economic and social conditions exactly ten years after former President Ben Ali’s overthrow. During five consecutive nights of unrest, police clashed with rioters, fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse them amid sporadic reports of vandalism and looting; protester injured in 18 Jan clashes, reportedly by tear gas canister, died 25 Jan. Govt 18 Jan said police had arrested over 600 people, sparking several days of daytime peaceful protests in Tunis and other cities against govt, economic crisis and arbitrary arrests. Tunisian Human Rights League 25 Jan said over 1,200 people had been arrested since unrest started. Riots subsided while daytime protests were still ongoing by month’s end. Amid tensions between President Saïed and PM Hichem Mechichi, Mechichi 5 Jan dismissed Saïed’s close ally, Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine, and 16 Jan reshuffled cabinet, naming 11 new ministers. In response, Saïed 25 Jan said he will not organise oath-taking ceremonies for new ministers, saying some are suspected of corruption or may have conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, parliament next day approved Mechichi’s cabinet reshuffle as police turned water cannon on hundreds of anti-govt protesters to hold them back from parliament. Authorities 27-28 Jan said letter addressed to Saïed and received 25 Jan contained suspicious powder that caused staffer who opened it to be hospitalised, denounced possible poisoning attempt. Authorities 8 Jan said they had arrested five individuals suspected of planning to carry out “terrorist operations in Tunisia”, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb senior figure.
Tensions remained high as Polisario Front independence movement threatened to step up attacks against Morocco, and Algeria held military exercise at border with Morocco. Polisario Front throughout month continued to shell Moroccan positions along East-West sand berm that separates Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic-controlled territory; notably, Polisario 23 Jan fired four rockets at UN-monitored Guerguerat Buffer Strip – where Moroccan troops have been deployed since Nov – and next day threatened to escalate military operations. Polisario 19 Jan said it was ready to join UN-led talks on territory’s future, but would not lay down arms; UN-led negotiations involving Morocco and Polisario, with Algeria and Mauritania as observers, suspended since March 2019. Rumours of possible appointment of former Romanian PM Petre Roman as new UN envoy for Western Sahara drew criticism from Algerian media; notably, newspaper El Watan repeatedly decried him as Rabat’s ally. Following U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in Dec, Algeria 9 Jan said it expected U.S. to exercise “impartiality” in conflict; 17-18 Jan held large-scale military exercise in Tindouf area, near border with Morocco and Western Sahara territory, in apparent warning to Morocco not to pursue elements of Polisario inside Algeria.
United States (Internal)
In unprecedented turn of events, mob entered U.S. Capitol, briefly disrupting transfer of power and leaving several dead; President Biden’s inauguration 20 Jan held peacefully. In major show of force and amid U.S. President Trump’s contestation of 2020 presidential election result, tens of thousands of Trump supporters, including far-right Proud Boys and followers of QAnon conspiracy theory, 6 Jan gathered in capital Washington as Congress convened in Capitol to certify result. During address, Trump repeated baseless fraud claims and urged supporters to “stop the steal”; thousands then marched on Capitol, where they managed, despite police presence, to break into building; police hustled members of Congress out of chamber to undisclosed locations while others took shelter in offices. Later that day, security forces regained control of Capitol, and members of Congress reconvened and certified election result; several also demanded investigation of security failures, amid reports that some rioters planned to abduct or even kill members of Congress. Unprecedented security incident left four rioters and one Capitol policeman dead, over 140 officers also injured; as of 31 Jan, 135 rioters arrested. House of Representatives 13 Jan voted to impeach Trump on “incitement of insurrection” charge, making him sole U.S. president to be impeached twice; House speaker 25 Jan sent impeachment article to Senate with trial set for 9 Feb. National Guard 18-19 Jan deployed in downtown Washington to deter repeat of Capitol riot at 20 Jan inauguration ceremony. Inauguration of President Biden and VP Kamala Harris 20 Jan proceeded without incident; during address, Biden called for unity, promising to “defeat” what he described as “domestic terrorism”. During first weeks in office, Biden 20-31 Jan signed 42 executive orders, including one reversing Trump’s ban on travel from Muslim countries. Earlier in month, in run-offs in Georgia, voters 5 Jan elected two Democratic senators, resulting in 50-50 party balance in Senate (and giving VP Harris deciding vote as president of Senate). Meanwhile, COVID-19 continued rapid spread, with death toll topping 438,000 (and 24 mn vaccinated) as of 31 Jan.