Tracking Conflict Worldwide
The new edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in February in fifteen countries, including an escalation of fighting in Syria’s Idlib between Russian-backed regime forces on one side and rebels and Turkish forces on the other. In DR Congo’s east, a brutal militia expanded its reach leaving over 60 civilians dead in Ituri province alone, and deadly Hindu-Muslim violence erupted in India’s capital New Delhi.
CrisisWatch notes improvements in three conflict situations, including major breakthroughs toward advancing peace in Afghanistan and South Sudan.
Looking ahead to March, we warn that violence could intensify further in Yemen’s north as the Huthis seek to sustain their counteroffensive against government forces as well as cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia. We fear that fighting could also escalate in Somalia between federal government troops and forces loyal to the leadership of Jubaland state.
Jihadist and intercommunal violence continued in north. In Sahel region in north, suspected Islamic State-affiliated militants night of 1-2 Feb killed eighteen civilians in Lamdamaol town, Seno province; suspected jihadists 6 Feb attacked Barakana village, Soum province, reportedly killing ten civilian volunteers fighting alongside security forces, and volunteers next day attacked neighbouring Gargaboulé town, reportedly killing 22 suspected jihadists; suspected jihadists 18 Feb killed three soldiers in attack on military detachment in Kelbo town, Soum province; suspected jihadists 18 Feb killed 24 in attack on protestant church in Pansi village, Yagha province; unidentified gunmen 29 Feb attacked police station in Sebba town, Yagha province, ten policemen reportedly killed; unidentified gunmen 26 Feb killed gendarme in Tin Akoff village, Oudalan province. In Centre-North region, unidentified gunmen 24 Feb ambushed and killed three police officers and one civilian in Sanmatenga province. In Boucle du Mouhoun region, Dozo militiamen 6 Feb killed twenty Fulani civilians in Madiama area, Kossi province; apparently in retaliation, suspected jihadists next day attacked nearby village of Siewali, killing ten Dozo. African Union 27 Feb announced temporary deployment of 3,000-strong force to combat jihadist groups in Sahel. UN refugee agency 21 Feb said violence was displacing 4,000 people daily throughout country and over 765,000 already displaced, a sevenfold increase relative to same time last year. Govt 5 Feb set date of 22 Nov for presidential and legislative elections, said municipal elections would follow in 2021. Electoral commission 10 Feb launched 10-day voter registration process.
Attacks by jihadists, armed militia and counter-insurgency operations killed dozens in centre, while govt and armed groups in north took important step toward implementation of 2015 peace agreement. In major strategic shift, President Keita 10 Feb announced support for dialogue between govt and jihadist leaders Amadou Kouffa and Iyad ag Ghaly. In Mopti region in centre, suspected jihadists 12 Feb attacked Dialoubé military post, killing soldier; army said it repelled attack, killing five suspected jihadists; Dogon militiamen 14 Feb killed at least 30 in Fulani Ogossagou village; army reportedly repelled suspected jihadist attack on military base in Koro area 6 Feb, killing over a dozen assailants. French forces 20 Feb said they had killed 50 suspected Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Mopti area 9-17 Feb. In north, suspected jihadist attack on military outpost of Bambara Maoundé killed four soldiers 23 Feb. Govt 27 Feb reportedly recalled Ambassador to France Toumani Djimé Diallo after he criticised conduct of French soldiers in Mali 26 Feb, prompting French govt to summon him. African Union 27 Feb announced temporary deployment of 3,000-strong force to combat jihadist groups in Sahel. In major step toward implementation of peace process in north, reconstituted army – mixed force composed of national troops and integrated forces from armed groups signatory of 2015 peace agreement – mid-Feb started to deploy in Kidal and Timbuktu regions, with first mixed unit arriving in Kidal city 13 Feb. Small protest broke out same day in front of military barrack hosting unit, with protestors chanting slogans hostile to state and calling for independence of Azawad. Govt and political parties prepared for legislative elections – first and second round due 29 March and 19 April respectively. Prominent religious leader Imam Dicko 3 Feb said his political movement would not participate in elections as previously announced.
Jihadists scaled down attacks against security forces in west and continued to target civilians in south east. In Tillabéry region in west near Mali and Burkina Faso, unidentified gunmen 1 Feb raided hotel in Ayorou town, killing civilian; suspected members of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara 6 Feb killed five civilians in Molia village and 10 Feb attacked Ayorou police station, killing two policemen. Govt 22 Feb said military and French Barkhane troops killed 120 suspected jihadists in joint operation in west 1-20 Feb. In Diffa region in south east near Nigeria, suspected Boko Haram (BH) militants 3 Feb killed three civilians in Kangouri and Makintari villages; BH faction Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 7 Feb killed six civilians they accused of providing supplies to Abubakar Shekau-led rival BH faction (Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, JAS) in Gogone village; suspected jihadists 11-12 Feb abducted five civilians south of Ngagam village; inhabitants of Lamana village 12-13 Feb reportedly killed unspecified number of suspected jihadists; also in Diffa region, twenty refugees 18 Feb died in stampede during aid distribution. African Union 27 Feb announced temporary deployment of 3,000-strong force to combat jihadist groups in Sahel.
Security forces launched deadly raids amid wave of harassment against opposition supporters ahead of general elections due in May, and military conducted cross-border operation in DR Congo against Burundian rebel group. Security forces and Imbonerakure, youth wing of ruling party CNDD-FDD, 3-15 Feb arrested tens of opposition supporters, including at least thirteen members of National Congress for Freedom (CNL) and two UPRONA members across several provinces. Imbonerakure 16 Feb violently prevented CNL members from attending party congress in economic capital Bujumbura where delegates that day chose CNL leader Agathon Rwasa to be party’s presidential candidate in May general elections. Authorities next day arrested nine CNL members in Ngozi province for taking part in congress. Security forces said they clashed with unidentified gunmen who attacked Kirombwe, Bujumbura rural province, 19 Feb; CNL 22 Feb described incident as “staged attack”, said police and Imbonerakure had since arrested 23 CNL members and beaten one to death; authorities 24 Feb said security forces killed at least 22 “wrongdoers” in week-long operations in Bujumbura rural province. Local civil society group said majority of those killed were CNL members. In other incident, after unidentified assailants 23 Feb reportedly killed Imbonerakure in Bururi province, police 24-26 Feb arrested eighteen, mostly CNL members. Unidentified assailants 26 Feb reportedly beat CNDD-FDD official in Muyinga province prompting Imbonerakure to attack home of CNL member, leaving three injured. Several political parties early Feb criticised electoral commission’s candidacy requirements which could prevent candidates from running for president. Govt mid-Feb refused to issue travel documents to six politicians in exile in Uganda, de facto barring them from returning to country. Military early Feb reportedly launched cross-border operation against Burundian rebel group RED-TABARA in South Kivu province in DR Congo.
In Anglophone regions, military launched raids on communities suspected of hosting separatists, which left more than 50 civilians dead; ruling party overwhelmingly won 9 Feb legislative and local elections marred by low turnout and fraud allegations, while Boko Haram (BH) attacks persisted in Far North. Ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) 9 Feb won 316 out of 360 municipal councils and 139 out of 167 declared seats in National Assembly; Constitutional Council 28 Feb ordered legislative elections rerun in eleven constituencies in Anglophone regions (west) as opposition accused CPDM of stuffing ballots. Thousands fled Anglophone regions as separatists imposed lockdown 7-12 Feb (restriction on movement, closure of schools and businesses) to prevent voting, fired warning shots and clashed with soldiers. In North West region, clashes between soldiers and separatists 3-5 Feb left five dead in Bamali village and in regional capital Bamenda. Soldiers backed by ethnic Fulani militia 14 Feb reportedly killed 23 civilians in Ngarbuh village; govt said “unfortunate accident” was caused by explosion during clashes with separatists while UN, EU and U.S. called for independent investigation. Security forces reportedly killed at least six civilians in Kuk village, Babessi town and Bamenda city 17-19 Feb, twenty civilians in Fungom village 20 Feb, and several people including seven suspected separatists in Babanki village 29 Feb. In South West, separatists 3 Feb opened fire on vehicle killing one civilian in Ekombe village, 20 Feb killed truck driver in Muyuka town. Military 3 Feb reportedly killed three civilians in Ikata village, 6 Feb killed six suspected separatists in Bakebe village, 20 Feb reportedly killed at least three civilians in Bakundu village. French President Macron 22 Feb said he would put “maximum pressure” on President Biya to end violence in Anglophone regions; govt 24 Feb denounced France for interfering in its internal affairs. In Far North, BH attacks 1-25 Feb left at least two dozen civilians, three militants and one soldier dead.
Central African Republic
In north east, deadly clashes between armed groups continued throughout month, until leader of one group 20 Feb unilaterally announced 30-day ceasefire. In far north east in Vakaga prefecture, fighting between ethnic Kara armed group Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) and ethnic Runga-led rebel group Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) reportedly left at least ten dead near MLCJ-held Birao town 13 Feb. At request of UN mission MINUSCA, French fighter planes mid-Feb flew over Birao to deter FPRC attacks, but FPRC 16 Feb clashed with MLCJ and UN peacekeepers, at least a dozen FPRC and six MLCJ reportedly killed. Hundreds of FPRC combatants and ethnic Runga 16-18 Feb demonstrated near MINUSCA base in Ndélé town, Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture, accusing it of supporting MLCJ. FPRC 4 and 7 Feb attacked ethnic Gula villagers in Mbomou and Haute-Kotto prefectures in east killing five. After meeting with representatives of regional bloc Economic Community of Central African States and African Union in Sudanese capital Khartoum, FPRC leader Noureddine Adam 20 Feb announced 30-day ceasefire, declared willingness to talk with local leaders and representatives of ethnic groups. In west, self-defence group clashed with armed group Return, Restitution and Rehabilitation (3R) 18 Feb, leaving three 3R fighters dead in Nana Mambere prefecture. In centre, MINUSCA operation early Feb forced armed group Union for Peace in Central African Republic out of Alindao. Some 2,000 people 17 Feb demonstrated in front of UN offices in capital Bangui to demand departure of three senior MINUSCA officials over allegations of collusion with armed groups; govt next day declared same officials persona non grata and requested that MINUSCA transfer them out of country. Sixteen opposition parties 11 Feb created Coalition of Democratic Opposition.
Libya-based Chadian rebel group Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) attacked army in north, while Boko Haram (BH) scaled down activity in west, and electoral commission scheduled long overdue legislative elections for Dec. In Tibesti region in north, CCMSR 10 Feb said it had taken control of Kouri Bougoudi town after clash with army. Govt dismissed claim. Army 19 Feb repelled CCMSR attack on military camp near Kouri Bougoudi; dozens of rebels reportedly killed. In Lake Chad province in west, army 1 Feb captured two suspected BH militants near Baga Sola town. In Ouaddaï province in east, security forces 29 Feb forcefully took control of residence of former traditional leader Sultan of Ouaddaï, reportedly leaving several injured. President Déby early Feb continued to restructure security apparatus including by appointing relatives and members of his ethnic group to leading roles in army and police. In capital N’Djamena, police 10 Feb used tear gas to disperse students protesting against poor study conditions at university and arrested eight. Electoral commission 14 Feb scheduled legislative elections postponed since 2015 for 13 Dec. Several opposition parties raised concerns over political climate including harassment of opposition and civil society activists. African Union (AU) 7 Feb elected Chad as member of AU Peace and Security Council for two-year mandate.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) extended its reach into Ituri province in east, leaving over 60 civilians dead in area, and tensions rose between President Tshisekedi and allies of former President Kabila and within Tshisekedi’s alliance. ADF for first time launched attacks in Ituri province, leaving at least 63 civilians dead 2-26 Feb; ADF raids on villages in Beni territory, North Kivu province left at least 51 civilians dead 7-17 Feb. In Ituri, armed group Cooperative for Development of Congo (CODECO) attacks and clashes between CODECO and army 17-29 Feb left at least 34 civilians and seven rebels dead; armed group Patriotic and Integrationist Front of Congo (FPIC) and army 19 Feb clashed in Sezabo village, leaving ten dead; govt and armed group Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI) 28 Feb signed peace agreement. In North Kivu, local Maï-Maï militia commander and some 300 fighters 2 Feb surrendered near Goma; militia Nduma Defense of Congo and Maï-Maï Nyatura 3 Feb clashed in Kitso area leaving seventeen dead; suspected Maï-Maï Nyatura 5-6 Feb killed three civilians in Butshimula area; unidentified gunmen 20 Feb killed at least six soldiers in Mwaro village. In South Kivu province, clashes between Maï-Maï and Gumino armed groups 17-18 Feb reportedly left three dead. In Tanganyika province, Twa militiamen 20-29 Feb killed four in Nyunzu town. Former military intelligence chief and close ally of Kabila, General Delphin Kahimbi, 28 Feb died in unclear circumstances after he was reportedly suspended from duty over allegations that he had sought to destabilise country; Tshisekedi same day called for investigation. Authorities 12 Feb briefly arrested Kabila’s former intelligence chief and prohibited him from leaving country for illegally travelling on diplomatic passport. Tshisekedi 7 Feb replaced seven senior magistrates including allies of Kabila. Head of Tshisekedi’s party Jean-Marc Kabund-a-Kabund 11 Feb accused Tshisekedi’s chief of staff and head of Union for the Congolese Nation, part of Tshisekedi’s alliance Heading for Change, of mismanaging 100-day emergency program launched in March 2019.
President Kagame and Ugandan President Museveni took additional steps toward ending long-simmering tensions following Aug 2019 agreement to normalise relations. At summit facilitated by Angolan President Lourenço and DRC President Tshisekedi in Angolan capital Luanda, Kagame and Museveni 2 Feb pledged to release each other’s imprisoned nationals and to cease alleged support to non-state armed groups reportedly operating across their borders. Uganda 18 Feb released thirteen Rwandans detained on espionage charges and Rwanda next day dropped court proceedings against seventeen Ugandans. Uganda 20 Feb revoked Ugandan passport of prominent official of Rwandan opposition group in exile, Rwanda National Congress. Kagame and Museveni 21 Feb met at Gatuna-Katuna border crossing and signed extradition treaty providing legal framework to exchange prisoners guilty of “subversive activities” in each other’s territory; same day agreed on 30-day timeframe for Kampala to investigate and act on Kigali’s accusations that armed groups hostile to Rwanda operate from Uganda, paving way for border to reopen if request is fulfilled. In south near border with Burundi, authorities 13 Feb arrested popular singer and Kagame critic Kizito Mihigo accusing him of attempting to cross border into Burundi to join rebel groups fighting against govt. Authorities 17 Feb said Mihigo had committed suicide in his cell in capital Kigali. Human rights groups, U.S. and UK called for investigation.
In rare public comment on ongoing border dispute with Ethiopia, President Afwerki 7 Feb said refusal by Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, regional party in Ethiopia, to return disputed Badme area back to Eritrea was obstructing progress to demarcate border following 2018 peace agreement. Govt early Feb denounced U.S.’s late Jan decision to suspend issuing of visas for six countries including Eritrea. Govt continued to consolidate regional ties: FM visited Sudan 7 Feb and Afwerki visited Saudi Arabia 18 Feb.
Political violence and counter-insurgency operations continued notably in Oromia region, while ethnic clashes broke out in west. In Oromia region near capital Addis Ababa, security operations continued against rebel group Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and its former armed wing Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) amid Internet blackout. Security forces 15 Feb raided OLF office in Welenchiti town killing one OLF supporter; later that day security forces arrested and allegedly beat some 30 OLF supporters in Burayu town. Suspected OLA grenade attack at pro-PM Abiy rally in Ambo town 23 Feb left at least 29 injured. In Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ region, security forces late Feb opened fire on anti-govt protesters leaving six dead in Maji zone. In Gambella region in west, clashes between two communities reportedly sparked by killing of local official left at least a dozen dead in Nuer zone late Feb. In Addis Ababa, police night of 4 Feb attempted to demolish Orthodox Christian church built on disputed plot of land, leading to clashes between police and local community that left at least two killed. Electoral board 14 Feb pushed back general elections from 16 to 29 Aug; coalition of opposition parties 21 Feb called for further delay due to rainy season and insecurity. Electoral board 21 Feb directed opposition party Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) to produce proof of Ethiopian citizenship of Jawar Mohammed, ethnic Oromo activist and prominent Abiy critic, within ten days. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan reported progress toward final agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on River Nile after meeting in Washington DC in U.S. 12-13 Feb, but Ethiopia boycotted next trilateral meeting 27-28 Feb, requesting more time for internal consultations. Abiy facilitated first face-to-face meeting between Somalia President Farmajo and Somaliland President Bihi in Addis Ababa 11 Feb.
Al-Shabaab continued attacks in north and east, while relations with Somalia soured further. In Mandera county in north east, Al-Shabaab militants 11 Feb killed police reservist; 19 Feb attacked bus leaving four civilians dead prompting govt to order all buses in north east to travel with police escort. In Garissa county in east, Al-Shabaab targeted police: suspected militants 5 Feb shot and killed father of police reservist; 12 and 20 Feb burned down homes belonging to police reservists; 21 Feb abducted businessman; 26 Feb reportedly attacked police station, casualties reported. After former security minister of Somalia’s Jubaland state Abdirashid Janan escaped from prison in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu and reportedly arrived in Jubaland state’s Gedo region via Kenyan capital Nairobi in early Feb, Somalian federal govt forces 4 Feb deployed in Gedo region prompting Janan to flee across border to Kenya’s Mandera town. Somalia 5 Feb accused Kenya of interference for allegedly aiding Janan. Officials of Mandera county 10 Feb called on Janan to leave, citing rising tensions with Somalia. U.S. 10 Feb announced it had agreed with govt to set up Kenyan-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in Nairobi.
Fighting erupted in Galmudug state after election of state president, and federal govt forces deployed to Jubaland state’s Gedo region where fighting could intensify in coming weeks. Tensions rose in Gedo following late Jan escape from capital Mogadishu prison of former Jubaland security minister Abdirashid Janan: Janan reportedly arrived in Gedo in early Feb via Kenyan capital Nairobi, and federal govt deployed some 700 troops to region; federal govt forces 4 Feb launched offensive and captured Dolow and Bula Hawa towns near Kenyan border prompting Janan to flee across border in Kenya to Mandera town; federal govt 5 Feb accused Kenya of interference for allegedly aiding Janan. Federal govt forces 8 Feb clashed with Jubaland forces in Bula Hawa, leaving at least two dead. Also in Jubaland, fighting 12 Feb broke out in capital Kismayo between state forces and supporters of state President Madobe’s political rival, death toll unclear. In Galmudug state in centre, parliament 2 Feb elected federal govt-backed candidate Ahmed Abdi Qoor Qoor as state president; federal govt forces 27-28 Feb clashed in state capital Dhusamareb with local Sufi paramilitary group Ahlu Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) which opposed federal govt-controlled electoral process, at least 22 reportedly killed; ASWJ leadership 29 Feb surrendered to federal govt and announced their exit from Galmudug politics. Inter-clan fighting erupted in Lower Juba region in south in early Feb leaving at least twenty dead. In south and centre, security operations and Al-Shabaab attacks 2-27 Feb left at least 34 soldiers and 61 militants dead in Feb. U.S. airstrikes 2-28 Feb reportedly killed ten Al-Shabaab militants, including Al-Shabaab commander involved in early Jan attack in Kenya’s Lamu county. In Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, President Farmajo 11 Feb for first time met Somaliland President Bihi; 13 Feb issued apology to Somaliland for atrocities under Barre regime, which Bihi welcomed 18 Feb.
Tensions rose between govt and opposition over electoral process but calmed down late Feb, fighting broke out with Somalia’s Puntland, and President Bihi met President of Somalia despite Somalia’s territorial claims over Somaliland. Amid deadlock over organisation of delayed parliamentary and local elections, member of electoral commission representing opposition Justice and Welfare Party (UCID) 3 Feb resigned and urged other members to follow suit to break impasse. Bihi 18 Feb held opposition parties responsible for deadlock, said that he would submit to parliament constitutional amendment to open, two years ahead of schedule, registration process for new political associations so they could compete to qualify for legal status as political party, putting at risk current status of opposition parties UCID and Waddani as well as ruling Kulmiye party. UCID and Waddani 22 Feb described proposed bill as Bihi’s attempt to cement grip on power by eliminating opposition parties, called for early presidential elections, and gave Bihi until 10 March to reverse his decision. Following EU mediation, Bihi 27 Feb reversed decision to open political party registration and all sides agreed to hold parliamentary elections in 2020. Fighting 26 Feb erupted in Sanaag region in east between forces of Somaliland and neighbouring Puntland in federal state of Somalia, casualties reported on all sides; both sides 29 Feb exchanged heavy artillery fire in Tukaraq in Sool region. Bihi 11 Feb met for first time Somalia President Farmajo in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in face-to-face meeting brokered by Ethiopian PM Abiy. Farmajo 13 Feb issued apology to Somaliland for atrocities under former Somalia President Siad Barre, which Bihi welcomed 18 Feb; Bihi ruled out Farmajo visit to capital Hargeisa.
In major breakthrough, President Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar struck deal entailing significant concessions on both sides and formed unity govt, alleviating fears that failure to reach deal by 22 Feb deadline would spark violence. In meeting brokered by regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Sudanese PM Hamdok and Ugandan President Museveni in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa 9 Feb, Kiir and Machar discussed number and borders of states, main stumbling block in negotiations to form govt. To break deadlock, Kiir 15 Feb acceded to opposition’s request to reduce number of states from 32 to ten, but proposed three new administrative areas, which Machar rejected. Machar and Kiir 17 Feb held new round of talks in capital Juba, including on security arrangements. Under rising international pressure to reach compromise, Kiir 20 Feb struck agreement with Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In-Opposition and South Sudan Opposition Alliance to form unity govt; 22 Feb swore in Machar as first VP, to be protected by presidential guard brigade until unified army is formed. Unification of govt troops and rebel forces into national army, scheduled under Sept 2018 peace agreement to be completed prior to forming unity govt, remained behind schedule. Negotiations between govt and opposition coalition, South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), which refused to be part of Sept 2018 deal, resumed in Rome, Italy, 12-13 Feb; SSOMA 14 Feb signed resolution outlining implementation and monitoring of truce brokered in Jan; next round of talks set for March. SSOMA 24 Feb called for peace talks with newly created unity govt.
Transitional govt agreed to cooperate with International Criminal Court (ICC), pursued efforts to normalise relations with U.S. and Israel, and extended peace talks with rebel groups. Govt 11 Feb agreed to hand over to ICC four former regime officials, including former President Bashir, indicted for war crimes. In attempt to pave way for country’s removal from U.S. “state sponsors of terrorism” list, govt 13 Feb said it had reached $70mn settlement with families of victims of al-Qaida’s 2000 attack on U.S. warship in Yemen, that killed seventeen sailors, but denied role in enabling attack; govt 25 Feb said it also aimed to negotiate “reasonable compensation” for families of victims of al-Qaida’s 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met Israeli PM Netanyahu in Uganda 3 Feb with view to restoring long-severed relations with Israel. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 12 Feb acceded to govt’s early-Feb request to establish political mission in country to support peacebuilding and development. Security forces 20 Feb reportedly fired tear gas to disperse hundreds in capital Khartoum, who were protesting against armed forces’ decision 18 Feb to discharge 79 officers and soldiers, whom activists said supported popular movement that ousted Bashir in April; PM Hamdok next day formed committee to probe crackdown. In talks in South Sudanese capital Juba, govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front failed to reach comprehensive deal by self-imposed 15 Feb deadline, agreed to extend talks by three weeks until 7 March. Govt and eastern Sudanese SRF groups 10 Feb resumed talks and 21 Feb reached agreement creating administrative status for eastern states and establishing reconstruction fund. Govt and Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North faction, remained at loggerheads over latter’s request that talks address question of state secularism.
Authorities 24 Feb released investigative journalist Erick Kabendera – arrested in July 2019 and charged in Aug with money laundering, tax evasion and organised crime – after he agreed to plead guilty and pay $118,000 fine.
Following agreement with Rwanda to normalise relations late Aug, govt took additional steps to mend ties with Kigali; harassment of opposition continued. In Angolan capital Luanda President Museveni and Rwandan President Kagame 2 Feb pledged to release each other’s nationals and to cease alleged support to non-state armed groups reportedly operating across their borders. Govt 18 Feb released thirteen Rwandans detained on espionage charges. Senior govt officials 14 Feb held third meeting with Rwandan counterparts in Rwandan capital Kigali to discuss Aug deal’s implementation. At Katuna-Gatuna border crossing 21 Feb, FM and Rwandan counterpart signed extradition treaty providing legal framework to exchange prisoners guilty of “subversive activities” in each other’s territory and same day agreed on 30-day timeframe for Kampala to investigate and act on Kigali’s accusations that armed groups hostile to Rwanda operate from Uganda, paving way for border to reopen if request is fulfilled. Musician-turned-opposition leader Bobi Wine, who plans to run for president in 2021 general elections, 21 Feb appealed to electoral commission to mediate talks with police, after latter prevented him from holding public meeting in Jan; Police 24 Feb fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse Wine’s supporters in capital Kampala. Police 24 Feb fired tear gas to disperse supporters of opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in Njeru town, 70km east of Kampala, same day reportedly prevented FDC president Kizza Besigye from leaving his hotel in nearby Jinja town.
Judicial proceedings over 2017 murder of PM Thabane’s estranged wife continued. Thabane 24 Feb appeared in court in capital Maseru to face murder charges; defence lawyer stated that Thabane “cannot be prosecuted while in office”; magistrate referred case to Constitutional Court to decide whether sitting PM can be charged with any crime. Thabane 20 Feb said he would resign by July. Trial of Thabane’s current wife Maesaiah set to start 17 March after prosecutors charged her with murder in Jan.
Constitutional court 3 Feb nullified results of disputed May election, which saw incumbent President Mutharika re-elected for second term, and ordered parliamentary inquiry into electoral commission (MEC), citing widespread irregularities; court also requested parliament to amend electoral law to provide for run-off elections in case no single candidate secures absolute majority of votes, and declared current first-past-the-post system unconstitutional. Mutharika and MEC 7 Feb appealed ruling; ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 17 Feb lodged complaint with anti-corruption body, claiming court’s verdict had been bought. Constitutional court 12 Feb dismissed Mutharika’s request to suspend application of ruling until his appeal is heard. Parliament 24 Feb scheduled new election for 19 May, with possible second round to be held 30 days later. Ahead of poll, DPP 25 Feb formed electoral alliance with opposition party United Democratic Front, whose leader Atupele Muluzi came fourth in May election. Thousands of supporters of NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) 13 Feb marched to MEC offices in Blantyre and capital Lilongwe to call for MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, whom they hold responsible for alleged electoral fraud, to step down. Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee 20 Feb concluded inquiry into MEC, found leadership incompetent to organise new elections and recommended Mutharika fire Ansah and commissioners. HRDC 25 Feb warned it would call for protests if Mutharika did not remove Ansah and sign new electoral bill within seven days.
Attacks against civilians and security forces by suspected Islamist militants spread to new areas in far north, while demobilisation of troops from former rebel group, now opposition party Renamo, remained stalled. In Cabo Delgado province in far north, attacks by Islamist militants spread southward and westward across nine of sixteen districts, leaving dozens dead. Notably, militants killed seven civilians in Quissanga district 3 Feb and five others near Mahate village, also Quissanga district 8 Feb; militants killed three civilians in Nangade district 14 Feb, six in Nkomangano village, Mocimboa da Praia district 18 Feb, and three in Imbada village at border between Macomia and Quisanga districts 21 Feb. Islamic State (ISIS) 24 Feb claimed attacks on military posts 19-20 Feb at Chiculua and Nanquidinga villages, Mocimboa da Praia district, said seventeen soldiers were killed. In Niassa province, security forces 12 Feb killed eight suspected militants and captured four in Mecula district. After ruling out dialogue in Jan, President Nyusi in Cabo Delgado 12 Feb said he was willing to enter talks with militants. Nyusi 14 Feb urged opposition party Renamo to speed up demobilisation and disarming of its forces, currently behind schedule as Aug 2020 deadline to dismantle all Renamo bases nears. Govt 19 Feb reportedly reintroduced armed convoys on major axes in Sofala province following spate of attacks by suspected members of dissident Renamo faction. EU election observation mission 12 Feb reported “numerous irregularities and malpractice” in Oct presidential election, including ballot-box stuffing and altering of polling station results.
Govt and opposition remained at odds over conditions for political dialogue following contested July 2018 presidential elections, and trade unions warned they would resume protests as economic crisis persisted. President Mnangagwa mid-month reiterated he would only engage with Nelson Chamisa, leader of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) through govt-initiated dialogue framework, dismissing South African President Mbeki’s mediation efforts launched in Dec. After warming up in Jan to Mbeki’s mediation, Chamisa 26 Feb said solution to crisis should be home-grown. Police 19 Feb fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of MDC supporters protesting in capital Harare; 19-21 Feb arrested 47 in connection with protest. Court 14 Feb acquitted MDC deputy Chairman Job Sikhala, charged in July with plotting to topple govt. Amid ongoing economic crisis, federation of trade unions Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions 23 Feb warned it would call for general strike if talks with govt and businesses over salary increases remained stalled. International Monetary Fund 26 Feb warned economic reform program was “off-track” and country was facing humanitarian and economic crisis. EU 17 Feb renewed arms embargo – in place since 2002 – against country and assets-freeze against state-controlled weapons manufacturer Zimbabwe Defence Industries for one year, citing concerns over human rights violations by security forces.
Ahead of presidential election scheduled for Oct, President Ouattara and opposition leaders continued to take steps to strengthen their positions. Authorities reportedly continued to detain supporters and relatives of former national assembly speaker Guillaume Soro, who intends to run for presidential election but remains abroad after chief prosecutor in Dec launched legal proceedings against him; notably, authorities 7 Feb arrested his brother-in-law. Lawyers for former President Gbagbo (currently in Belgium on conditional release from International Criminal Court (ICC)) and for pro-Gbagbo rebel leader and former youth minister Charles Blé Goudé (on parole and currently in The Hague) 6 Feb asked ICC to lift restrictions on Gbagbo’s freedom of movement so that he could return to Côte d’Ivoire ahead of Oct presidential election, also requested revisions of conditions of Blé Goudé’s parole, pending appeal of men’s Jan 2019 acquittal of crimes against humanity. Pascal Affi N’Guessan, legally-recognised president of party Popular Ivorian Front Gbagbo founded, 13 Feb met senior govt officials including VP Daniel Kablan Duncan to advocate for Gbagbo’s return. Following political dialogue initiated in Jan, govt, opposition and civil society failed to reach agreement on new electoral code; PM Coulibaly 17 Feb ended dialogue, 20 Feb said new code would be submitted to parliament for approval, despite opposition’s request that Ouattara arbitrate dispute.
President Condé postponed legislative elections and constitutional referendum until mid-March amid ongoing protests against his alleged intention to run for third term. Condé 4 Feb moved legislative elections scheduled for 16 Feb to 1 March, citing delay in issuing electoral cards, said constitutional referendum that could pave way for him to seek third term later this year would take place same day. Opposition parties Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea and Liberal Bloc 5 Feb said they would boycott referendum; National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups which oppose constitutional referendum, same day warned it would “go all the way” to prevent referendum. EU and U.S. 7 Feb expressed concern over electoral process, with EU calling for “inclusive dialogue” to ensure fairness of polls. Following calls by FNDC, protesters gathered 12, 13, 19, 20 and 27 Feb in capital Conakry and other cities. Clashes with security forces left one dead and many wounded in Conakry 13 Feb; European Parliament same day condemned violence against protesters, called on member states to stop funding and providing equipment to security forces. Electoral commission 13 Feb said it had removed over 500,000 voters from updated electoral roll released early Jan that added two million voters, but international criticism and rebuke from opposition continued notably about high number of voters in pro-Condé Kankan region. FNDC 24 Feb called on protesters to use all legal means to prevent “constitutional coup”; international association of French-speaking countries Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie same day withdrew its poll-monitoring mission, citing presence of 2.49 million “problematic” entries on electoral roll. Army chief of staff next day announced military patrols would be deployed throughout country 28 Feb-3 March; Condé 28 Feb postponed both polls by two weeks.
Post-electoral standoff intensified as ruling party continued to contest its candidate’s defeat in late Dec 2019 presidential election. Electoral commission (CNE) 4 Feb again confirmed former PM Umaro Sissoco Embaló as winner after regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 31 Jan requested it respond to Supreme Court’s request to make further checks. Defeated candidate of ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) Domingos Simões Pereira 5 Feb filed new appeal with Supreme Court requesting election be annulled, citing irregularities. ECOWAS 9 Feb gave Supreme Court six days to release ruling; latter 14 Feb denounced interference by regional bloc, rejected Pereira’s appeal, but requested CNE again check results’ accuracy. Embaló 19 Feb denounced ruling, while CNE said it had already fulfilled similar request and results were definitive. ECOWAS 22 Feb called on CNE and Supreme Court to break deadlock, warned it may impose sanctions against actors who hamper resolution of post-electoral standoff. Pereira 26 Feb filed new complaint with Supreme Court. Both sides late Feb took steps to affirm their grip on power: Embaló 27 Feb took oath as president during ceremony at hotel reception hall in Bissau organised by parliament’s VP Nabiam, in presence of outgoing President Vaz and senior military officials and 28 Feb appointed Nabiam as PM; PAIGC denounced moves as coup attempt and PAIGC-controlled parliament same day swore in parliament’s President Cassamá as interim president. Security forces aligned with Embaló reportedly increased their presence in Bissau 28-29 Feb.
Boko Haram (BH) insurgency continued in north east, bandit-related violence persisted in north west while security forces launched operations against jihadist group Ansaru, and herder-related violence flared up in Middle Belt and in south. In Borno state in north east, BH factions Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Abubakar Shekau’s group (Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, JAS) continued to attack civilians and security forces despite counter-insurgency operations, and ISWAP fighters reportedly executed faction’s senior commanders. Notably, suspected insurgents 9 Feb killed at least 30 civilians at Auno village, near state capital Maiduguri. Clashes between BH fighters and security forces 10 Feb in Konduga, Magumeri and Kala-Balge areas reportedly left three soldiers, three vigilantes and six insurgent dead. Military reportedly killed ISWAP fighters in Ngala area 4-5 Feb, and BH insurgents in Gwoza area 8 Feb and in Damboa area 9 Feb. In Adamawa state in east, BH 21-22 Feb attacked Garkida town, killing at least three soldiers and several civilians. ISWAP fighters 9 Feb reportedly executed faction leader Idris al-Barnawi and Ba’a Idirisa, son of deceased BH founder Mohammed Yusuf, for allegedly “going soft”. In north west, bandits carried out several attacks, killing at least 40 people in Kaduna state 3-12 Feb, and 30 civilians in Katsina state 14 Feb; clashes between bandits and vigilantes in Katsina state left 21 dead 27 Feb. Police 5 Feb reported it had raided camp of long-dormant jihadist group Ansaru in Kuduru forest, Kaduna state same day, killing over 250 militants and bandits, and losing two officers; Ansaru claimed 34 police dead. Police 9 Feb said it had arrested eight suspected Ansaru fighters involved in recent violence in Kaduna state. Herder-related violence continued in Plateau state, Middle Belt: suspected herders 9 Feb killed three civilians in Tyana village; 16 Feb killed two soldiers in Barkin Ladi; security forces 18 Feb burnt down Fulani settlement in Barkin Ladi after their two-day ultimatum to deliver 16 Feb attackers expired. In Delta state in south, herder-farmer clashes left fourteen dead in Uwheru 13 Feb.
Electoral commission 24 Feb released provisional results of 22 Feb presidential election, indicating incumbent President Gnassingbé won 72% of vote. Main opposition candidate and former PM Agbéyomé Kodjo 22 Feb accused authorities of ballot stuffing in favour of Gnassingbé and claimed victory. Former archbishop of capital Lomé Philippe Kpodzro 25 Feb urged citizens to protest against election results; police 28 Feb used tear gas to disperse protesters in Lomé, and surrounded homes of Kodjo and Kpodzro.
Chinese and Japanese FMs met 15 Feb on sidelines of Munich Security Conference in Germany: Beijing reassured Tokyo Chinese President Xi will visit Japan in April as planned despite coronavirus-19 outbreak and amid bilateral tensions in East China Sea.
U.S.-North Korea stalemate continued while UN report alleged Pyongyang advanced its nuclear and missile programs in 2019, breaching sanctions. U.S. media 10 Feb reported President Trump told advisors he did not want summit with Kim Jong-un before Nov U.S. election. Leaked report to UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea, due in March, alleged Pyongyang breached UN sanctions by failing to halt “illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program” in 2019, said DPRK illicitly imported refined petroleum, and exported US$370mn worth of coal aided by Chinese barges; China refused to comment. Study by U.S. company Recorded Future, released 9 Feb, reported Pyongyang increased its internet usage by 300% since 2017, using it “as an instrument for acquiring prohibited knowledge and skills”, enabling development of “nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and cyber operations”. South Korean President Moon reportedly seeking meeting with Trump in March; conservative South Korean lawmakers continued to push Washington against such meeting for fear it could result in unfair elections. U.S.-South Korea tensions continued over stalled negotiations on agreement for sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula; South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper discussed cost sharing in meeting in Washington 24 Feb, but negotiators failed to agree on new deal; U.S. military 28 Feb gave its South Korean employees one-month notice about impending unpaid leave of absence; Seoul and Washington 27 Feb postponed spring military exercises “until further notice” after Seoul declared its highest “severe” alert level over coronavirus-19. Coronavirus infection rate mid-Feb recorded daily spikes in South Korea’s Daegu city, with Shincheonji religious group members who had just visited China testing positive for virus; President Moon increasingly accused of putting relations with China above public health by allowing Chinese tourists and students inside country; April general elections could become de facto referendum on Moon over virus. In response to Coronavirus-19 threat, DPRK reportedly closed its border with China late Jan, while news reports said country also hit by virus contrary to official announcements; DPRK early Feb informed foreign embassies and tour operators that foreigners will be temporarily blocked from entering, including diplomats.
Tensions with China continued over military exercises and high-level meetings between U.S. and Taiwanese officials. In what China’s People’s Liberation Army described as military drills aimed at improving combat capabilities, Chinese military jets including J-11 fighters and H-6 bombers 9-10 Feb flew through Bashi Channel, body of water separating Taiwan from Philippines, prompting Taiwanese air force to scramble jets in response and request foreign jets to leave; Beijing 9 Feb claimed it was “safeguarding national sovereignty”; U.S. State Department 12 Feb said “completely inappropriate of China to take such an aggressive act”. Same day, three U.S. military aircrafts – two B-52 bombers and one MC-130 special mission aircraft – conducted drills in Taiwan Strait; U.S. warship also sailed through Strait 15 Feb. Ministry of National Defence 28 Feb reported that Chinese H-6 bombers same day flew over the sea in Southwest Taiwan and over Bashi Channel, said public should not worry about latest move as military relied on advanced joint surveillance system to monitor situation. Following reports that VP-elect William Lai met with U.S. National Security Council officials in Washington 3 Feb, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson 6 Feb said China “firmly opposes official exchange” between U.S. and Taiwan, urging U.S. to “stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces to avoid causing serious harm to China-US relations”; Taiwan’s foreign ministry said visit was “private trip”. Parliamentary speaker Yu Shyi-kun 13 Feb called on U.S. to recognise Taiwan and establish formal diplomatic ties during meeting with Brent Christensen, Director of American Institute in Taiwan, at Legislative Yuan in capital Taipei.
Amid significant drop in violence, U.S. and Taliban signed historic agreement to end long-running conflict, paving way for future intra-Afghan talks. U.S. and Taliban representatives 21 Feb said they had reached deal on gradual U.S. military withdrawal in exchange for Taliban’s assurances to cut links with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and join intra-Afghan negotiations; agreement contingent on successful completion of seven-day period of “reduction in violence”, which started 22 Feb. Agreement signed 29 Feb in Doha presaging expected mass prisoner exchange, and start of intra-Afghan negotiations, although basic aspects of talks including date, location and facilitator remained undecided while neither govt nor Taliban announced representatives. Conflict activity significantly dropped countrywide during reduction in violence period. Taliban-related violence continued up to 22 Feb especially in northern rural areas: govt blamed Taliban for 11 Feb suicide attack in Charah-e-Qambar area of capital Kabul, which left four members of security forces and two civilians dead, insurgents denied responsibility; Taliban 3 Feb ambushed pro-govt militia in provincial capital Sar-i-Pul (north), killing its commander and five others; Taliban 10 Feb ambushed convoy of security forces travelling north from Kabul, killing three police officers and wounding 33 members of security forces in twelve-hour clash; Taliban abducted and then killed a govt employee and a former jihadi commander in Kunduz province (north) 2 Feb and a police officer in Faryab province (north) 7 Feb. Member of govt security forces 9 Feb killed two U.S. special forces soldiers in Nangarhar province (east). Prior to reduction in violence, U.S. airstrikes continued to cause numerous civilian casualties including 14 Feb airstrike on moving vehicle in Nangarhar, reportedly killing eight. Independent Election Commission 18 Feb announced final results of contested Sept 2019 presidential election, declaring President Ghani winner with 50.64% of vote, thereby avoiding run-off; same day, main opponent Abdullah Abdullah – officially declared runner-up with 39.52% – rejected result and vowed to form parallel govt, publicly encouraged by VP Rashid Dostum; opposition supporters end-Feb carried out protests in provincial capitals in north while govt deployed increased security forces in Kabul.
Security forces continued to arrest alleged members of banned militant groups while incidents of violence accompanied local election in capital Dhaka. Counter-terrorism police in Dhaka 4 Feb arrested 28-year-old woman, allegedly head of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) women’s branch, on charges of recruiting female members through social media. Paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 5 Feb arrested suspected JMB member in Dhaka, next day arrested two suspected Allahr Dal members in Kulna city. Police 10 Feb arrested five suspected members of Ansar-al Islam (formerly Ansarullah Bangla Team) in Dhaka accused of planning attack on Hindu temple in city. RAB 12 Feb arrested student and suspected Ansar-al Islam member in Sylhet’s Sagor Dighirpar area, next day detained alleged Allahr Dal member in Meherpur district. FM Momen 15 Feb told media that security forces had started construction of barbed wire fences around Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district to prevent refugees from leaving site. Sporadic violence accompanied 1 Feb Dhaka city corporation polls in which ruling-Awami League (AL) won both mayoral seats; in lead up to vote supporters of AL and opposition Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP) clashed while local media reported that on voting day activists of AL’s student wing allegedly attacked four journalists covering the elections. Chief Election Commissioner said turnout likely below 30%; BNP’s losing mayoral candidates 5 Feb called results “fabricated” and claimed turnout was under 10%, called for fresh elections and alleged mass rigging included intimidation and misuse of electronic voting machines.
Major Hindu-Muslim violence erupted in capital New Delhi following attack on protest by Muslims over controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA); at least 46 people killed. Violence and rioting 23-26 Feb broke out in several areas of north east Delhi leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured. Incidents started after statement 23 Feb made by leader of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) calling for removal of sit-in by anti-CAA protesters blocking a road; Hindu-Muslim clashes and rioting quickly ensued across multiple districts in north east Delhi with shops, houses and vehicles burnt in several locations, Hindu mobs 24-25 Feb torching four mosques in Ashok Nagar, Golakpuri and Mustafabad districts; many videos online show police standing idle and, in some cases, siding with the Hindu mobs. Authorities 24 Feb started banning gatherings of more than four people; over 7000 paramilitary troops deployed over several days in affected areas. Delhi High Court judge 26 Feb called on govt and police to do more to combat violence, govt same day transferred judge as part of “routine transfer”. PM Narendra Modi 26 Feb called for “peace and brotherhood”. By 29 Feb, 885 people arrested for their alleged role in Hindu-Muslim violence. Incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) 8 Feb defeated BJP in state assembly election in New Delhi; AAP won 62 of 70 seats allowing Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to retain his post for third successive term. U.S. President Trump 24 Feb met PM Modi during first official visit to country; Trump same day announced planned $3bn defence deal with India including provision of U.S. military helicopters. In Chhattisgarh, Maoists 10 Feb killed three members of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and injured five others in Bijapur district; Maoists 18 Feb killed a CPRF commando in gun battle in Sukma district; Police 19 Feb announced deaths of two suspected Maoists during clashes with security forces in Bastar region.
Amid continued clashes between Indian and Pakistani forces along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir), tensions remained high. Pakistan claimed Indian cross-LoC shelling killed two civilians 9 Feb, reportedly killed Indian soldier in retaliatory fire next day. Indian officials 25 Feb reported that Pakistani shelling along LoC same day injured two civilians; Pakistan 26 Feb claimed that India 25 Feb had violated ceasefire along LoC, injuring one civilian. Following heightened rhetoric between Islamabad and New Delhi over territory in late Jan, Turkish President Erdoğan 14 Feb expressed concern about India’s “unilateral steps” during trip to Islamabad, called for resolution through justice instead of “conflict or oppression”; in response, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar next day rejected statement, called on Turkey “to not interfere in India’s internal affairs and develop proper understanding”. In press conference with Pakistani FM Qureshi in Islamabad, UN Sec Gen Guterres 16 Feb expressed “deep concern” at heightened tensions, calling on India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” inside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and reiterating offer to mediate; New Delhi rejected offer with Kumar stating “there is no role or scope for third-party mediation”. Within J&K, authorities 6 Feb charged former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under controversial Public Safety Act, which allows detention for up to two years without charges, trials or judicial review; Abdullah’s family 10 Feb petitioned Supreme Court against decision. Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu observed complete shutdown following separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)’s call for strike. The first such strike call by a separatist group since India’s 5 Aug actions in Kashmir marked anniversaries of 9 Feb 2013 execution of Kashmiri militant accused of attacking the Indian parliament in 2001, and 11 Feb 1984 hanging of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat for 1966 alleged killing of Indian intelligence officer.
Fractures within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) over disputes surrounding senior leader Bam Dev Gautam dominated political discussions, fuelling growing tensions between PM KP Oli and his fellow party co-chair and former Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and adding to uncertainty about stability of current govt. Differences centered over a series of decisions potentially paving way for Gautam to ascend to prime ministership with Dahal’s backing. NCP central committee meeting 2 Feb appointed Gautam party vice-chairperson and party leaders 22 Feb formed task force led by former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal to work toward amending 2015 constitution to allow members of upper parliamentary house to be appointed PM; currently only lower house members can become PM. NCP secretariat meeting 26 Feb nominated Gautam for seat in upper house where 19 of 59 total members are due to be replaced by 3 Mar, Gautam had lost his parliamentary election contest in 2017 and is currently not an MP; Oli rejected Gautam’s nomination hours later, underscoring divisions within NCP leadership. Seventeen editors of Nepal’s leading news agencies issued statement 19 Feb defending press freedoms and condemning Chinese embassy for issuing threats in its 18 Feb communiqué, Chinese embassy had expressed dissatisfaction with op-ed printed in The Kathmandu Post criticising China’s response to Coronavirus outbreak, and threatened further action against paper’s chief editor.
Political tensions remained high amid concerns over govt’s anti-terrorism measures and crackdown on civil society-led Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) from former Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 21 Feb gave govt four-month extension to implement anti-terrorism financing measures with FATF keeping country on “grey-list” until new June deadline; previously, anti-terrorism court 12 Feb sentenced Jamaat-ud-Dawa (formerly Laskhar-e-Tayyaba) chief Hafiz Saeed and his aide to five and a half years imprisonment on two cases relating to terrorism financing, both plan to appeal. Govt’s anti-terrorism efforts questioned following 6 Feb release to local media of audio message in which former Pakistani Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed to have escaped from custody of security forces in Jan; Ehsan claimed he surrendered to security services in 2017 under agreement that included large financial reward and complete immunity from detention and prosecution, Ehsan reportedly stayed in security safe house in Peshawar city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK). Family of children killed in 2014 terror attack on army school in Peshawar – which killed some 150 and Ehsan accepted responsibility on Pakistani Taliban faction’s behalf – 8 Feb brought proceedings to Peshawar High court against senior govt and military officials for failing to prosecute Ehsan, while opposition leaders 10 Feb called for explanation of “mysterious escape”; interior minister 17 Feb confirmed Ehsan no longer in custody but gave no further details. Following 27 Jan arrest of PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen in Peshawar on charges ranging from sedition to hate speech in five separate cases and 28 Jan detention of some thirty PTM supporters and activists demonstrating in capital Islamabad against arrest, Islamabad High Court’s chief justice 3 Feb granted bail to detainees and questioned charges of sedition and terrorism brought against peaceful protesters, while district court in KPK 15 Feb granted bail to Pashteen. Militant-related violence continued including attacks on health workers; in KPK’s Dera Ismail Khan district, police officer guarding polio vaccination team killed 18 Feb. In Balochistan’s capital Quetta, terror attack on mosque killed police officer 5 Feb and suicide attack reportedly near rally of banned sectarian group Alhe Sunnat Wal Jamaat killed at least ten 17 Feb, including two police officers.
Govt of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa continued efforts to reverse previous govt’s modest efforts to investigate past abuses and strengthen independence of police, judiciary and oversight commissions. In media interview PM Mahinda Rajapaksa 9 Feb reiterated plans to strengthen presidential powers by removing 19th amendment of constitution. FM Dinesh Gunawardena 26 Feb informed UN Human Rights Council govt was withdrawing its co-sponsorship of Oct 2015 council resolution on “Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka”, stated resolution had not received cabinet or parliamentary approval and certain clauses contravened Sri Lankan constitution; promised govt would establish “an inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process”. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 14 Feb announced travel ban on Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva and his immediate family for his alleged role in “gross violations of human rights” during final phases of civil war; Foreign Ministry 16 Feb rejected allegations during meeting with U.S. Ambassador. Police 4 Feb arrested former Sri Lankan Airlines Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena and his wife following new evidence of alleged bribes by Airbus to Sri Lankan Airlines officials under previous Rajapaksa govt; evidence emerged from British court proceedings following 4-year investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption. Police 14 Feb arrested former ambassador to Russia and Rajapaksa relative, Udayanga Weerathunga, for alleged role in fraudulent purchase of Ukrainian MiG fighter jets for Sri Lankan Air Force in 2006; magistrate 16 Feb denied bail after criticising police for apparent attempt to weaken prosecution case. Opposition United National Party parliamentarian Eran Wickremaratne 20 Feb criticised police questioning of several journalists and seizure of their phone records without warrant, accusing govt and police of attempting to frame prominent journalists and officials over Nov 2019 diplomatic incident. Parliamentary Oversight Committee on National Security 20 Feb issued report on potential security reforms to address shortcomings related to 2019 Easter bombings, recommendations include ban of face veils, suspension of registration of political parties on ethnic or religious bases, amendments to Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, and incorporation of madrassas into normal school system under Ministry of Education.
Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Mahfud 11 Feb said President Joko Widodo and cabinet decided not to repatriate 689 citizens who had joined Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, due to potential security threat to public; Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko 13 Feb said their citizenship “had been automatically lost following their decision to join the terrorist movement in Syria” fuelling concerns about leaving them effectively stateless.
Clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and military continued, further rendering unlikely Rohingya refugee repatriation. In Rakhine State, AA and military confrontation resulted in several incidents; in most serious clash, village school 13 Feb hit by mortar fire, reportedly injuring twenty children in Buthidaung township, in Maungdaw district; military spokesman next day denied responsibility and blamed AA, who in turn blamed military; in early Feb, some 1,100 villagers also fled from twenty villages in same area due to shelling. Govt 3 Feb re-imposed ban lifted on 31 Aug 2019 on mobile internet services for three months in five townships in Rakhine and southern Chin States – Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Myebon and Paletwa – due to “security requirements and public interest”; four other townships in Rakhine State have been under internet shutdown since June 2019.
Violence between Islamic State militants and military continued while clashes involving communist rebels occurred in the north and south. In the south, gunshot 7 Feb wounded one military personnel in suspected attack of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao province; Abu Sayyaf militants 11 Feb kidnapped a doctor allegedly to treat a sick leader in Sulu province; suspected bomb expert working for BIFF killed following 12 Feb clash with security forces in Pikit village, North Cotabato province; two BIFF members 21 Feb killed in firefight with military in Maguindanao province; two suspected Abu Sayyaf militants 23 Feb killed by military in Patikul, in Sulu province. Amidst stagnant peace talks with communist rebels, several clashes between military and communist insurgents took place in Luzon and Mindanao throughout month: seven New People’s Army (NPA) suspected rebels 14 Feb killed in clashes with military in Isabela and Ilocos Sur provinces; exchange of fire between local police officers and communist rebels same day in San Narciso, in Quezon province, left two police wounded. Decommissioning process of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members continued with 10,000 combatants successfully decommissioned and more than 1,500 out of 2,000 firearms turned over between late Sept 2019 and Feb 2020. Govt 24 Feb arrested 38 alleged MILF members in possession of weapons in Talakag city, Bukidnon province in Northern Mindanao; most have now been released. Cotabato City Mayor Guiani-Sayadi 7 Feb submitted position paper to President Duterte requesting that Cotabato City be excluded from Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) until end of transition period on 30 June 2022, initial government position stipulated turnover of city will occur in Dec 2020. President Duterte 11 Feb announced termination of 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which provides for procedures over treatment of U.S. forces inside country.
South China Sea
Following China’s incursion in Jan into Indonesian exclusive economic zone, Japanese govt 14 Feb announced provision of $20 million in funding to Indonesia in order to upgrade its national coast guard, along with fishery patrol vessel, in effort to promote Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”. Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Philip Davidson 13 Feb said at meeting in Sydney, Australia, that China is “seek[ing] to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics and the way of life in the Indo-Pacific”. Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu 15 Feb called on U.S. and Europe “to not bring proxy wars to Asia, especially in the South China Sea” during Munich Security Conference in Germany. U.S. and India 25 Feb issued joint statement noting “efforts toward a meaningful Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and solemnly urged that it not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of all nations according to international law”.
Domestic political tensions continued with ban of opposition Future Forward Party (FFP) and controversies over role of military in commercial activities. Constitutional Court 21 Feb ruled that opposition party FFP illegally accepted loan from party founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in violation of Political Parties Organic Law; court 21 Feb dissolved FFP, imposing 10-year ban from political activity for sixteen party executives, including Thanathorn and Secretary General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, giving 60 days to remaining 65 MPs to join another party. University and high school students staged series of demonstrations on campuses and elsewhere to protest FFP dissolution and called for govt to step down. In Nakhon Ratchasima city, north east Thailand, non-commissioned army officer 8-9 Feb staged mass shooting, killing commanding officer, mother-in-law, soldier and 29 people, before 9 Feb being killed by police. Incident raised questions among observers about army’s professionalism and involvement in commercial activities; Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong 11 Feb vowed to eliminate officers’ financial links with subordinates and transfer control of a range of profit-seeking enterprises, including golf courses and boxing venues, to Treasury Department; Thanathorn 16 Feb urged Gen Apirat to end military involvement in all commercial operations. Following Jan controversy over reported proxy voting during parliamentary vote on budget bill, Constitutional Court 7 Feb ruled 5-4 that parliament should conduct new vote on bill; budget passed 13 Feb. Incidents of violence continued in deep south with series of militant attacks. Motorcycle-borne gunmen 10 Feb killed Malay-Muslim in Muang district, in Yala; gunman 13 Feb killed Malay-Muslim man in Sungai Kolok district, in Narathiwat; small bomb 17 Feb exploded in front of school with no casualties in Nong Chik district, in Pattani; gunmen same day killed Malay-Muslim civilian enrolled in army-sponsored jobs project in drive-by shooting in Khok Pho district, in Pattani; security forces 22-23 Feb killed six militants and seized seven small arms and improvised explosive device rigged to motorcycle after gun battle in Cho Airong district, Narathiwat.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Clash between lawmakers from mainly Serb territorial entity Republika Srpska (RS) and Constitutional Court led Serb representatives to walk out of state-level institutions. Constitutional Court 7 Feb ruled that Law on Agricultural Land passed by RS was unconstitutional; law stipulated that public agricultural land formerly owned by Yugoslav state should be RS property. In reaction, representatives of all Serb parties 12 Feb walked out of state-level institutions, suspending most govt work; they objected to presence of three foreign judges in Constitutional Court and called for adoption of Constitutional Court law which excludes foreign judges. Bosniak leaders condemned Serb representatives’ actions, saying that disrespect for Constitutional Court’s decisions constituted violation of 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. Serb member of three-person Bosnian presidency Milorad Dodik 13 Feb said RS was heading toward “leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina [...] because we believe that the Dayton agreement has been broken, primarily by the intervention of an international factor”. In Banja Luka, de facto capital of RS, Serb lawmakers 17 Feb voted (72 votes to two) to formally suspend work of RS representatives in state-level institutions; gave govt sixty days to reform Constitutional Court and end foreign judges’ mandates. Dodik 20 Feb voted against all items on state-level presidential agenda, blocking decision-making in govt.
Kosovo and Serbia continued to normalise bilateral relations and parliament approved new govt. President Thaçi and Serbian President Vučić 14 Feb signed agreement to restore rail and road connections on margins of Munich Security Conference in Germany and under U.S. mediation. New PM Kurti 27 Feb announced provisional 90-day suspension of tariffs on raw materials imported from Serbia from 15 March as sign of “goodwill” to urge Serbia to halt campaign against recognition of Kosovo’s statehood. Two main parties in ruling coalition, Vetëvendosje (Self Determination) and Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), 2 Feb agreed that new coalition govt would have fewer ministries (fifteen instead of 21) and would prioritise reciprocal trade, economic and political measures toward Serbia. With 66 of possible 120 votes, parliament 3 Feb approved new govt, confirming Kurti’s appointment as PM and ending three-month political deadlock; MPs from Serb minority party Srpska Lista reportedly abstained from vote. PM Kurti 26 Feb wrote in letter to parliament that President Thaçi violated constitution by signing in 2013 “secret agreement” with NATO to limit powers of national security forces; agreement gave NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo “absolute veto powers” over all security force actions in Serb-dominated areas in north. In anti-corruption efforts, govt withdrew several decisions of former govt which new FM Konjufca described as “unlawful”, and dismissed board of state-owned company Kosovo Telecom on allegations of corruption.
During Munich Security Conference in Germany, French President Macron 8 Feb said he was ready to lift French opposition to opening of EU accession negotiations, pending positive results in European Commission’s report on North Macedonia suitability for EU accession due in March. PM of caretaker govt Spasovski 18 Feb urged EU to start accession talks before April elections, saying delay “stimulates the people to lose faith in the European perspective”. Parliament 15 Feb passed legislation (with required minimum of 80 out of 120 votes) proposed by ruling Social Democrat party and strongly supported by EU, which gives control over cases of major corruption and organised crime to public prosecution office; opposition VMRO-DPMNE party objected to manner of vote. FM Dimitrov 9 Feb said labour minister and VMRO-DPMNE member Rashela Mizrahi was jeopardising country’s Euro-Atlantic future after she appeared in press conference next to sign reading Republic of Macedonia, in violation of terms of 2018 agreement with Greece on country’s name; Mizrahi claimed she was correcting “injustice” given her party’s opposition to deal; parliament 23 Feb voted 62-26 to dismiss Mizrahi for violating constitution. Parliament 11 Feb unanimously ratified agreement to make North Macedonia member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), opening way for ratification by NATO members.
President Đukanović continued to oppose Serbian Orthodox Church over controversial Dec 2019 Freedom of Confession Act, as Church followers sustained mass protests against law. Đukanović 4 Feb instructed members of ruling Democratic Party of Socialists to stay away from Church-organised protests, threatening expulsion from party for any politicians caught participating. PM Marković 14 Feb met with senior bishop to review religious law; Church delegates offered list of alterations to law including withdrawal of section requiring registration of all religious sites in Montenegro; govt reported “constructive and open atmosphere” of talks. Church officials claimed over 100,000 followers protested nationwide 16 Feb against new law; thousands marched against law again 29 Feb. Đukanović 27 Feb claimed Serbia and Russia were using protests to weaken govt and impede Montenegro’s application for EU membership; Belgrade and Moscow denied.
Yerevan city court 25 Feb started investigation into case of former President Sargsyan accused of involvement in embezzlement of over $1mn of govt funds allocated in 2013 to subsidise diesel fuel for farmers in rural regions. Sargsyan dismissed corruption charges as politically motivated.
According to preliminary results, ruling party won most seats in 9 Feb snap parliamentary elections, and election monitors found significant procedural faults. According to early election results released by Central Election Commission (CEC) 10 Feb, only one independent candidate won seat in new 125-seat parliament, while over 70 MPs, mainly long-time govt loyalists, kept their seats. CEC same day reported 47% voter turnout, but independent observers estimated it to be less than 15%. Preliminary report from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission 10 Feb noted “significant procedural violations” in vote counting and tabulation. After polls, political parties and independent candidates filed complaints with CEC. President Aliyev 11 Feb said there was no reason to doubt results. CEC annulled results in four constituencies 13 Feb, where new elections to be held. Crowd 16 Feb protested against alleged electoral fraud in front of CEC building.
After Raul Khajimba resigned from his position as leader of Abkhazia in Jan, three candidates registered for snap presidential elections scheduled for 22 March, including front runner opposition leader Aslan Bzhania. Food shortages worsened in South Ossetia, caused by Russia’s hike in customs to align them with those of Eurasian Economic Union which considers South Ossetia a “foreign state”. Georgia 20 Feb accused Main Directorate of General Staff of Russia’s armed forces of major cyber-attack 28 Oct that targeted hundreds of govt, NGO, company and individual websites; Russia denied involvement.
Ceasefire violations in conflict zone remained at low ebb but Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders used hostile rhetoric. Azerbaijani president and Armenian PM 15 Feb met on sidelines of Munich Security Conference in Germany, and in first ever public debate on NK issue expressed irreconcilable positions on history of conflict; domestic audiences in Baku and Yerevan considered their leader to have won debate. Azerbaijan same day reported death of one of its soldiers at line of contact. International Committee of Red Cross 19 Feb evacuated remains of Azerbaijani soldier, who went missing in mined area close to military positions at border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan 24 Feb reported one of its border guards killed in exchange of fire with Armenian army near Gazakh region. Joint meeting of de-facto NK and Armenia Security Councils 22 Feb discussed security situation in conflict zone. Armenia 17 Feb reported record number of at least thirteen non-combat deaths in army since 1 Jan mainly due to poor conditions in military facilities in conflict zone; in response, govt dismissed two senior officials in Armenian defence ministry and de facto NK govt 24 Feb replaced its defence minister.
After President Putin proposed in Jan constitutional changes reportedly aimed at shifting power balance between president, cabinet and parliament, working group overseeing voting process late Feb said that parliament would first approve legislation and then citizens would be asked in 22 April vote to say whether they agree with proposed amendments. Russian court 10 Feb sentenced seven members of anarchist and anti-fascist groups to six to eighteen years in prison for alleged plans in 2015 to form militant groups to attack law enforcement authorities, govt buildings, military offices and HQ of pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Defendants at first confessed to allegations, but later retracted testimonies saying authorities had extracted them by torture. Independent body, Public Monitoring Commission, later confirmed suspects had been tortured; lawyers, artists and public figures signed petitions protesting prosecution, while members of Kremlin public councils lodged official complaints. In North Caucasus, twelve more people were detained 5 Feb for taking part in demonstrations in Magas, capital of Ingushetia, in March 2019; nine of them were released after questioning, while three remained in detention end-month.
Amid heightened tensions with Russia following President Lukashenko’s declaration in Jan that Belarus would seek oil elsewhere following halt of Russian oil supplies, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 1 Feb said during historic visit to Minsk that U.S. stands ready to deliver all Belarussian oil needs at competitive prices. Lukashenko and Russian President Putin 7 Feb met in Sochi, Russia, but failed to reach agreement on oil supplies; Lukashenko 14 Feb was quoted saying that during Sochi meeting, Russian leadership had hinted at “incorporation of Belarus [into Russia] in return for unified energy prices”. Amid shortages of crude oil and oil products, state energy company Belneftekhim 11 Feb started tapping oil from Russia’s Druzhba pipeline to Europe. Lukashenko 14 Feb said Belarus would siphon off oil from Druzhba pipeline unless Moscow restarted supplies of crude oil. In sign of potential progress in talks, Lukashenko 21 Feb said Putin had offered $300mn to compensate for Belarus’s reported $330mn loss in 2019 that resulted from 1 Jan 2019 change in Russian oil taxation. Russia 21 Feb said proposals by Russian companies had been sent to Minsk laying out pricing of future oil supplies and that Moscow was ready to keep same oil supply terms as in 2019; Lukashenko 21 Feb said “it was an unexpected proposal”.
Violence increased in Donbas conflict zone, while Moscow and Kyiv remained split on measures to enable local elections there in Oct. Clashes between govt forces and Russia-backed fighters spiked at contact line near Zolote disengagement area in Luhansk region 18 Feb and clashes erupted periodically near Svitlodarsk city and Shyrokyne village in Donetsk region. According to govt and independent Ukrainian sources, Russia-backed fighters 18 Feb stormed army observation post set up in Jan in buffer zone between opposing positions. Citing attack, govt adviser Serhiy Sivokho postponed launch of National Platform for Dialogue and Unity scheduled for 19 Feb. Four govt soldiers and 16-38 Russian-backed troops killed during month according to various Ukrainian sources, and two civilians injured in non-govt-held territory according to Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe. FM Prystaiko 20 Feb told UN General Assembly that govt believed deployment of UN peacekeepers to uncontrolled part of border with Russia could enable local elections in Donbas in Oct. Russian FM Lavrov 26 Feb said that Kyiv had failed to fulfil 9 Dec Normandy Summit commitments, including those paving way to elections, precluding plans for next summit on conflict. Kremlin’s spokesman 11 Feb said Deputy Head of Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak will take over responsibility for “Ukrainian affairs and integration issues” while in Ukraine Andriy Yermak, who is in bilateral talks with Kozak, replaced Andriy Bohdan as Head of Presidential Office 11 Feb. Three Western think tanks and one Russian group 14 Feb published “Twelve Steps” plan on de-escalation in Ukraine ahead of Munich Security Conference in Germany; FM Prystaiko assailed plan’s lack of reference to international law, Ukrainian opposition denounced plan as pro-Kremlin; Myrotvorets site, linked to prominent officials, added signatories to database of “pro-Russian terrorists”; sources close to Kremlin described plan as out of step with Moscow’s positions.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı 6 Feb said Cyprus faces risk of permanent partition if Turkish and Greek Cypriot parties fail to reach deal under federal framework; Akıncı said that if no deal is made Turkey could subsume northern part of island as de facto Turkish province; his remarks drew harsh criticism from Ankara. UN Sec-Gen 24 Feb confirmed his intention to relaunch Cyprus reunification talks after April presidential election in “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. As tensions persisted between Turkey and Republic of Cyprus over drilling for hydrocarbons in Eastern Mediterranean, European Council 4 Feb imposed travel bans and asset freezes on two Turkish nationals involved in drilling business; EU 27 Feb imposed sanctions on Turkish Petroleum Corporation’s VP and Deputy Director of Exploration. Turkey 9 Feb acquired from UK its third offshore drilling vessel; drillship set to join two Turkish vessels operating in Eastern Mediterranean, including in maritime zones claimed by Republic of Cyprus.
Northern Ireland (UK)
Deputy leader of Sinn Féin Michelle O’Neill 11 Jan said she and her party “will not be deterred” following warnings by police that dissident republicans are planning attacks against her and Northern Ireland Assembly member Gerry Kelly.
In Syria’s Idlib province, fighting escalated between Turkish troops and Syrian rebels on one side and Russian-backed regime forces on other, leaving at least 54 Turkish troops dead; Turkey continued to ship arms to Libya and military maintained low-level operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In Syria, as Russian-backed regime offensive to take Idlib province continued to drive displaced people toward Turkish border, Turkey reinforced its troops. Syrian regime attacks and Russian airstrikes left eighteen Turkish soldiers and three civilian contractors dead early Feb. Following killing of seven Turkish soldiers and one contractor 3 Feb, President Erdoğan gave Syrian regime forces until end of Feb to withdraw behind Turkish observation posts and threatened direct military action. Russian FM 19 Feb announced failure of Russia-Turkey talks to reach agreement over Idlib. After Turkish-backed Syrian rebels 26 Feb recaptured strategic town of Saraqib, Erdoğan same day vowed to “liberate” remaining Turkish observation posts encircled by Syrian regime. Suspected Syrian regime airstrike (possibly backed by Russia) 27 Feb killed at least 33 Turkish troops in Idlib province; Turkey said that in subsequent days it targeted hundreds of regime soldiers in retaliatory strikes. Turkish official 28 Feb announced Ankara would no longer prevent refugees in Turkey from entering Europe; Greek police 29 Feb used tear gas to disperse group of people attempting to cross Greek-Turkish border, flow of people to Greek islands also increased. As Turkey continued to ship military equipment to Libya to support Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces, Turkey 18 Feb criticised EU foreign ministers’ decision previous day to launch naval mission to enforce UN arms embargo on grounds that Haftar’s allies would still be able to deliver support by land and air. Erdoğan 25 Feb confirmed deaths of two Turkish soldiers in Libya. Military continued small-scale operations against PKK militants in south east and reportedly carried out airstrike targeting PKK militants in northern Iraq.
Eleven people killed in ethnic violence in south, while police detained dozens of people participating in opposition protests. Violence erupted in several villages in Zhambyl province in south between ethnic Kazakhs and minority Dungans 7-8 Feb following alleged road-rage incident; eleven killed, reportedly mostly Dungan, and dozens wounded, tens of properties and vehicles also destroyed, and more than 23,000 mostly Dungan fled, including at least 4,500 into Kyrgyzstan’s Chui region, with some reportedly returning in subsequent days. In response, govt dismissed many senior regional officials and launched inquiry. Police 18 Feb arrested three Dungan brothers allegedly involved in road-rage incident, charged with assaulting police officers. Amid ongoing anti-govt protests, authorities mid-Feb reportedly harassed supporters of newly-founded opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan. Party leader Zhanbolat Mamay announced rally in Almaty 22 Feb; police detained him 21 Feb, while Deputy Prosecutor-General 20 Feb called on citizens not to take part in rally of opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Police 22 Feb detained over 100 people planning to attend unauthorised opposition rallies across country. More protests broke out following death in custody 24 Feb of civil rights activist Dulat Aghadil, who had been arrested for contempt of court; authorities claimed he died from heart failure, but protesters took to streets across country 25-26 Feb demanding more information; video emerged 27 Feb allegedly showing Aghadil’s body with bruises and injuries. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 2 Feb met President Tokayev, former President Nazarbayev and FM Mukhtar Tleuberdi in capital Nur-Sultan; Pompeo lauded Kazakhstan’s “real reforms” while praising govt for not repatriating ethnic Kazakhs from China who sought refuge in Kazakhstan. Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Uzbekistan 3 Feb (see Uzbekistan).
Tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan heightened following 12 Feb provocative statement by police chief in Tajikistan’s Sughd region that Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region “historically had never been a land of Kyrgyz”; prompted outcry among Kyrgyz officials and citizens. FM met with Tajikistan ambassador 14 Feb, while Tajikistan FM 18 Feb said statement not Dushanbe’s official position. Following mid-Jan joint protocol, Kyrgyz and Tajik joint working group 24 Feb reportedly agreed to swap 23 hectares of land along disputed border segment. After ethnic violence erupted in Kazakhstan’s Zhambyl region 7-8 Feb (see Kazakhstan), at least 4,500 people – mostly ethnic Dungans – fled across border to Chui region in north, some reportedly returning in subsequent days. Hundreds of people 17 Feb protested near At-Bashi village in central Naryn region against Chinese investment project; authorities next day announced cancellation of project. U.S. Sec State Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Uzbekistan 3 Feb (see Uzbekistan). Deputy chief of armed forces 13 Feb confirmed deployment of Russian air-and-missile-defence system to Kant base in north.
Amid tensions with Kyrgyzstan, FM distanced govt from provocative statement by police chief of Sughd region which prompted outcry in Kyrgyzstan (see Kyrgyzstan). Following mid-Jan joint protocol, Kyrgyz and Tajik joint working group 24 Feb reportedly agreed to swap 23 hectares of land along disputed border segment. International NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 6 Feb condemned arrest of journalist Daler Sharifov on charges of inciting ethnic or religious discord; Prosecutor-General 1 Feb accused Sharifov of publishing “more than 200 articles and notes of extremist content and nature aimed at inciting religious intolerance”. Prosecutor-General 28 Jan announced efforts to extradite four Tajikistani militants linked to Islamic State (ISIS) attacks and recruitment in Syria; marks first time govt has sought extradition of former fighters. U.S. Sec State Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Uzbekistan 3 Feb (see Uzbekistan).
President Berdymukhammedov 3 Feb confirmed allocation of $1.5bn for import of materials and equipment needed for construction of new city in southern region Ahal. In cabinet reshuffle, Berdymukhammedov appointed his son Serdar to head Ministry of Industry and Construction; other changes included new national security minister, finance minister and deputy PM. Govt 24 Feb published draft bill on constitutional reforms amid speculation about Berdymukhammedov’s health and succession plans; amendment would create second chamber of parliament, reserving seats for former presidents in new upper chamber. RFE/RL’s Turkmen service Radio Azatlyk 10 Feb reported shepherds in eastern Turkmenistan frequently witnessing armed militants crossing from Afghanistan. U.S. Sec State Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Uzbekistan 3 Feb (see Uzbekistan).
U.S. Sec State Pompeo 3 Feb met President Mirziyoyev and FM Abdulaziz Kamilov in capital Tashkent; Pompeo praised Uzbekistan’s “progress” on human rights issues. Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Tashkent same day, where they discussed Central Asian contributions to peace process in Afghanistan, border security, and regional efforts to improve economic and energy connectivity. Deputy Prosecutor-General Svetlana Artykova in 7 Feb interview with Uzbek news agency admitted govt made “mistakes” in 2005 Andijon killings that killed hundreds of civilians; reportedly first such admission by govt official, with Artykova citing “new style of politics” as reason for remarks now. Clashes erupted between police and residents of village in south 14 Feb over planned demolition of homes; three people injured, including two police. Interior Ministry 19 Feb announced detention of 21 suspected supporters of banned Islamist militant group Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which operates in Syria. Govt 20 Feb announced plan that will force Facebook, Google and Russian search engine Yandex to store personal data of Uzbek users within territory of Uzbekistan; critics view law as attempt to impose greater control over Internet users. Supreme Court 25 Feb jailed two former high-level officials on corruption charges, including former Prosecutor-General and former chief of State Security Service.
Latin America & Caribbean
Political tensions continued ahead of 3 May general elections rerun. After former President Morales, in exile in Argentina, early Feb registered as Senate candidate, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 20 Feb barred him from running on grounds that he does not reside in country. Morales 21 Feb denounced U.S. interference and “blow to democracy”, said he would appeal to Constitutional Court and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). TSE 20 Feb approved presidential candidacy of Morales’ party Movement toward Socialism nominee Luis Arce. Interim President Áñez 21 Feb demanded IACHR remove two members of its Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts created in late 2019 to investigate recent violence and human rights violations, Juan Méndez and Patricia Tappatá Valdez, claiming they are sympathetic to Morales. Attorney General 19 Feb opened criminal proceedings against Morales for alleged electoral fraud during Oct 2019 presidential election. Judge 2 Feb ordered six-month pre-trial detention of Morales’ legal representative on terrorism charges.
Anti-govt protests continued. President Piñera 4 Feb released roadmap of policy priorities for 2020 including constitutional reform, public order and pension system reform, which constitute central demand of protestors. Demonstrators 7 Feb burned down museum in capital Santiago and convened new mobilisations for first week of March, as school year resumes and country commemorates victims of military dictatorship; dozens of masked protestors 23 Feb clashed with police outside music festival in Viña del Mar, targeting public building and looting local shops; at least 23 police officers injured and fifteen people arrested. EU foreign policy chief Borrell 13 Feb expressed concerns over “disproportionate response” of police after clashes with protesters left four dead late Jan. Govt 13 Feb said 2,600 policemen would receive training in coming weeks on how to minimise abuses. Senate 4 Feb voted down indictment against Santiago’s Intendent Felipe Guevara, accused of violating constitutional right to free association by filling central square with 1,400 troops to prevent demonstrations in Dec 2019. Attorney General 19 Feb opened investigation into Director General of Police Mario Rozas over allegations of crimes against humanity in handling of recent protests. Campaign for 26 April plebiscite on constitutional reform started 26 Feb.
Violence flared in west and east as armed groups held “armed strike”, while clashes elsewhere continued to lead to mass displacement. National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) groups 14-17 Feb held “armed strike” to protest against govt in all territories under their control, particularly in Cauca (south west), Norte de Santander (north east) and Arauca (east) provinces, designating as “military target” any shop opening or vehicle moving without permission. Military recorded 119 planned attacks in total during strike – of which it thwarted 94 – particularly in Cauca: seven people killed 17 Feb in Rosas when their van exploded – security forces disputed initial reports of car bomb; four members of indigenous community assassinated 14-18 Feb, three in Buenos Aires and one in Miranda, prompting indigenous authorities to activate early warning systems in six autonomous territories in Cauca; armed forces 17 Feb said they defused twelve explosive devices likely left by FARC dissident “Nuevo Sexto” front in Cauca alone during strike. Military 16 Feb clashed with ELN faction in Convención, Norte de Santander, one army captain killed. President Duque 14 Feb said ELN acts such as armed strike shut door to possible govt-ELN negotiations on demobilisation, disarmament and reinsertion. In Chocó (west) and Nariño (south west) provinces, violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and ELN continued to lead to displacement; notably, 1,600 were displaced from rural areas to towns in Roberto Payán, Nariño early Feb. After govt late Jan announced two new special permits for Venezuelans to stay in Colombia, UN refugee agency 4 Feb welcomed move, said 100,000 Venezuelans may qualify. National protests against pension reform, lack of education funding, political corruption, perceived failure to advance 2016 peace accord with FARC, and to prevent killing of rights activists restarted 21 Feb with demonstrations in major cities.
Political standoff continued as opposition leader Juan Guaidó consolidated international standing and govt held military drills, while U.S. launched new sanctions targeting govt. Guaidó 11 Feb returned from foreign tour in which leaders of Colombia, UK, France, Germany, U.S. and EU foreign policy chief received him as head of state; security forces did not arrest Guaidó although he had left country in defiance of travel ban, but anti-Guaidó demonstrators at airport beat and robbed journalists trying to cover his return, authorities arrested Guaidó’s uncle – who was travelling with him – on accusations of bringing explosives into country and 17 Feb suspended operations in country of airline which had carried him home on same accusations. Govt 15-16 Feb held nationwide military exercises involving both army and civilian militia, volunteer reservist force created by former President Chavez and formally incorporated to regular forces in early Feb, with President Maduro claiming involvement of 2.3mn troops, while security forces deployed Russian-built surface-to-air missiles near Caracas international airport and at eastern Caracas air base; Maduro 17 Feb said exercises would continue indefinitely. U.S. 7 Feb announced sanctions against state-run airline Conviasa and 17 Feb against trading arm of Russian state-linked oil company Rosneft, reportedly responsible for 70% of Venezuela’s oil exports and supplying govt with oil products; in response, Maduro 18 Feb declared oil industry emergency and named presidential commission headed by former VP Tareck El Aissami to restructure sector. Authorities late Feb announced they would allow companies to raise capital in foreign currency as Maduro liberalises economy. Despite ongoing disagreement on who presides National Assembly, govt and opposition 26 Feb agreed on composition of parliamentary committee to propose new members of electoral authority.
New govt of President Giammattei, inaugurated in Jan, continued anti-corruption drive and focused on security issues. In attempt to purge civil service of ghost jobs – salaries collected without work being performed – govt 10 Feb said census to verify extent of phenomenon was ongoing. Security also high on govt agenda; following Jan declaration of State of Prevention – allowing emergency measures aimed at fighting crime – in Mixco and San Juan Sacatepéquez cities, Giammattei announced further State of Prevention in cities of Chimaltenango 5 Feb and in Escuintla 14 Feb; authorities reported 76 people arrested in Chimaltenango by 10 Feb and at least 50 in Escuintla by 20 Feb. Congressional committee 4 Feb began examining bill to designate gangs as terrorist groups, part of Giammattei’s electoral pledge, however Human Rights Ombudsman previous day said it had yet to make sure bill does not violate human rights, while civil society group Diálogos 4 Feb criticised it for being applicable to many social groups. Congress 11 Feb passed controversial bill allowing authorities to sanction NGOs which disturb public order, sparking criticism from civil society, indigenous communities and U.S.; Giammattei 27 Feb signed bill into law. Amid regional concern on migration, govt 5 Feb signed agreement with UN to improve management of migration flows; govt late Jan said several annexes to July 2019 Asylum Cooperation Agreement with U.S. had not been signed, and procedures for receiving asylum seekers still had to be negotiated. Court in U.S. 11 Feb sentenced former presidential candidate Mario Estrada to fifteen years in prison for financing election campaign with drug-trafficking money.
Concerns over anti-corruption mechanisms persisted while insecurity continued in prisons. Following Jan expiration of mandate of Organization of American States (OAS)-backed Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and attorney general’s establishment of Specialized Fiscal Unit Against Corruption Networks (UFERCO) to replace anti-corruption unit affiliated to MACCIH, director of govt agency National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) 7 Feb denounced UFERCO as hollow institution lacking tools to combat corruption; joint CNA and NGO FOSDEH report released 6 Feb alleged country loses 65bn lempiras (around$2.5bn) per year due to corruption, amounting to 12% of GDP. Prosecutors 11 Feb arrested General Commissioner of Police and his wife on charges of money laundering. As prison insecurity persisted despite state of emergency in prisons declared in Dec following tide of killings, govt 3 Feb announced agreement with OAS to reform prison system. Some twenty MS-13 gang members 13 Feb stormed into El Progreso court building and released prominent gang leader known as “El Porky”, killing four police officers. In other violence, three political leaders from ruling National Party of Honduras allegedly close to VP Ricardo Álvarez’s faction, critical of President Hernández, were killed in Tegucigalpa and Comayagüela 30 Jan and 4 Feb. Tony Hernández – president’s brother awaiting sentencing in U.S. after being found guilty of drug trafficking in Oct – 14 Feb announced he could not continue paying lawyers, prompting court to postpone verdict initially expected 24 Feb to 15 April.
Tensions between govt and Legislative Assembly (LA) escalated, fuelling fears of President Bukele’s possible authoritarian drift. After opposition Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) 4 Feb announced it would not approve $109mn loan to buy security equipment over concerns of transparency of tendering process, govt 6 Feb summoned LA to 9 Feb extraordinary session to vote on loan, with Bukele warning deputies that not convening would be unconstitutional; on day of vote, 23 out of 84 deputies attended, while Bukele deployed dozens of military and police officers around LA and in its plenary chamber, later giving lawmakers a week to approve loan. Journalists covering events reported press restrictions and lawmakers denounced withdrawal of their protections and alleged harassment by security forces. Opposition, civil society, EU and U.S. decried events and called for dialogue, while Supreme Court 10 Feb declared unconstitutional Bukele’s move to summon extraordinary session and requested him to abstain from political use of military. Hundreds of pro-govt protesters 16 Feb gathered outside LA to pressure lawmakers into approving loan, giving them another two-week ultimatum. Attorney general (AG) continued investigation into ARENA and Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) high-level officials over alleged electoral fraud and illicit associations; judge 6 Feb requested AG expand list of those under investigation to include former presidents Funes and Sánchez Cerén. Govt insisted on security achievements including 4 Feb dismantling of drug trafficking group in La Paz department. Bukele reported smallest number of homicides in Jan since end of civil war in 1992. LA 26 Feb approved controversial “reconciliation law” establishing transitional justice procedures for crimes committed during country’s civil war (1980-1992); rights groups called it “amnesty law in disguise” and Bukele said he would veto it.
Under international scrutiny for human rights abuses, govt alternated between harassment of opposition and good-will gestures, while opposition sustained efforts to create united front. Customs authorities 6 Feb released paper and ink belonging to La Prensa newspaper, critical of govt, which had been held since late 2018. Authorities 13 Feb released 1,000 prisoners including eight political prisoners; opposition said 61 political prisoners remain in jail. Govt continued to harass opposition: after Central American University students 3 Feb staged protest requesting release of all political prisoners, govt supporters threatened them and police 6 Feb temporarily detained some; govt supporters 10 Feb pursued and threatened members of opposition platform Civic Alliance holding meeting in Chontales, reportedly firing gunshots. Following late-Jan attack on indigenous community in North Atlantic region that left at least four dead, UN human rights office 7 Feb called for investigation of attack and 40 other murders of indigenous peoples in region since 2015. National Assembly 11 Feb approved creation of four national suppliers of energy and fuel reportedly in attempt to replace U.S.-sanctioned Albanisa and DNP Petronic. Ahead of 2021 elections, opposition platforms and parties 13 Feb released joint statement calling for electoral reforms, as Organization of American States and govt’s 2017 MoU on electoral reforms expired 28 Feb with no progress made. Opposition platforms Civic Alliance and Blue and White National Unity 25 Feb officially launched “National Coalition”, involving four political parties and peasant movement.
Political crisis persisted as President Moïse continued to rule by decree and two-thirds of Senate remained empty. Two rounds of dialogue between govt and opposition mediated by church 30 Jan-1 Feb and 14 Feb failed to produce agreement: opposition remained intransigent on demand that Moïse resign and on reducing length of presidential term; Moïse 7 Feb in interview with Associated Press accepted opposition’s latter demand on condition of constitutional reform strengthening presidential powers. After several senators filed lawsuit against Moïse for ending their period in office in Jan, court proceedings began in late Jan but public prosecutor postponed case after finding president was only liable before High Court of Justice. Amid widespread protests against growing insecurity in capital Port-au-Prince, acting PM Lapin 12 Feb announced new police operation there, deploying more traffic police and increasing road controls; police 17 Feb said operation had led to 100 arrests and seizure of 1,500 vehicles; however, protests and concern over violence continued. Tensions rose within police after head of national police blocked creation of police union in early Feb: hundreds of policemen demonstrated 7 and 17 Feb in capital Port-au-Prince, storming Police General Inspectorate and setting fire to public infrastructure; further police protests left three people dead 23 Feb. Govt next day condemned “attempted coup”. Pro-union police delegates and representatives of police leadership met 27 Feb, but failed to reach agreement.
Criminal violence remained high, affecting indigenous communities in particular, while anger grew over femicides and violence against women. In Uruapan, Michoacán state (centre), shooting reportedly linked to competition between criminal groups Los Viagras and Jalisco Cartel New Generation left nine people dead 3 Feb; clandestine grave with eleven bodies was discovered 2 Feb. In Guerrero state (south), criminal groups continued to impose siege on indigenous communities in attempt to take over territories and businesses including heroin and mineral mining; following Jan killing of ten indigenous musicians by criminal group Los Ardillos, indigenous self-defence force reportedly armed children. Women demonstrated in capital Mexico City and other cities to condemn femicides and call on govt to take action against gender-based violence after police 9 Jan leaked images of body of woman murdered and mutilated by her partner, and body of 7-year old girl, abducted 11 Feb, was found 17 Feb with signs of torture, both in Mexico City. President López Obrador 12 Feb said discussion on femicides was “manipulation” by right-wing political enemies designed to harm him, drawing harsh criticism and leading to further marches. Spanish authorities 12 Feb arrested Emilio Lozoya, former head of state oil company PEMEX who fled corruption charges in Mexico in May 2019; govt has until end of March to request extradition.
Middle East & North Africa
Violence continued between Israeli security forces and Palestinians across Israel-Gaza fence, in West Bank and Jerusalem. In Gaza, militants 1-10 Feb launched near-daily rocket attacks into Israel to which Israeli security forces retaliated by striking Hamas targets in Gaza. Egypt and UN 13 Feb maintained ceasefire discussions. Militants 15 Feb launched at least two rockets into Israel, prompting Israel to strike Hamas in Gaza. After three days of no cross-fence attacks, Israel 19 Feb increased fishing zone off Gaza to fifteen nautical miles and issued 2,000 additional travel permits for Palestinian businessmen. Israeli security forces 23 Feb shot dead member of Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad (PIJ) who they claimed was trying to plant bomb in Israel-Gaza fence area, Israeli bulldozer mutilated body while attempting to retrieve it; in response, PIJ 23-24 Feb launched over 80 rockets at Israel, which prompted Israel to launch airstrikes targeting PIJ in Gaza and Syria, leaving six dead. Egypt and UN mediated ceasefire 24 Feb. Israel 27 Feb eased restrictions on Gaza after two days of calm. In West Bank, Israeli security forces 5 Feb killed Palestinian protesting against U.S. peace plan in Hebron; clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians 6-7 Feb left three Palestinians dead in Jenin and Qaffin towns; Palestinian security forces 18 Feb opened fire on Palestinians in Qabatiya city, killing one. Israeli PM Netanyahu 25 Feb said he would advance plans to build some 3,500 homes for Israelis in E1 area near Ma’ale Adumim settlement. Israel 27 Feb approved construction of 1,739 homes for Israelis in West Bank. In Jerusalem, Israeli police 6 Feb killed Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who had opened fire at them at Holy Esplanade; police 22 Feb killed Palestinian attempting to stab them. In Syria, suspected Israeli airstrikes near Damascus 6 Feb reportedly killed over twenty govt troops and Iranian-backed militants; 27 Feb reportedly killed Hizbollah commander near Golan Heights.
Parliament gave new govt vote of confidence as anti-govt protesters clashed with security forces. In capital Beirut, govt 6 Feb approved financial rescue plan that includes taking “painful steps” to tackle economic crisis. Parliament 11 Feb gave govt vote of confidence, as protesters attempting to disrupt parliamentary session clashed with security forces, leaving around 400 protesters injured. Lebanon 12 Feb formally requested International Monetary Fund (IMF) to send delegation to help draw up comprehensive rescue plan. Team of IMF advisers 20-24 Feb met PM Diab and other govt representatives and discussed options to overcome crisis. Hizbollah 25 Feb said it opposed IMF managing financial crisis.
Deadly fighting escalated in Idlib province in north west between Russian-backed regime forces on one side and rebels and Turkish troops on other; political wing of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) held talks with govt and in south Israeli airstrikes killed over twenty govt troops and members of pro-Iranian militias. In north west, regime forces’ artillery fire and Russian airstrikes killed total of eighteen Turkish soldiers and three Turkish civilian contractors early Feb; in retaliatory strikes, Turkish forces killed thirteen Syrian soldiers. Regime forces 7 Feb captured strategic town of Saraqib, bypassing and encircling four Turkish military observation posts; rebel forces recaptured town 26 Feb. Turkish President Erdoğan 10 Feb gave Syrian regime until end of Feb to withdraw behind Turkish observation posts and in later statements threatened direct military action. Turkish-backed rebels 20 Feb launched offensive along strategic M4 highway. Suspected regime airstrike 27 Feb killed 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib province; Turkey said its retaliatory strikes next day killed over 300 regime soldiers. Regime and Russian airstrikes targeting schools and nurseries 25 Feb killed 21 civilians in Idlib city and surrounding area. NGO Syrian Network for Human Rights said 276 civilians killed in Syria in Feb. In north east, having reached agreement with SDF, coalition of Syrian Kurdish parties Kurdish National Council (KNC) 2 Feb announced that reopening of its offices in SDF-held territory. Syrian Democratic Council, SDF’s political wing, 9 Feb confirmed its delegation had travelled to capital Damascus to begin Russian-mediated talks with regime centred on formation of autonomous local administrations in Kurdish-majority areas in north east. In south, Israeli airstrikes 6 Feb reportedly killed over twenty govt soldiers and pro-Iranian militants near Damascus. Israeli airstrikes in Damascus area 23 Feb killed four pro-Iranian fighters and two members of Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.
Govt slowed escalation on nuclear front after E3 (France, Germany and UK) triggered 2015 nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism mid-Jan and conservative coalition won a majority in parliamentary elections. President Rouhani assured EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, who visited Tehran 3-4 Feb, that Iran would continue to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring. IAEA 5 Feb assessed that Iran’s uranium production and enrichment was not at critical level. U.S. 9 Feb seized significant haul of weapons “of Iranian design and manufacture” in Arabian Sea. Following Iran’s failed satellite launch 9 Feb, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 11 Feb accused govt of using satellite launches to enhance ballistic missile technology; Iran next day rejected allegations. U.S. 13 Feb implemented 45-day sanctions waiver to allow Iraq to import gas from Iran; U.S. Senate same day passed war powers resolution aimed at preventing President Trump from engaging in military action against Iran without declaration of war or specific authorisation by Congress, Trump vowed to veto bill. Iran-Israel tensions persisted following reports by Syrian state media that missile attacks into Syria 6 and 13 Feb came from Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israeli defence minister 8 Feb said U.S. and Israel had agreed they would counter Iran in Iraq and Syria respectively. Guardian Council 13 Feb published final list of 7,100 vetted candidates for 21 Feb parliamentary elections having disqualified over 8,000 including 75 sitting lawmakers. Rouhani 16 Feb said elections in 44 of 208 districts were not competitive and criticised mass disqualification of moderate candidates; U.S. 20 Feb sanctioned five Iranian officials for their roles in disqualifying candidates. Alliance of conservative candidates won most seats, enough to hold majority in 290-seat parliament. Turnout at 42.5% was lowest since 1979.
President Salih appointed former minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as new PM but parliament failed to approve his cabinet, anti-govt protesters continued to face violent repression and security forces kept up operations against Islamic State (ISIS). Salih 1 Feb appointed former communications minister Allawi as PM and tasked him with forming govt. Shiite parliamentary blocs Sairoun and Fatah same day endorsed Allawi’s nomination. Anti-govt protesters rejected Allawi on grounds that he is part of ruling elite. Popular Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr 2 Feb instructed his supporters to help security forces clear roads and public spaces occupied by protesters: Sadr’s supporters same day began attacking protesters including in Najaf city 5 Feb that left around two dozen dead, and attack in Karbala next day that left over ten dead; Sadr 8 Feb called on his supporters to leave protest sites and 11 Feb said he would disband Peace Brigades unit within his support base responsible for violence. Sadr expressed support for Allawi’s nomination. Allawi 19 Feb said he had formed cabinet of independents. Parliament late Feb failed to approve Allawi’s cabinet after Sunni and Kurdish parties boycotted vote. Unclaimed rockets 13 and 16 Feb struck military bases hosting U.S. troops in Kirkuk province and in Green Zone in capital Baghdad. ISIS attacks 2-28 Feb left at least twelve civilians, ten security force members and six militants dead in Diyala, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din provinces. Security forces continued anti-ISIS operations, reportedly killing around 80 militants 4-28 Feb in Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk provinces. Despite parliament’s non-binding resolution in Jan instructing govt to expel foreign troops from Iraq, NATO Sec Gen Stoltenberg 13 Feb said govt had asked NATO to continue training Iraqi security forces. U.S. 13 Feb renewed sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to continue importing Iranian energy for 45 more days.
Govt 15 Feb confirmed that efforts to resolve intra-Gulf dispute between Qatar and Saudi-led bloc stalled early Jan, after preliminary discussions that began in Oct failed to reach diplomatic breakthrough. U.S. and Afghan Taliban 29 Feb signed peace deal in capital Doha (see Afghanistan).
Saudi-led coalition stepped up airstrikes against Huthi forces in Yemen’s north, prompting renewed cross-border attacks, and deployed helicopters attack against Hurayzi tribesmen in east. In Yemen, Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for 14 Feb downing of Saudi military jet in al-Jawf governorate; Saudi-led coalition’s retaliatory airstrikes in al-Jawf 15 Feb killed 31 civilians. After Saudi Arabia joined talks between Yemeni govt and Huthis on confidence building measures in Jordanian capital Amman, Yemeni govt 16 Feb agreed in principle with Huthis to organise exchange of up to 1,400 detainees. Saudi airstrikes early Feb slowed Huthi 0ffensive along main front lines in al-Jawf, Saana and Marib governorates, preventing Huthis from taking al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, and making push to Marib city, Yemeni govt’s main urban strongholds. In response, Huthis resumed cross-border missile attacks on southern Saudi Arabia. In eastern Yemen, fighting erupted late Feb between Saudi-backed forces and Hurayzi tribesmen in al-Mahra governorate; Saudi military deployed attack helicopters to disperse Omani-backed Hurayzi tribesmen after they blocked Saudi-backed forces from taking control of Shehn border crossing with Oman.
Fighting escalated in north as Huthis pursued counteroffensive against govt forces, seizing control of al-Jawf governorate and resuming cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, raising risk that violence intensifies further in north in March; fighting erupted in east near border with Oman between Saudi-backed forces and local tribesmen; and govt and southern separatists failed to advance implementation of Riyadh Agreement in south. Huthis 14 Feb claimed responsibility for downing Saudi military jet in al-Jawf governorate; Saudi-led coalition next day retaliated with airstrikes killing 31 civilians. After Saudi Arabia agreed to join talks between Yemeni govt and Huthis on confidence building measures in Jordanian capital Amman, Yemeni govt 16 Feb agreed in principle with Huthis to organise exchange of up to 1,400 detainees. After govt forces launched major offensive toward rebel-held capital Sanaa in Jan, Huthis pursued counteroffensive in al-Jawf, Sanaa and Marib governorates begun late Jan. Intense Saudi airstrikes slowed Huthis’ progress toward capturing govt-controlled cities of al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, and making push to Marib city, govt’s main urban strongholds and operations centres. In response to Saudi airstrikes, Huthis resumed missile attacks on southern Saudi Arabia. In east, Saudi-led coalition forces late Feb clashed with local tribal forces in al-Mahra governorate after members of Hurayzi tribe attempted to stop Saudi-backed forces from taking control of Shehn border crossing with Oman. Govt attempted to calm situation by replacing al-Mahra governor. In south, govt and separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) failed to fulfil commitments in Saudi-brokered “Phase 2” roadmap to implement Nov Riyadh Agreement; notably, govt delayed appointment of security chief and governor in Aden following STC’s refusal to allow presidential guard to return to Aden. STC mid-Feb requested greater UN participation in implementation of agreement. Army regiment on island of Socotra 27 Feb switched sides and pledged allegiance to STC.
United Arab Emirates
Thousands of Emirati soldiers 9 Feb returned from Yemen as part of planned military withdrawal. British law firm Stoke White, invoking principle of universal jurisdiction, 12 Feb requested UK, U.S. and Turkey to open investigations into senior Emirati officials suspected of perpetrating war crimes in Yemen. Govt 3 Feb announced discovery of 80 trillion cubic feet of shallow gas reserves by state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) at Jebel Ali gas field, largest gas discovery in last fifteen years worldwide; ADNOC signed agreement with Dubai Supply Authority to jointly explore gas reserves.
Protesters repeated calls for President Tebboune and PM Djerad to make good on promised democratic reforms. Tebboune 5 Feb pardoned some 6,000 prisoners with minor sentences. Algiers court 28 Feb acquitted Tebboune’s son, Khaled Tebboune, of corruption charges, while main suspect Kamel Chikhi was sentenced to eight years. Senate 18 Feb adopted govt action plan that reflects protesters’ demands to enhance democratic norms, transparency in public life, rule of law and separation of powers. Tebboune 19 Feb told media that govt would discuss new constitution with political actors and civil society before holding referendum mid-2020. Protesters 21 Feb marked one-year anniversary of peaceful protests. PM Djerad 14 Feb hinted Algeria will finance govt action plan with loans from African Development Bank and Arab investment funds. Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated suicide bomber 11 Feb detonated explosives at military base in Bordj Badji Mokhtar on Mali border, killing one soldier.
Violence continued in Sinai Peninsula and govt pursued talks with Ethiopia and Sudan over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on River Nile. In Sinai Peninsula, local media 3 Feb reported that unidentified attackers blew up section of gas pipeline near el-Arish city, without impacting gas imports from Israel. Govt 17 Feb announced it had started building latest in series of new military bases, this one in Abu Sultan to protect Suez Canal. Egyptian officials 10 Feb resumed mediation between Israel and Hamas to avoid military escalation. Local media mid-Feb reported that military had begun building wall along parts of border with Gaza considered vulnerable to incursions and tunnels. National security agency 7 Feb arrested Patrick Zaky, activist and student at University of Bologna in Italy, in Mansoura, north of Cairo; Italian President of European Parliament David Sassoli 12 Feb called for Zaky’s immediate release. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan 14 Feb announced broad agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on River Nile; U.S. and World Bank worked on final draft agreement on technical issues ahead of 27-28 Feb ministerial meeting in Washington DC which Ethiopia boycotted. Foreign affairs and water resources ministries 29 Feb criticised Ethiopia’s decision. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 25 Feb died in hospital.
Despite intense diplomacy aimed at brokering ceasefire in Jan, fighting and arms imports continued throughout month and UN-led talks faltered. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF, previously Libyan National Army) kept up assault on capital Tripoli held by forces loyal to UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA). Rockets hit Tripoli’s Meitiga airport and 6 Feb Tripoli University causing no casualties. Strike on residential neighbourhood of Nauwfiliyin 12 Feb killed one. Missile hit Tripoli’s functioning port 18 Feb; Turkish President Erdoğan 22 Feb said Turkish military had suffered losses in Libya, possibly reference to two Turkish soldiers presumed killed in port strike. Haftar 23 Feb claimed his forces had killed sixteen Turkish soldiers, figure believed to be exaggerated. Both sides continued to receive shipments of arms and military equipment from external backers. Cargo flights landed in Benghazi city from Haftar allies Jordan and United Arab Emirates early Feb; Turkey reportedly continued shipments of military equipment to Tripoli for GNA forces and pro-Turkey Syrian fighters continued to arrive, now estimated at over 2,000. Talks between five ALAF and five GNA military representatives in Geneva early Feb failed to produce ceasefire agreement; GNA initially called off second meeting due 18 Feb following ALAF strike on Tripoli port but subsequently talks resumed without producing agreement. Negotiations on new governing framework and new govt of national unity kicked off 26 Feb but GNA and House of Representatives pulled their delegates citing lack of progress in military talks. UN hosted talks on financial/economic track in Cairo 16-17 Feb with no breakthrough. Oil sector closures supported by pro-Haftar tribes continued, reportedly causing revenue shortfall of over $2bn. UN Security Council 12 Feb adopted first conflict-related resolution since April 2019 outbreak of hostilities, calling on parties to commit to ceasefire and on UN member states to comply with arms embargo, Russia abstained. EU foreign affairs ministers 17 Feb agreed to launch new operation in Mediterranean Sea to enforce UN arms embargo, expected to launch in March.
PM Fakhfakh 19 Feb formed coalition govt comprising mainly independent ministers, to which parliament gave vote of confidence 27 Feb with 129 votes to 77; govt excluded Qalb Tounes, party of media mogul Nabil Karoui, which has second-largest parliamentary bloc with 38 MPs, and populist forces Karama coalition (fifteen seats in parliament) and Free Destourian party (seventeen seats). An-Nahda 17 Feb announced (and later retracted) intention to halt negotiations to form new govt. Interior Ministry 11 Feb announced discovery of terrorist training camp in Kasserine governorate in west and seizure of materials for manufacturing explosives. Govt 25 Feb announced joint operation which killed two members of Islamic State affiliate, Jund al Khilafa.