Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month July 2020
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month June 2020
Lebanon Ethiopia Korean Peninsula Mexico Nile Waters Taiwan Strait Saudi Arabia India India-Pakistan (Kashmir) Yemen Sri Lanka Venezuela Mali Belarus Eritrea Côte d’Ivoire
The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in June in sixteen countries and conflict situations – the majority in Africa and Asia – as well as improved situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Somaliland.
In India, counter-insurgency operations inside Jammu and Kashmir sharply intensified, while the most lethal border clashes in over five decades with China killed at least twenty Indian soldiers.
In Ethiopia, frictions heightened between the federal government and Tigray region over the electoral calendar, and the killing of a popular ethnic Oromo musician sparked deadly unrest in the capital Addis Ababa and the Oromia region.
Meanwhile, criminal groups’ persistent violence led to Mexico’s deadliest day in 2020 on 8 June, setting the country on course for its bloodiest year on record.
Looking ahead to July, CrisisWatch warns of two conflict risks. In Israel/Palestine, a potential parliamentary vote to extend Israeli sovereignty over portions of the West Bank could significantly raise tensions. In Libya, fighting could escalate after the front line shifted eastward around the strategic city of Sirte and Egypt threatened military intervention.
We also flag a resolution opportunity in the coming month in Afghanistan. Following incremental progress in the peace process between the government and the Taliban in June, long-awaited intra-Afghan talks could start in July.
Tensions continued over disputed island chain in East China Sea. Japan’s Okinawa city council 22 June approved bill changing administrative status of disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea, asserting Japanese claim to islands; Beijing same day said it would lodge strong protest with Tokyo and warned “administrative re-designation is a serious provocation”, after Chinese Foreign Ministry 19 June cautioned against any change to status quo. Amid daily Chinese maritime presence around disputed islands since 14 April, Japanese coast guard 22 June reported four Chinese coast guard vessels in contiguous zone outside Japanese territorial waters. Japanese military 20 June reported detecting suspected Chinese submarine near Amami-Oshima island in East China Sea. Lawmakers from Japan’s ruling-Liberal Democratic party 4 June submitted resolution calling on govt to protest China’s “stalking” of Japanese boats in waters near islands. Amid controversy surrounding new Chinese national security law in Hong Kong, Beijing 10 June criticised Japanese PM Abe’s effort to take lead on G7 (group of seven nations including U.S. and Japan) statement on proposed legislation; G7 statement, released 17 June, highlighted “grave concerns” and urged China “to re-consider this decision”; Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono 30 June said passage of law would “significantly affect” Chinese President Xi’s planned state visit to Japan.
Inter-Korean tensions significantly rose as Pyongyang increased pressure on Seoul, demolished liaison office near border and threatened military action; meanwhile economic situation in DPRK continued to deteriorate. After North Korea 9 June ended all inter-Korean communication, Kim Yo-jong, top official and sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, warned 13 June that Pyongyang will “take its next action” and “break with the South Korean authorities”; Seoul’s Ministry of Unification next day urged Pyongyang to “honour all inter-Korean agreements”. North Korea 16 June demolished inter-Korean liaison office in border town of Kaesong set up after 2018 summit between two Korean leaders, citing Seoul’s failure to stop activists and North Korean defectors sending leaflets, food and aid across border, as well as South Korea’s continued military exercises and lack of progress in lifting sanctions. In attempt to prevent anti-Pyongyang leafleteers earlier in month, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification 10 June said it would press charges against two activist groups. Following demolition of office, DPRK 17 June rejected South’s offer to send special envoy to de-escalate tensions and vowed to redeploy troops to border areas of Mount Kumgang and Kaesong; South Korea’s Defence Ministry reiterated support for 2018 agreement but warned of “strong response” to any military provocation. After South Korean unification minister 17 June offered resignation, members of ruling-Democratic Party called for reshuffle of U.S.-South Korea working group, claiming Washington was damaging inter-Korean relations; Seoul’s chief nuclear negotiator same day arrived in Washington to discuss recent tensions on peninsula and potential responses; DPRK state media 24 June said Kim suspended “military action plans against the south”. North Korea’s economy reportedly continued to deteriorate amid COVID-19 and halting of nearly all trade with China due to closed borders; Pyongyang continued to blame international sanctions. Amid ongoing dispute between U.S. and South Korea over cost sharing of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula, U.S. military 2 June announced Seoul agreed to pay $200mn for 4,000 Korean nationals working with U.S. forces.
South China Sea
Tensions between China and SCS claimant parties continued amid U.S. reiteration of its rejection of China’s claims in region. In notable toughening of rhetoric, South East Asia regional organisation ASEAN 27 June affirmed UN Convention on Law of the Sea as “basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones”. Beginning mid-June, three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups – USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan – simultaneously patrolled Western Pacific for first time since 2017; U.S. 17 June stated that deployment was to “promote security, stability and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific region”. U.S. media Fox News 9 June reported that U.S. B-1B Lancer bombers operated over SCS. U.S. envoy to UN Kelly Craft 2 June reiterated in note to UN Sec Gen Guterres that U.S. rejects Chinese claims as “inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.” Meanwhile, reports of regular Chinese activity in SCS continued. Chinese ship 8 June began laying undersea cables between its outposts in disputed Paracel Islands; satellite imagery suggested that cables were laid between Tree Island, North Island and Woody Island. U.S. media Radio Free Asia (RFA) 10 June reported Chinese research and survey vessel entered waters close to Pratas islands, which Taiwan controls and China claims; 16 June reported that two separate vessel-tracking tools detected other Chinese survey vessel within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Vietnamese FM 14 June stated that two Chinese ships 10 June rammed Vietnamese fishing boat near Chinese-occupied Lincoln Island in Paracels before seizing its catch and equipment. Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana 9 June marked completion of construction work on Thitu island in disputed area of Spratlys. Australian High Commissioner to India 2 June raised concern over maritime militias in SCS and 17 June noted that China “not as committed” to existing international order as Australia and India. After Indonesia 28 May stated China’s “nine dash line” claim in region lacks basis in international law and violates Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, China 2 June offered boundary negotiations with Jakarta; Indonesian MFA 5 June rejected offer.
Tensions increased between Taipei and Beijing amid increased Chinese incursions into Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) and continued U.S. military presence. Amid heightened tensions following top Chinese general’s 29 May threat to use “all necessary measures” to prevent Taiwanese independence, Chinese military activity spiked mid-month; Taiwanese army reported eight incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwanese ADIZ 9-22 June, including: several Su-30 fighter jets 9 June, a Y-8 surveillance aircraft shortly after Taiwan carried out missile tests off eastern coast 12 June, intrusions by J-10 fighter 19 June and several jets including H-6 bomber 22 June. U.S. Navy destroyer 4 June sailed through Taiwan Strait; Taiwanese Defence Ministry 9 June said U.S. navy transport plane that day entered Taiwanese air space with permission; in response, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office 11 June said flight was “illegal act and a seriously provocative incident”; U.S. military jets, including P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and reconnaissance planes, flew daily over waters near Taiwan 21-30 June. Committee established by Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang party to examine party’s cross-strait policy 19 June recommended that “1992 Consensus” – tacit agreement between China and then ruling-Kuomintang on principles of cross-strait relations – be used as “historical description” of cross-strait interactions; China’s Taiwan Affairs Office same day urged adherence to “1992 consensus”. Amid concerns over controversial new Chinese national security legislation for Hong Kong, Taiwan govt 18 June announced that it will open office in July in Taipei to offer humanitarian assistance to Hong Kong citizens, including those seeking asylum. Taiwanese coast guard 3 June reportedly intercepted flotilla of illegal Chinese sand dredgers in Taiwan strait.
U.S. pressure led to incremental progress in peace process, raising prospect of long-awaited intra-Afghan talks starting in July, while violence persisted as new govt appointments stalled. Amid U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s continued diplomatic efforts – including 7 June meetings with Taliban’s deputy leader in Doha and Pakistan's chief of army staff in Islamabad – Taliban refrained from major attacks on govt forces or large cities while govt continued to release prisoners, reportedly bringing total Taliban fighters released to date to 4,000; moves on both sides raised hopes for intra-Afghan talks to begin in July. Following Taliban-govt ceasefire late May, Taliban militants rejected ceasefire extension but reportedly communicated to U.S. their willingness to continue period of “reduced violence”; decrease in Taliban violence uneven across country: provinces of Balkh (north) and Faryab (north east) recorded reduced violence throughout month, while several provinces saw unchanging or increasing levels of conflict, including Kapisa (north east), Khost (east), Zabul (south) and Wardak and Ghazni (centre); govt late month released casualty figures showing several hundred security forces killed per week, controversially claiming these to be a record high. Taliban appeared to shift tactics with uptick in roadside bombs, targeted killings and ambush shootings, while continuing abductions and running of checkpoints. Market bombing in Sangin district, Helmand province (south), 29 June killed at least 23 civilians; Taliban and govt blaming each other. Despite May agreement between President Ghani and main opponent Abdullah Abdullah to form inclusive govt, domestic political stasis continued; new govt yet to appoint half of cabinet, Abdullah and allies did not submit list of preferred candidates while Ghani has already filled his share of posts with acting appointees. Pakistan 6 June appointed diplomat Muhammad Sadiq as special envoy on Afghanistan (see Pakistan). Amid concerns over conflict hindering COVID-19 response, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 21 June released report detailing 12 deliberate attacks affecting healthcare personnel and facilities 11 March-23 May; report attributed responsibility of eight targeted attacks to Taliban and three attacks to govt forces, while May attack on Kabul hospital remained unattributed; local media reported severe mismanagement of foreign aid for tackling pandemic.