Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month June 2020
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month May 2020
The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in May in seven countries and conflict situations. In Sudan, intercommunal violence erupted in the country’s west, east and south while peace talks with rebel groups suffered new delays. In South Sudan, intercommunal violence between ethnic Murle and ethnic Lou Nuer surged in the east killing hundreds. Venezuelan authorities foiled an armed incursion by sea and detained dozens of opposition supporters, while opposition leader Guaidó lost ground in his battle to control the National Assembly.
Looking ahead to June, CrisisWatch warns of three conflict risks. In Burundi, a potentially violent post-electoral crisis looms after the opposition challenged the provisional results of the 20 May presidential election in the Constitutional Court. In Libya, after the capital Tripoli suffered increased shelling and civilian casualties in May, external military support on both sides could fuel further escalation. Fighting in Yemen’s north and a power struggle in the south could intensify unless progress is made toward a nationwide ceasefire.
We also flag a resolution opportunity in the coming month in the Nile Basin. After recently opting to revive Nile Dam talks, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have a chance to de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving the Nile Waters dispute.
U.S. President Trump 21 May confirmed U.S. will exit Open Skies arms control treaty, citing Russia’s alleged violations of agreement; Russian Deputy FM Alexander Grushko same day said withdrawal would “not only deal a blow to the foundation of European security […] but to the key security interests of the allies of the U.S.”.
After U.S.-facilitated talks broke down in Feb, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt took steps to revive negotiations over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Blue Nile river, triggering hopes of de-escalation in coming weeks. In letter to UN Security Council early May, Egypt’s govt said Ethiopia’s plan to start filling GERD’s reservoir in July with or without agreement “poses a serious threat to the region’s peace and security” and stressed need for comprehensive agreement between three countries. Khartoum 12 May reiterated refusal to sign “partial agreement” for first phase of dam’s filling proposed by Addis Ababa. In video conference 21 May, Ethiopia’s PM Abiy and Sudan’s PM Hamdok agreed to resume tripartite negotiations among water ministers; Cairo immediately welcomed move. Sudan’s water minister 25 May held separate meetings with Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts to discuss arrangements for resumption of negotiations.
Amid continued jihadist attacks in north and east, fighting between competing jihadist groups persisted along border with Mali and security forces faced new accusations of exactions against civilians. In Sahel region in north, militants from jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) clashed in Soum and Oudalan provinces early month, reportedly forcing three ISWAP groups to flee region toward east; further clashes between militants 16 May in Soum province reportedly left several middle-ranking ISWAP officers killed. Meanwhile, clashes between militants and security forces continued in Sahel region: suspected ISWAP militants 11 May killed eight soldiers near Kankanfogouol artisanal mining site in Yagha province, army reportedly killed twenty militants in ensuing clashes. UN refugee agency 4 May accused security forces of injuring 32 Malian refugees suspected of complicity with jihadists in Mentao camp, Soum province 2 May. Violence also persisted in North, Centre-North and East regions, exacting heavy toll on civilians. In North region’s Loroum province, suspected JNIM explosive devices 14 and 18 May killed at least one soldier and seven local volunteers fighting alongside security forces in Banh district; suspected jihadists 29 May killed at least fifteen civilians in attack on Titao-Sollé axis. In Centre-North region, civilian volunteers fighting alongside security forces 3 May reportedly killed nine civilians in Bam province. Suspected jihadists 30 May attacked humanitarian convoy on Foubé-Barsalogho axis, killing at least ten including five civilians. In East region, suspected jihadists same day attacked Kompiembiga livestock market, killing 25 civilians. Civil society accused security forces of summary executions after twelve individuals arrested 11 May near town of Fada N’Gourma, also East region, died in custody. Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire 11 May launched first joint military operation in border area, reportedly killing eight suspected jihadists and arresting 38 on both sides of border by 24 May.
Jihadist and intercommunal violence continued unabated in centre, and infighting between competing jihadist groups persisted in north and centre. In Mopti region in centre, Bambara Dozo hunters 5 May stormed Fulani village of Djongué Ouro, Djenne circle, killing at least twelve; attack reportedly in retaliation of 3 May raid on neighbouring village of Djongué Bambara by suspected jihadists which reportedly killed four. Security forces and Dogon militia Dan Na Ambassagou 13 May reportedly killed six jihadist militants in Dioungani area, Koro circle; three militiamen also killed. Security forces 15 May said they killed around 30 suspected jihadists in previous day raid near border with Burkina Faso. Unidentified assailants 23-27 May reportedly killed at least 28 civilians in several attacks on ethnic Dogon villages in Bankass, Bandiagara and Koro circles. Security forces continued to face allegations of extrajudicial killings. Notably, army 10 May reportedly killed six Fulani civilians in Dinangourou, Koro circle. Infighting between jihadist groups continued in north and centre throughout month, with jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) reportedly driving out Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated combatants from most of northern Gao region, and JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina reportedly inflicting heavy losses on ISIS factions in inner Niger Delta area of Mopti region. After Constitutional Court late April annulled 5.2% of total votes in second round of legislative elections held 19 April, resulting in ruling party winning ten additional seats in National Assembly, protests broke out early May in several cities, including capital Bamako, Sikasso and Kati, leaving several injured. National Assembly 11 May elected ruling party MP Moussa Timbiné as president. After protests against COVID-19 curfew erupted in several cities early May, including Kayes, Bamako and Bandiagara, govt 9 May lifted curfew throughout country.
Govt and regional forces confronted jihadist militants in south east near border with Nigeria, while jihadists continued to launch attacks in west near Mali and Burkina Faso. In Diffa region in south east, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 3 May attacked border post near Diffa city, killing at least two soldiers. Military in joint operation with Nigeria same day intercepted column of vehicles of suspected jihadists near Dumba’a village, killing fifty. Govt 13 May said joint regional force MNJTF 11 May killed 25 Boko Haram (BH) insurgents in operation south of Diffa city and 50 others in Lake Chad area of northern Nigeria. Suspected BH militants 18-19 May attacked Blabrine military base, killing at least twelve soldiers; seven militants also killed. Jihadist attacks continued in west. In Tillabery region, suspected jihadists 9 May killed at least twenty civilians in attacks on three villages in Anzourou area. In Tahoua region, suspected jihadists 31 May attacked Intikane refugee camp killing three civilians. Ambassador to UN reportedly obtained cancellation of UN Security Council meeting scheduled 14 May to present UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) report that found evidence of 34 extrajudicial killings by Nigerien forces in Mali 1 Jan-31 March. NGO Amnesty International 8 May accused authorities of using COVID-19 state of emergency to stifle dissent, citing at least ten arbitrary arrests since March; govt 13 May authorised places of worship to reopen and lifted nightly curfew on capital Niamey.
Presidential and legislative elections held 20 May were marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities, and post-electoral crisis loomed after opposition challenged provisional results before Constitutional Court, raising risk of violence in June. Electoral commission 25 May said ruling party CNDD-FDD presidential candidate Évariste Ndayishimiye defeated main rival Agathon Rwasa from opposition National Congress for Freedom (CNL) party with 68% of vote in presidential election; same day announced CNDD-FDD won 72 of 100 National Assembly seats with 68% of vote in legislative elections. Rwasa immediately rejected provisional results and 28 May filed appeal to Constitutional Court, citing widespread fraud and irregularities by CNDD-FDD, including ballot stuffing and expulsion of CNL observers from polling stations. Meanwhile, president of Electoral Commission 27-28 May revealed provisional results had not been fully verified and withdrew them from commission’s website; 29-30 May republished same provisional results online. In lead-up to vote, authorities 8 May applied fourteen-day COVID-19 quarantine on electoral observers from East African Community regional bloc, de facto preventing observation mission from monitoring polls, while violent confrontations between CNDD-FDD and CNL members continued. Notably, clashes between CNDD-FDD and CNL supporters in Bujumbura and Kirundo provinces 3-4 May left one dead and seventeen injured. Members of Imbonerakure, youth wing of CNDD-FDD, reportedly stripped twenty CNL supporters of their voter cards in Muyinga province 6 May and injured five others during CNL meeting in Bubanza province 15 May. CNL 28 May said authorities arrested 600 CNL supporters during electoral campaign and on election day, with 423 still detained. Authorities in Ngozi province 25-26 May sentenced several CNL representatives to up to one year in prison for reportedly using forged documents on voting day. Military 8 May clashed with Rwandan forces at maritime border on Lake Rweru; one govt soldier reportedly killed.
Violence persisted in Anglophone North West and South West regions and jihadists continued to launch attacks against civilians and security forces in Far North despite ongoing security operations. Military 4 May said troops killed 22 Anglophone separatists including leading separatist fighter “General Aladji” in week-long military operation in North West, notably around Bafut town; locals said thirteen civilians died during raids. Separatists launched several attacks 10 May, killing soldier in village of Akwaya and new mayor of Mamfe city (both South West), and Fulani civilian near Ntumbaw village (North West), reportedly in retaliation for killing of two civilians by suspected Fulani bandits in area same day. Army 13 May reportedly clashed with separatists in Ekombe village, South West and Ndu town, North West; number of casualties unknown. Suspected separatists 25 May killed shopkeeper they accused of spying for govt forces in North West region’s capital Bamenda. Govt soldiers 28 May reportedly killed civilian in Mbiame town (North West) and four others in South West region’s capital Buea. Jihadist violence continued in Far North. In Mayo-Sava department, suspected jihadists 11 May killed three civilians in Makoulahe area; days later, local mob killed individual reportedly involved in attacks and handed over two other suspects to authorities. In Mayo-Tsanaga department, suspected jihadists 14 May killed two civilians in Majague locality. In Logone-et-Chari department, Boko Haram splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 26 May attacked Soueram military base near Nigerian border, two soldiers and five militants killed. Meanwhile, security forces 8 May killed suspected jihadist in Gakara village, and 20 May killed three suspected jihadists in operation along Kolofata-Yegoua road, both Mayo-Sava department. Govt’s response to COVID-19 crisis continued to spark tensions. Health workers in capital Yaoundé central hospital 3 May held one-day strike over lack of protective equipment. Authorities 11 May arrested six volunteers of opposition leader Maurice Kamto’s fundraising initiative, banned by govt in April, for distributing masks and hand sanitiser in Yaoundé.
Central African Republic
Clashes between armed groups persisted in north east following flare-up in violence late April, while attacks by armed groups continued in west and increased in south east. In Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture in north east, Runga-led armed group Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) on one hand, and allied forces of ethnic Gula Patriotic Rally for the Renewal of Central Africa (RPRC) and ethnic Kara Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) on the other, clashed around Ndélé town first week of May, leaving eight dead including civilians; further clashes between FPRC and RPRC outside Ndélé 12 May left four combatants and two civilians dead. In attempt to curb violence and reassert state presence, govt 10 May deployed troops to Ndélé for first time since 2012 alongside reinforcements from UN mission (MINUSCA). Special Criminal Court 8 May opened investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during clashes in Ndélé 6, 11 March and 29 April, while MINUSCA forces 19 May arrested nine RPRC rebels including former Séléka leader Azor Kalite for alleged role in 29 April violence. In west, armed group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) launched attacks in Nana-Mambéré prefecture, occupying town of Baboua 30 April-5 May and reportedly killing civilian in Niem-Yéléwa commune 22 May. President Touadéra 12 May inaugurated deployment of first battalion of special mixed security units (USMS) – stipulated under Feb 2019 peace deal and comprising demobilised armed group members and soldiers – in town of Bouar, also Nana-Mambéré prefecture; Abbas Sidiki, leader of 3R incorporated into USMS forces, reportedly left Bouar next day to protest against Touadéra’s guard and protocol. In Haut-Mbomou prefecture in south east, MINUSCA and govt forces 19-25 May repelled multiple attacks by armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) around Obo town; at least 20 UPC combatants killed and nine arrested. UPC chief Ali Darassa 28 May denied UPC involvement in fighting in Obo, and accused govt forces of killing civilians.
Govt faced mounting criticism over alleged poor coordination of COVID-19 response, while Boko Haram (BH) threat persisted. After ruling party’s ally Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) 12 May joined opposition and civil society’s calls for better management of COVID-19 crisis, President Déby 15 May dissolved organisation in charge of govt response and created new structure under his personal leadership. National Assembly same day extended COVID-19 state of emergency by two months. Opposition figure Félix Romadoumngar 17 May called for postponement of legislative elections scheduled for Dec due to delays in election preparations caused by COVID-19. Amid mounting discontent over impunity for people close to Déby, coalition of human rights organisations 14 May called for arrest of Déby’s brother Saleh Déby Itno, accused of involvement in killing of herder in April near his home in Bardé, 30km south east of capital N’Djamena; National Human Rights Commission opened investigation and 26 May summoned Saleh Déby for hearing on case. Jihadist group BH 7 May published video reportedly showing execution of two soldiers taken prisoner in recent clashes with security forces in Lake Chad province in west. Explosive device 10 May killed three Chadian UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) peacekeepers on patrol in Mali’s Kidal region.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Armed groups continued to target civilians in north-eastern Ituri province and eastern North Kivu province, and tensions with Zambia increased over border dispute in Tanganyika province. In Ituri, new chief of armed group Cooperative for Development of Congo (CODECO) 4 May called for group to end violence, but attacks against civilians persisted throughout month. Notably, suspected CODECO rebels 10 and 17 May killed at least 30 civilians in attacks on villages in Djugu and Mahagi territories, while govt forces 7-25 May killed 40 CODECO rebels in Djugu. Also in Ituri, suspected members of armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 17-18 May killed eight civilians and one soldier in Kelele and Ndalya villages. In North Kivu province, ADF rebels 8-24 May killed at least 25 civilians in attacks in Beni territory. In South Kivu province, local Maï-Maï militia commander and 120 combatants 20 May surrendered in Walungu territory. In Tanganyika province, Twa militiamen 18 May and 26 May killed four civilians in Nyunzu territory. Govt 8 May accused Zambia of planning to annex areas of Congolese territory on west shore of Lake Tanganyika; Zambian govt immediately denied accusations and said troops were stationed in border area to protect Zambian villages from attacks by unidentified armed individuals coming from DRC. President Tshisekedi 28 May welcomed Congo-Brazzaville’s President Sassou-Nguesso’s offer to mediate dispute. Trial of Tshisekedi’s former chief of staff and president of Union for the Congolese Nation party, Vital Kamerhe, over embezzlement charges started 11 May. Police 23-24 May forcefully dispersed pro-Kamerhe demonstrators in Bukavu city in east. Amid persistent tensions within ruling coalition, parliament 25 May voted to remove Tshisekedi’s ally and First Vice-President of National Assembly Jean-Marc Kabund from office; hundreds of Kabund’s supporters next day protested against his dismissal in capital Kinshasa and other cities.
Military clashed with Burundian forces at maritime border on Lake Rweru and French authorities arrested Rwandan genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga. Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) 8 May reportedly killed Burundian soldier during border clashes on Lake Rweru; defence ministry said RDF retaliated after they came under fire from Burundian soldiers while ordering Burundian fishermen who had crossed into Rwandan waters to return to Burundi. French police 16 May arrested Rwandan fugitive Félicien Kabuga, under international indictment since 1997 for alleged role in funding Hutu militias during 1994 genocide, near Paris. High Court Chamber for International Crimes in Nyanza town 28 May sentenced former politician Ladislas Ntaganzwa to life imprisonment after finding him guilty of crimes during 1994 genocide.
Ethnic violence flared up in several regions and tensions erupted with Sudan following cross-border attack by militia. In Somali region in east, inter-clan clashes 1-3 May reportedly left at least two dozen dead in Erer and Afdheer zones. Ethnic Afar 11 May reportedly launched raid on ethnic Somalis in town of Madaane; initial attack and subsequent fighting left at least eight dead on both sides. In Amhara region in north, ethnic clashes 16 May reportedly killed eleven in Agew Awi zone; unidentified gunmen 31 May shot and killed two local officials in North Wollo zone. In Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ region in south, land dispute triggered clashes between ethnic Misqan and Mareqo leaving at least six dead in Gurage zone 18 May. In Oromia region in centre, fighting between armed opposition faction Oromo Liberation Army and police early May left at least a dozen police officers and unknown number of insurgents dead in Guji area; local sources accused security forces of killing around a dozen civilians in Kellem Wellega and West Wellega zones 19-26 May; authorities denied claims. In Tigray region in north, ruling party Tigray People’s Liberation Front 4 May said it may organise regional elections as planned in Aug despite postponement of general elections due to COVID-19; PM Abiy 7 May warned against “unconstitutional attempts to undertake illegal elections”. Also in Tigray, police 17 May shot man dead for reportedly violating COVID-19 restrictions in regional capital Mekelle. Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt took steps to revive negotiations over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river. All three countries 21 May agreed to resume tripartite negotiations between water ministers (see Nile Waters). Cross-border attack by militia allegedly supported by Ethiopian army 28 May left at least one Sudanese soldier dead in Sudan’s Al-Qadarif province; Sudan 30 May summoned Ethiopian envoy; Ethiopia next day called for joint investigation into incident.
President Kenyatta brutally wrested control of ruling party, triggering exclusion of senators aligned with deputy president and deputy party leader, William Ruto, from key positions; intercommunal violence broke out in west, and Al-Shabaab kept up attacks against security forces in north east and east. Ruling Jubilee Party (JP) sec gen and Kenyatta ally, Raphael Tuju, 2 May confirmed changes to party’s governing body despite objections from allies of deputy party leader Ruto; 4 May formalised coalition agreement JP had signed in 2017 with Kenyan African National Union (KANU) party. Kenyatta 11 May presided over meeting of newly formed coalition attended by pro-Kenyatta senators but without participation of Ruto’s allies, senators present voted to replace pro-Ruto JP leadership in senate; ousted senators next day filed complaint with Constitutional Court to block their replacement. Purges of Ruto-aligned senators from key Senate positions continued until month’s end; notably, Senate deputy speaker was ousted 22 May. In border area between Narok and Nakuru counties in west, clashes between ethnic Kipsigis and Maasai reportedly left eight dead 23-27 May. In Wajir county in north east, Al-Shabaab militants 16 May raided Khrof Arar police camp, police reportedly killed three militants. Security forces night of 16-17 May launched airstrikes on Al-Shabaab hideouts along Somalia border, “heavy casualties” reported. In Garissa county in east, police 18 May repelled Al-Shabaab attack on Bura-East-Garissa Lappset road. In capital Nairobi, hundreds protested 4 May after police allegedly beat to death man violating COVID-19 curfew; hundreds 7 and 11 May demonstrated against total lockdown of their predominantly Muslim neighbourhood (Eastleigh) following spike in COVID-19 cases there as residents said measure singled out Muslim community. In Somalia’s southern Bay region, Kenyan-registered aeroplane carrying COVID-19 medical supplies 4 May crashed killing all six passengers including four Kenyans; Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia next day launched joint investigation as media reports emerged that Ethiopian soldiers may have shot aeroplane down. International Court of Justice 22 May postponed hearing on Somalia-Kenya maritime border dispute from 8-12 June to March 2021 following Nairobi’s request for delay on account of COVID-19 pandemic.
Al-Shabaab attacks persisted in south and capital Mogadishu and intensified in Puntland state in north where security forces also confronted Islamic State (ISIS)-Somalia. In south, Al-Shabaab militants 3-7 May killed at least two civilians in Lower and Middle Shabelle regions. Counter-insurgency operations 10-31 May left at least 70 Al-Shabaab dead in Middle Juba, Lower Juba, Lower Shabelle, Bay, Hiraan and Gedo regions. In Lower Shabelle, Middle Juba and Bay regions, string of Al-Shabaab and unclaimed bombings 24-31 May killed at least fourteen soldiers and fourteen civilians; according to local elders, soldiers 27 May abducted and killed seven aid workers and one civilian suspected of sympathising with insurgents in Middle Shabelle region, army denied involvement. In Puntland in north, ISIS militants 9 May attacked security forces in city of Bosaso, leaving soldier and at least two militants dead; in following days, security forces shot and killed ISIS militant and arrested four others in Bosaso. Al-Shabaab 14 May launched attack on military base near Bosaso leaving soldier and three assailants dead; 17 May detonated suicide bomb in Mudug region’s capital Galkayo killing at least four including Mudug governor. In capital Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab continued to target security personnel reportedly killing at least five throughout month. In north and centre, clan militias 3-19 May clashed over land disputes reportedly leaving at least ten dead in Mudug and Galguduud regions. Fighting 23 May reportedly broke out between clan militia and army leaving at least eight dead in Mudug region. In Bay region in south, Kenyan-registered aeroplane carrying COVID-19 medical supplies 4 May crashed in Bardale area killing all six Somali and Kenyan passengers; amid media reports that Ethiopian soldiers may have shot aeroplane down, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia next day launched joint investigation. International Court of Justice 22 May postponed hearing on Somalia-Kenya maritime border dispute from 8-12 June to March 2021, after Kenya requested delay on account of COVID-19. UN Security Council 29 May extended mandate of African Union mission (AMISOM) until Feb 2021.
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, govt 17 May scolded Somalia for claiming it had delivered medical supplies to contested areas of Somaliland, and rejected Mogadishu’s release of data about number of COVID-19 cases in Somaliland, which it considered incorrect information. On occasion of anniversary of self-proclaimed independence from Somalia 18 May, President Bihi reiterated willingness to engage in talks with Somalia federal govt over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty which Mogadishu does not recognise, but said govt would submit its case for independence to international courts if talks did not achieve desired result. Bihi same day pardoned 365 prisoners. Defence minister 27 May condemned Egypt’s alleged arms delivery to Somalia, saying it was “violating the arms embargo on Somalia”.
Intercommunal violence between ethnic Murle and ethnic Lou Nuer surged in east leaving hundreds dead; negotiations over local power-sharing between President Kiir and former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar remained stalled, while clashes between govt and holdout rebel group escalated in south. Intercommunal violence flared up in east and centre. In Jonglei state in east, ethnic Murle 16-17 May reportedly attacked several ethnic Lou Nuer villages in Uror county leaving up to 300 dead. In Warrap state in centre, attack by unidentified assailants 14 May left twelve dead in Apuk North county. In Lakes state, also in centre, inter-clan violence reportedly left fifteen dead 18 May. Kiir 7 May said meeting of six-member unity presidency same day had yielded consensus over appointment of state governors, with six states going to Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Government, three to Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), and contested Upper Nile state to South Sudan Opposition Alliance. Machar immediately rejected purported deal and called on chairman of official peace monitoring body to intervene, who 9 May referred dispute to regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority for Development. Clashes between govt forces – in places together with SPLA-IO – and rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS), which refused to be part of Sept 2018 peace agreement, flared up in Central and Western Equatoria states in south. Fighting, which erupted after Jan truce between govt and non-signatory armed groups broke down in April, displaced thousands of civilians in Central Equatoria; NAS claimed it had repelled attack by govt forces trying to take back territory from insurgents in Katigiri village 5 May, killing four soldiers; govt forces 4-14 May reportedly raided NAS positions in several villages in Lainya county. President Kiir 15 May removed Machar from COVID-19 taskforce and appointed VP Hussein Abdelbagi as new chairman. UN Security Council 29 May extended South Sudan arms embargo and targeted sanctions against individuals until May 2021.
Intercommunal violence flared up in west, east and south amid delays in peace talks between transitional govt and rebel groups and stalled implementation of transitional arrangements; border tensions erupted with Ethiopia. Intercommunal violence in west, east, and south left at least 80 killed. In South Darfur state in west, clashes between ethnic Fellata and Reizegat left 30 civilians dead 5 May. In Kassala state in east, ethnic Nuba and Beni Amer clashed 5-10 May, reportedly leaving at least ten killed. In South Kordofan state in south, clashes between ethnic Nuba including army soldiers and ethnic Hawazma including members of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reportedly left 26 dead 12-13 May in state capital Kadugli; gunmen wearing RSF uniforms 13 May reportedly killed nine civilians in El Berdab village outside Kadugli and next day killed five civilians in Kadugli. After govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) failed to meet self-imposed 9 May deadline to reach comprehensive peace deal, South Sudanese mediators 17 May announced new deadline of 20 June. Following internal disagreements over reform of SRF, Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Minni Minnawi 18 May split from rebel coalition. Cabinet, Sovereign Council, and Forces for Freedom and Change 3 May postponed appointment of Transitional Legislative Council due 9 May amid disagreements over allocation of seats. Govt pursued efforts to bridge differences between Egypt and Ethiopia over filling and operation of latter’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river. All three countries 21 May agreed to resume tripartite meetings among water ministers. Sudan’s water minister 25 May held separate meetings with Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts (see Nile Waters). Govt 30 May summoned Ethiopian envoy after cross-border attack by Ethiopian militiamen, allegedly backed by Ethiopian army, left at least one Sudanese soldier dead in Gadarif city in east 28 May. Amid protests against water shortages in Khartoum state, govt early May deployed additional 1,365 police at 200 checkpoints to enforce lockdown there, 8 May extended it until 19 May.
President Magufuli continued to downplay risk posed by COVID-19 and silenced critics of govt’s response. Main opposition party Chadema 1 May instructed its MPs to boycott parliamentary sessions and self-quarantine for at least two weeks, called on govt to suspend parliament, after two MPs and one minister died from undisclosed illnesses late April; 11 May expelled four of its MPs who continued to attend parliament. After Magufuli 3 May cast doubt on credibility of national health laboratory, health minister next day dismissed laboratory’s head and formed special committee to investigate handling of COVID-19 samples. Magufuli 16 May dismissed Deputy Health Minister Faustine Ndugulile, reportedly after he criticised govt-issued COVID-19 advice. Despite reports by U.S. embassy of epidemic’s “exponential growth” across Tanzania, govt 18 May lifted suspension of international commercial flights and quarantine requirements for those arriving into country; Magufuli 21 May ordered high schools and universities to reopen 1 June. Zambia 10 May closed its border with Tanzania following surge of COVID-19 cases in border areas, 15 May partially re-opened border for cargo. Court 29 May found leader of opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency Zitto Kabwe guilty of sedition, after he alleged some 100 people had died in clashes between herders and police in Kigoma in 2018; court set Kabwe free but effectively banned him from making public statements for one year; Kabwe’s party same day denounced “censorship” ahead of general elections planned for Oct, said they would appeal judgement. Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe and seven party figures 18 May lodged appeal with High Court against 10 March ruling that found them guilty on several counts, including inciting sedition.
Small group of activists demonstrated 18 May in capital Kampala over “slow distribution” of govt relief food to vulnerable people amid COVID-19 crisis; police detained several activists, including prominent academic Stella Nyanzi over accusations of “inciting violence”. President Museveni same day said govt would start easing lockdown 2 June. Military 3 May said it had suspended rotation of troops deployed as part of peacekeeping mission in Somalia and training mission in Equatorial Guinea after Ugandan soldier in Somalia tested positive to COVID-19 late April. Following agreement with Rwanda to normalise relations late Aug, govt 15 May said it would release some 170 Rwandans from prison. High Court in Kampala 13 May declared illegal police orders barring musician-turned-opposition-leader Bobi Wine, who plans to run for president in 2021 elections, from holding concerts.
PM Thabane resigned 19 May after parliament 11 May voted motion of no-confidence against him and demanded his resignation by 22 May. Former Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro sworn in as new PM 20 May. Court of Appeal 29 May revoked Thabane’s wife Maesaiah’s bail and ordered her re-arrest on murder charges over 2017 killing of Thabane’s ex-wife.
Political tensions rose and deadly clashes erupted between ruling party and opposition supporters as Supreme Court of Appeal struck down President Mutharika’s appeal against 2019 presidential election rerun; new elections now scheduled for 23 June. Amid persistent political tensions following controversial presidential election last year, supporters of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its partner, United Democratic Front (UDF), early May clashed with opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Notably, fighting erupted between DPP and UTM members in Thyolo, Phalombe and Mulanje districts 1 May; MCP supporters assaulted DPP monitors and party district governor in Dowa district next day; unidentified assailants overnight 4-5 May threw petrol bomb on UTM office in capital Lilongwe, leaving three dead and prompting international calls for restraint next day. Unidentified assailants 29 May attacked convoy of VP and UTM leader Saulos Chilima who was campaigning in Phalombe and Mulanje districts, reportedly leaving several journalists injured. Supreme Court of Appeal 8 May rejected Mutharika’s appeal against Constitutional Court’s 3 Feb ruling which ordered rerun of 2019 presidential election; same day ruled electoral commission (MEC) should use voter registry and candidate list from nullified elections, prompting MEC to end voter registration process launched in April. MEC 13 May brought date of election rerun forward from 2 July to 23 June; parliament’s legal affairs committee 21 May endorsed new date. MEC Chair Jane Ansah resigned same day following months of nationwide protests and rebuke from courts and parliament over her mismanagement of 2019 election.
Jihadist violence persisted in rural areas in far north, President Nyusi sought regional support against insurgency, and armed dissident faction of Renamo continued to attack civilians in centre. Suspected jihadists launched dozens of attacks in Cabo Delgado province in far north. Notably, Islamist militants 2 May reportedly killed 34 civilians in two villages in Quissanga district; 11 and 16 May allegedly killed fifteen civilians in Miangalewa village, Muidumbe district. Security forces 13 May killed 42 jihadists on Chinda-Mbau axis in Mocimboa da Praia district, next day repelled attack in Quissanga district, killing eight jihadists. Al-Qaeda 22 May for first time claimed attack in Mocimboa da Praia district. Militants flying Islamic State (ISIS) flag 28 May occupied Macomia town; govt 31 May said security forces killed 79 Islamist militants, including two senior leaders, in counter-offensive to retake Macomia. Nyusi and regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC) troika including Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe 19 May met in Zimbabwean capital Harare to discuss security situation in Mozambique; in final communiqué, parties urged SADC member states to lend support to Mozambique against jihadist insurgency in Cabo Delgado, reportedly prompting talks between South Africa and Mozambique on possible South African assistance. Renamo dissident faction, which calls itself Renamo Military Junta, continued to launch attacks on transport routes in Sofala province in centre, killing one civilian in Nhamatanda district 17 May. Renamo Military Junta leader Mariano Nhongo 29 May claimed security forces had recently abducted several people in Nhamatanda, Sofala province, and Gondola, Manica province, on suspicion of supporting group. Trial of seven police and one civilian accused of killing prominent election observer Anastacio Matavele in Oct, ahead of presidential election, started 12 May in southern city of Xai-Xai. Nyusi 28 May extended COVID-19 state of emergency until 30 June.
Amid growing discontent over govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis and food shortages, authorities targeted opposition figures and journalists, while rift within opposition widened. Opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) alleged security forces 13 May abducted MDC politician and MP Joana Mamombe and two other MDC female youth leaders who were protesting in capital Harare against govt’s failure to provide food and other assistance to those in need during COVID-19 lockdown, and later sexually assaulted them; Justice Minister Ziyambi 19 May said women were lying about abduction. Authorities 27 May charged Mamombe and MDC youth leaders for participating in protest despite COVID-19 ban on public gatherings and allegedly inciting “public violence”; court 28 May released them on bail. Police 22 May arrested journalists Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira, who were investigating MDC members’ abduction, for allegedly breaching COVID-19 social distancing rules; court 26 May released journalists on bail. Govt 16 May extended COVID-19 lockdown indefinitely. After Supreme Court late March declared Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of MDC illegitimate and appointed party’s former Deputy President Thokozani Khupe interim leader, Chamisa and Khupe continued to vie for control of party. Following request by MDC faction led by Khupe, parliament speaker 5 May expelled four Chamisa-aligned MPs from parliament, prompting Chamisa’s faction to suspend participation in parliament 7 May; High Court 29 May dismissed Chamisa’s appeal against speaker’s decision. Govt 5 May denied reports it had deployed troops to fight Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique (see Mozambique).
Amid political manoeuvring and positioning ahead of presidential election planned for 31 Oct, opposition voiced further concerns over electoral framework, and military launched its first joint anti-insurgency operation with Burkina Faso against suspected jihadists in north. After electoral commission 6 May said electoral census operations initially scheduled 18 April-2 May would take place 10-24 June, former President Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire same day said timeframe was “unrealistic” and 30 days were needed to complete revision of electoral list; 18 May condemned current revision of electoral code by ordinance and accused govt of trying to avoid parliamentary debate. Authorities continued legal proceedings against former PM and self-declared candidate to presidential election Guillaume Soro. Public prosecutor 5 May said security forces in recent weeks arrested nineteen individuals suspected of coup-plotting, including five civilians and fourteen military personnel; arrests conducted after investigators found stock of weapons and ammunition at headquarters of Soro’s Generations and People in Solidarity party in economic capital Abidjan. In cabinet reshuffle 13 May, President Ouattara dismissed Higher Education and Scientific Minister Albert Toikeusse Mabri, leader of Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d’Ivoire (UDPCI) and potential presidential candidate, and appointed Albert Findé, Toikeusse’s main rival within UDPCI, as minister for integration, in alleged attempt to isolate Toikeusse. International Criminal Court 28 May authorised under certain conditions ex-President Gbagbo and pro-Gbagbo rebel leader and former Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé to leave their European cities of residence following their acquittal last year of crimes against humanity, potentially opening way for their return to Côte d’Ivoire. Ouattara 8 May lifted COVID-19 curfew and other restrictions throughout country except in economic capital Abidjan, where measures remained in place until 15 May. Military 24 May said eight suspected jihadists were killed and 38 others arrested in first joint anti-insurgency operation with Burkinabè forces launched 11 May in cross-border region north east of Ferkessedougou city.
Deadly protests erupted amid mounting popular discontent over govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis, while political tensions remained high following contested legislative elections and constitutional referendum in March. Amid COVID-19 outbreak, protests erupted 12 May in Coyah and Dubreka prefectures over alleged police racketeering at roadblocks erected to restrict access to capital Conakry; clashes between protesters and security forces reportedly left six killed. Demonstrators protesting against recurring electricity blackouts same day clashed with security forces in Kamsar area near mining city of Boké, leaving one protester dead. President Condé 15 May announced one-month extension of COVID-19 state of emergency, easing of curfew rules in Conakry, and lifting of curfew in rural areas. Authorities continued to detain members of coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), which opposes new constitution on grounds that it could allow President Condé to run for third term. Authorities 12 May charged FNDC senior official Saïkou Yaya Diallo, arrested 7 May, with “assault, violence, threats and public insults”. Leader of main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) Cellou Dalein Diallo 17 May said security forces had arbitrarily arrested eight UFDG officials in Kégnéko town, Mamou prefecture 14 May, and urged population to mobilise against Condé. Authorities 26 May acknowledged for first time that 30 people had died in clashes in south-eastern town of N’Zérékoré following March votes, and blamed FNDC for stoking violence.
New President Embaló moved toward constitutional reform and failed to meet regional bloc ECOWAS-imposed deadline to form new govt. Embaló 11 May announced creation of expert commission to propose constitutional amendments by mid-Aug; move follows ECOWAS calls in late April for constitutional reform. NGO Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime published new report 11 May alleging that Embaló’s presidency might be prompting resurgence in cocaine trafficking, citing his suspected close ties to drug lords in military; notably, several police agents apparently left country in recent weeks after alleged threats and intimidation by military, reportedly leading to slowdown in drug-related investigations. Embaló failed to meet ECOWAS-imposed deadline of 22 May to form new govt, as four out of five MPs within PM Nabiam’s Assembly of the People United-Democratic Party of Guinea-Bissau, including MP Marciano Indi, continued to reject alliance with Embaló, saying 2019 coalition agreement with leading party in parliament, African Party for the Independence of Guinea, remains valid; unidentified individuals same day reportedly briefly abducted MP Indi near capital Bissau. Embaló 26 May extended COVID-19 state of emergency into June.
Banditry and other violence continued unabated in north west, communal violence flared across several states notably in Middle Belt, and jihadist attacks persisted in north east. In north west, armed groups’ attacks killed at least 160 civilians in Katsina, Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna and Sokoto states despite ongoing security operations. In Katsina state, unidentified gunmen killed at least 21 in attacks 13-17 May, and fifteen 28 May. In Niger state, gunmen 13 May kidnapped four construction workers in Erena town, later demanding ransom. In Zamfara state, gunmen 19 May killed at least fifteen in Tsafe area. In Kaduna state, armed attacks on villages 11-21 May killed at least 35 in Kajuru area. In Sokoto state, gunmen 27 May attacked several villages in Sabon Birnin area, killing at least 74 people. Military 28 May reported 392 bandits and others killed in operations in north west 6-28 May. In Middle Belt, communal violence flared across Adamawa, Taraba and Benue states, leaving at least 80 dead. In Taraba state, fighting between Ichen and Tiv ethnic groups killed eight in Bali area 10 May; gunmen killed eight ethnic Fulanis in Wukari area 19 May. In Adamawa state, Hausa and Chabo communities 14-15 May clashed in Lamurde town, killing 48. In Benue state, communal and bandit violence killed at least eight in Guma area throughout month. Fulani herders 12 May clashed with farming communities in Adamawa and Benue states, at least eight killed. In north east, military 1-17 May reportedly killed 215 suspected members of Boko Haram (BH) factions – Abubakar Shekau’s group (JAS) and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). However, jihadist attacks continued in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Notably, suspected insurgents 17 May killed at least twenty civilians in Gajigana village, Borno state. Federal govt’s human rights protection agency National Human Rights Commission 10 May said it had received 104 complaints of human rights violations by security forces enforcing COVID-19 lockdown including eleven extrajudicial killings 13 April-4 May.
Amid COVID-19 restrictions, riots erupted early May leaving at least three dead and fuelling political tensions. Riot erupted 6 May over COVID-19 restrictions in town of Tombo outside Freetown, leaving at least two protesters and one police officer dead. President Bio in televised address 8 May accused opposition party All People’s Congress (APC) of inciting violence and terrorism; APC next day denied claims. Court 22 May charged former minister of social welfare and APC politician Sylvia Blyden, arrested 1 May, with several offences, including seditious libel and publication of false news; Blyden released on bail 29 May.
Tensions continued amid maritime incidents. Japanese Coast Guard said four Chinese Coast Guard vessels 8 May entered Japanese territorial waters around disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea, two Chinese ships briefly chased Japanese fishing boat; Tokyo lodged protest with Beijing over incident, while next day two Chinese vessels re-entered Japanese territorial waters. Also in East China Sea, U.S. B-1B bombers 4 May conducted training flight, and U.S. navy 19 May reported undertaking mine warfare training exercise. Beijing reportedly made diplomatic overtures to Tokyo, including suggesting relaxing rules on Japanese business community traveling to China. Lawmakers from ruling Liberal Democratic party 29 May urged govt to reconsider proposed state visit of Chinese President Xi following concerns over imposition of controversial new Chinese national security law in Hong Kong.
North Korean leader reappeared in public following speculation about his health, inter-Korean tensions flared at border, and concerns about food shortages inside DPRK surfaced. Following almost three weeks of public absence and widespread speculation about Kim Jong-Un’s well-being, DPRK state media released photos and video of North Korean leader at 1 May opening ceremony of Sunchon fertiliser plant north of Pyongyang. Shortly after, tensions flared on inter-Korean border when DPRK 3 May fired multiple gunshots across demilitarised zone and four bullets hit South Korean guard post in border town of Cheorwon; in response Seoul fired warning shots but later called events an “accident”; Pyongyang did not reply to South’s request for explanation nor cooperate in UN investigation into incident. South Korea’s ministry of unification 19 May warned of food shortages in North, said COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutting of borders hampering food imports; Russia 14 May confirmed it sent 25,000 tonnes of wheat to DPRK. South Korean president Moon Jae-in 10 May reiterated desire for inter-Korean projects starting with quarantine and infectious disease cooperation in response to COVID-19; ministry of unification 14 May said DPRK allowed entry of medical supplies including hand sanitisers from South Korean civic group through Chinese border week of 4 May; Pyongyang continued to deny presence of COVID-19 cases inside country and rejected supplies from American organisations. DPRK military 8 May threatened to respond to Seoul for its “reckless” 6 May military drills near disputed boundary in West Sea; South’s defence ministry said drills took place within its boundaries and did not violate 2018 deal establishing buffer zone free from military exercises. U.S.-South Korea tensions continued over agreement for sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula; U.S. President Trump 7 May said Seoul had “agreed to pay substantial money”. U.S. justice department 28 May charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese citizens for operating money laundering scheme worth over $2.5bn to fund Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
As President Tsai started her second term, China-Taiwan tensions remained high, especially regarding Taiwan’s lack of membership with World Health Organization (WHO) amid COVID-19 concerns. Following Jan re-election, President Tsai 20 May attended inauguration in capital Taipei, where she called on China and Taiwan to “find a way to coexist,” saying she opposed Beijing’s “use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo”; in response, China same day said “reunification” is “historical inevitability”, also expressed “strong indignation” that U.S. Sec State Pompeo sent message of congratulations to be read at inauguration. Chairman of main opposition Kuomintang party – currently shaping its cross-strait policy through reform committee established mid-March – 15 May called on China to stop threatening military force and said there was no appetite for “one country, two systems” in Taiwan. Taiwan govt 28 May criticised controversial new Chinese national security legislation for Hong Kong after Chinese parliament approved decision to move forward with drafting legislation. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, tensions continued over Beijing’s apparent blocking of Taipei from accessing information from WHO as it is not a member; Taiwan govt 19 May said it was “disappointed and angry” WHO did not invite it to join its annual assembly as an observer, and share its “experiences” regarding coronavirus response. In continued military drills, U.S. destroyer 13 May sailed through Taiwan Strait. China 15 May urged France to revoke plan to sell arms to Taiwan as part of upgrade to French warship fleet Taiwan bought 30 years ago; Taipei 28 May announced plans to purchase coastal defence missile system from U.S..
Amid concerns for peace process, Eid al-Fitr holiday brought some respite, with brief ceasefire between Taliban and Afghan govt forces and periods of reduced violence after initial spike in deadly attacks and sharp increase in civilian casualties mid-month. Afghan forces early May resumed high-intensity operations against Taliban in several provinces including Balkh (north), Ghanzi and Laghman (both east). Following 12 May terrorist attacks on hospital in capital Kabul that killed at least 24 and on funeral in Nangarhar (east) that killed some 32, President Ghani same day said govt forces would resume offensive operations against all insurgent groups; Taliban denied responsibility for attacks while Islamic State-Khorasan Province claimed funeral bombing. Taliban 14 May exploded suicide car bomb in Gardez city, Paktia (east), killing at least five, making it first Taliban-claimed suicide attack in a provincial capital since Sept 2019. Taliban night of 19 May attacked Kunduz provincial capital (north), assaulting at least seventeen security posts around strategic city, at least one soldier and eleven militants killed; hours after attack, Afghan air force bombed hospital in nearby Taliban territory. Unidentified armed groups 20 May attacked mosques in areas with Taliban presence including in Paktia and Khost (east), killing over a dozen. U.S. military action remained at low-level, while U.S. officials publicly reiterated commitment to draw down to 8,600 troops by 15 July as per U.S.-Taliban Feb agreement. Conflict reportedly dipped in some areas, including north east and north west, during Ramadan that ended 23 May. In surprising move, Taliban 24 May announced three-day ceasefire to mark Eid al-Fitr holiday; govt responded they would observe ceasefire and Ghani pledged to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners; both gestures appeared spurred by U.S. diplomatic pressure. Both sides followed Eid ceasefire with unannounced periods of reduced violence, increasing speculation intra-Afghan negotiations may soon be possible. Ghani and main opponent Abdullah Abdullah 17 May signed deal to form inclusive govt that will see Ghani remain president, both to choose equal number of ministers and Abdullah to lead any peace talks with Taliban.
Govt continued to use COVID-19 crisis to silence critics, while security forces carried out further operations against alleged members of banned militant groups. Awami League (AL) govt appeared to use COVID-19 to crackdown on dissenting voices, especially targeting journalists; officials said police 3 May detained prominent journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, who had been missing for three months, when he allegedly attempted to enter illegally from India. Police used controversial Digital Security Act: 5 May detained journalist for “spreading rumours” about AL lawmaker on Facebook, and two journalists and nine others for provoking anti-govt sentiments and “rumours” about COVID-19; 6 May detained three journalists accused of defaming woman on YouTube. In response, seven ambassadors, including EU and U.S., 8 May individually tweeted about importance of upholding free speech and press freedoms; FM Momen next day said statements “very unfortunate”, not in line with diplomatic norm. Workers from remaining closed factories in export-orientated garment industry continued mass protest rallies countrywide demanding owed wages, leading to clashes with police in capital Dhaka 20 May which left a dozen injured. First confirmed COVID-19 case in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar reported 14 May. Coast Guard rescued some 60 Rohingya refugees 2 May and 280 more 7 May in Bay of Bengal; majority of refugees sent to Bhashan Char despite longstanding concerns island is flood-prone and lacks services; UN Sec Gen Guterres 15 May sent govt letter appealing to move refugees to existing camps; FM Momen 17 May rejected demand, said if place not suitable other countries should take refugees or they should return to Myanmar. In Dhaka, as part of anti-militancy efforts, police arrested alleged online recruiter for Ansar-al Islam (formerly Ansarullah Bangla Team), who 1 May appeared before court, and 4 May detained seventeen alleged Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants charged with attempting to travel to Saudi Arabia to join Bangladeshi jihadist leader Syed Mostaq bin Arman; in Chittagong, police 3 May arrested three alleged members of Neo-JMB, offshoot of main group; paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion 23 May detained alleged JMB member in Madaripur district.
Tensions flared at border with China, security forces continued to confront Maoists, and COVID-19 measures continued to spark social unrest. At disputed Indo-China border, Indian and Chinese soldiers 5-6 May clashed leaving dozens injured on banks of Pangong lake in Ladakh union territory (north); 9 May clashed again leaving several soldiers injured in Naku La area in Sikkim state (northeast). China 15 May denied any wrongdoing, while Indian foreign ministry 21 May said: “All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC [Line of Actual control]. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns.” Despite diplomatic and local talks to ease tensions, military build-up reported in multiple locations on both sides of border until end of month, particularly near Pangong lake and in Galwan valley, where China apparently objects to India building new road. Chinese foreign ministry 27 May said border situation “overall stable and controllable”; India’s defense minister 30 May said border row would be resolved through diplomacy. In Uttarakhand state (north), defense minister 8 May inaugurated road linking India and China, and crossing Nepal-claimed Lipulekh pass, triggering strong protests from Kathmandu (see Nepal entry). In Chhattisgarh state (centre), clashes between Maoists and police 8 May left four Maoists and one policeman dead near Pardhoni village; Maoists 11 May opened fire on security forces killing one in Bastar district; security forces 23 May shot and killed two Maoists near Mankapal village. In Maharashtra state (west), security forces 2 May killed senior Maoist commander during search operation near Jaravandi village; clashes between Maoists and police 17 May left two policemen dead in Poyerkothi-Koparshi forest. In Jharkhand state (east), security operations 17-28 May left four Maoists dead in Simdega and West Singhbhum districts. COVID-19 measures continued to fuel tensions across country: notably, the return home of tens of thousands of jobless migrant workers amid lockdown restrictions fuelled protests, including clashes with security forces.
Militant attacks and counter-insurgency operations inside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) continued at high intensity, while clashes across Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir) persisted. Security forces 2 May killed two militants in Pulwama district; five security forces next day killed during operation which also left two militants dead in Handwara area, Kupwara district; grenade attack injured paramilitary soldier in Srinagar city 4 May. After security forces 6 May killed Riyaz Naikoo, top commander of Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, and three other militants in Pulwama district, protesters clashed with police, and mobile phone and internet services cut for three days in region. Soldier and another Hizbul Mujahideen commander 17 May killed in gunfight in Doda district. Militant commander and son of separatist Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairperson next day killed in Srinagar along with another militant; 22 houses burnt down during encounter, with local residents accusing security forces of using them as “human shields” and looting their belongings; security forces 24 May detained four alleged Lashkar-e-Tayyaba-linked militants in Budgam district and 30 May three in Baramulla district. Govt continued crackdown on political leaders in J&K; authorities 5 May extended for three months detention under controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) of former Kashmiri Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, of former Minister Mohammad Sagar, and of Mufti’s uncle, Sartaj Madani; former Kashmiri Chief Minister Omar Abdullah same day said PM Modi “single handedly pushed J&K back decades”. Detention of Shah Faesal, who founded J&K People’s Movement party last year, also extended for three months under PSA on 13 May. Cross-LoC fire continued amid hostile rhetoric on both sides; Indian army claimed Pakistani fire 1 May killed two soldiers and injured three civilians; Islamabad 7 May accused India of “deliberately targeting” civilians, said fire had injured total of ten civilians on 7, 18, and 20 May. Indian army chief 4 May accused Pakistan of “limited agenda” of sending terrorists into J&K, warning of “proportionate response to all acts of infringement”; Pakistani foreign ministry 7 May rejected “baseless Indian claims”, said allegations were attempt to create “false flag” military operation against Pakistan.
Amid rapid spread of COVID-19 and growing pressures on country’s limited health care system, bilateral tensions with India rose over disputed territory along north-western border. After Indian defense minister 8 May inaugurated new road traversing Nepal-claimed Lipulekh pass, FM Pradeep Gyawali 11 May delivered note verbale to Indian ambassador urging Delhi to stop unilateral construction in disputed territory. Despite widespread support from opposition on Lipulekh dispute, govt faced fresh criticism for sluggish reaction to India’s Nov 2019 issuance of new political map which included Kalapani – another disputed area adjacent to Lipulekh – within India’s territory. Nepalese cabinet 18 May endorsed new political map including 335 sq km of disputed territories in north west border region; govt 22 May registered constitutional amendment proposal in parliament to update national emblem to reflect new map. In response, India’s ministry of external affairs said map was “artificial enlargement of territorial claims” and Indian Army Chief MM Naravane drew criticism from Nepali leaders after suggesting Kathmandu’s reaction was at behest of China. PM KP Oli raised tensions further during 19 May parliamentary address by blaming Nepal’s increasing COVID-19 cases on individuals arriving illegally from India. Upper house 20 May endorsed controversial proposed bill granting national intelligence agency sweeping surveillance authority; lower house approval required before bill adopted as law.
Militant violence continued while govt handling of COVID-19 pandemic came under heavy criticism from opposition. Opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari 1 May questioned Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis, asked PM Khan to resign if he could not perform; govt continued to focus on negative economic effect of lockdown and Khan 7 May announced end of lockdown in phases starting 9 May, citing responsibility to protect poor. National Assembly 12 May discussed for first time federal govt’s COVID-19 response; opposition attacked PTI govt with Zardari holding it responsible for undermining PPP-led Sindh provincial govt’s stringent response, while Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker and former FM Asif criticised Khan for easing lockdown at time of “dangerous spike in infections”; in response Khan 15 May said Pakistan’s economy could not afford indefinite lockdown. Govt mid-May reopened two main borders with Afghanistan: Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province and Chaman in Balochistan province. Militant violence continued, particularly in KPK: in Wana, South Waziristan district, unidentified gunmen 1 May shot Arif Wazir, leader of Pashtun rights group Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, who died following day; militants 7 May killed two soldiers in attack on security checkpoint in North Waziristan district; militants 22 May killed police officer in Kohat district and senior bureaucrat and two relatives 24 May in North Waziristan. Punjab’s counter-terrorism police said four Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants who were planning attack on religious minority killed during 17 May clash in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. Karachi police 30 May arrested alleged ISIS militant. Insurgents targeted security forces in Balochistan; Balochistan Liberation Army claimed 8 May attack that killed six members of paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) in Kech district on Iran border; six soldiers killed in bomb explosion in Mach targeting FC jeep and soldier killed in gunfight in Kech 19 May; Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa 11 May reportedly spoke to Iranian counterpart calling for cooperation in countering Baloch militants on Pakistan-Iran border. Top police official 27 May said two police officers killed by terrorists in Islamabad.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa continued to reject opposition and civil society demands to reconvene parliament by 2 June, raising prospect of major constitutional crisis. Throughout month President Rajapaksaand PM Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected appeals to recall parliament, said there was no need or power to call it back into session. Supreme Court (SC) last two weeks of May heard arguments in eight “fundamental rights petitions” filed by opposition and civil society challenging constitutionality of parliamentary polls scheduled for 20 June – almost three weeks beyond 2 June deadline prescribed in constitution – and requesting parliament be reconvened. Elections Commission 20 May informed SC that arranging elections would require “nine to eleven weeks after receiving the green light from health authorities that the country is safe [from COVID-19 virus]”, placing earliest possible election in late July. Responding to false accusations of Muslims spreading COVID-19 and policy of cremating all COVID-19 victims, including Muslims, in contravention of Islamic burial practices, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation 6 May expressed deep concern over “escalating hate speech and hostility towards Muslims in Sri Lanka” and called on authorities to ensure safety of Muslim community and respect for religious practices and rituals. Prominent Muslim leader of opposition party All Ceylon Makkal Congress Rishad Bathiudeen 14 May filed petition with SC challenging govt’s cremation policy. Defense Secretary Kamal Gunaratne 15 May ordered navy to establish unit in Eastern province to “protect” Buddhist temple and its land from “other parties” following years of unsubstantiated claims Muslims were taking temple lands. Family of prominent Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah 5 May filed petition with SC challenging his arrest for alleged involvement in 2019 Easter bombings. On 11th anniversary of civil war end, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa 18 May praised sacrifices of “war heroes” and challenged opposition criticism of militarisation of civilian administration; President Rajapaksa next day promoted record number of military officers and warned that he would withdraw country from any international organisation that “targets” military for human rights abuses during civil war. Meanwhile, Tamil National People’s Front 18 May said police prevented its members from holding commemoration events.
Govt deployed over 300,000 security forces members across four provinces to enforce COVID-19 measures, and small-scale attacks continued in Papua. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, President Joko Widodo 4 May signed govt regulation postponing Sept regional elections until at least Dec; authorities 26 May deployed some 340,000 soldiers and police personnel to Jakarta, West Java, West Sumatra and Gorontalo provinces to enforce COVID-19 restrictions. In Papua province, police 16 May reported that members of armed separatist group, West Papua Liberation Army (WPLA), previous day launched attack on police post in Paniai regency, seriously injuring one police officer; WPLA said attack carried out to retrieve weapons. Also in Papua province, unidentified gunmen 22 May opened fire on local COVID-19 response team, killing one health worker and seriously injuring another in Intan Jaya regency; security forces and separatists blamed each other for attack. Indonesian Maritime and Air Police 15 May reported that at least 500 Rohingya refugees were en route from Myanmar to Aceh province, prompting calls from religious leaders, scholars, and activists for govt to launch rescue operation. President Widodo 11 May submitted to House of Representatives presidential regulation proposing involvement of military in fight against terrorism; National Human Rights Commission and human rights activists criticised move, said military would not be subjected to general justice under new regulation.
Military announced unilateral ceasefire across country but excluded areas where clashes between security forces and Arakan Army (AA) continued to exact heavy civilian toll. In response to COVID-19 threat, Tatmadaw 9 May announced unilateral ceasefire from 10 May to 31 Aug, while excluding Rakhine State and areas of southern Chin State where heavy fighting with AA is ongoing; Brotherhood Alliance – coalition of armed groups AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – called ceasefire “a sham”, urged govt and army to include all parts of country. Clashes between AA and military continued throughout month. In two ethnic Rakhine villages, 325 houses destroyed by fire 16 and 26 May, in manner reminiscent of destruction of Rohingya villages in 2016-17; AA blamed military for recent incidents, who in turn accused AA, saying they did so to discredit military. In south Rakhine, official of ruling party National League for Democracy (NLD) 6 May claimed that AA had intimidated and attempted to kidnap NLD officials in Toungup township, AA said accusations were fabrications to damage its reputation; bomb 8 May exploded in Kyaukpyu township, govt blamed AA. After video of soldiers violently questioning detainees suspected of links with AA emerged, military 12 May said that soldiers had acted inappropriately and would be under military investigation; NGO Human Rights Watch expressed concerns about due accountability under military-led process. Mine explosion 13 May killed two children in Buthidaung township (northern Rakhine), govt and AA blamed each other. About 100 AA fighters 29 May launched attack on police outpost in Rathedaung township, killing four police officers. Radio Free Asia mid-May reported fighting between govt forces and AA had killed 47 civilians since April. Myanmar’s Union Election Commission 18 May stripped Aye Maung, former chairman of Arakan National Party, who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for high treason in 2019, of his MP status and barred him from running in future elections. Pursuant to Jan request by International Court of Justice, Myanmar 23 May submitted to court first six-monthly report detailing measures it has taken to prevent and punish acts of genocide against Rohingya.
Despite ongoing COVID-19 concerns, fighting between security forces and communist rebels resumed; meanwhile, violence in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) persisted in south. After ceasefire between govt and New People’s Army (NPA) fell apart late April, counter-insurgency operations and rebel ambushes on military presence resurfaced in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon, leaving at least 30 combatants and civilians dead; at least 26 communist rebels 13-19 May killed in clashes in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte following military offensives. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) progressed slowly as main focus was on fighting COVID-19. At local level, clashes between clans reignited in Pikit municipality (part of BARMM) and in Matalam municipality (Cotabato province), leaving several houses burned and displacing hundreds. Clashes between soldiers and elements of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) continued, leaving 3 May two ASG dead in Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi province, and 16 May three militants dead in Patikul, Sulu province. In Maguindanao province, members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 3 May killed two soldiers in Datu Hoffer town; clash between BIFF and military 18-19 May also left one soldier and two militants dead in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan. Nationwide, National Telecommunications Commission 5 May ordered largest Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN to halt operations after govt 4 May refused to renew 25-year legislative franchise upon expiration; govt critics condemned decision, calling it illegal and “clampdown of the freedom of the press”; govt’s imposed COVID-19 lockdown in COVID-affected areas extended until 31 May.
South China Sea
Amid heated diplomatic exchanges between U.S., China and claimant states, U.S. military forces intensified activity in South China Sea (SCS), and reports emerged that China had deployed military aircraft to Spratly Islands. Following rising tensions in April after reported Chinese incursion into Malaysian exclusive economic zone, U.S. military forces increased their activity in SCS, including U.S. bombers 7-8 May flying over maritime area; U.S. Navy 2-8 May conducting reconnaissance and surveillance exercises; and U.S. Submarine Forces Pacific 8 May announcing that all of its forward-deployed submarines were underway in Western Pacific, including Philippine Sea. Meanwhile, China 1 May started campaign for enforcing unilateral fishing ban for all in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in SCS; fishermen’s groups in Philippines and Vietnam 4 May protested against China’s summer fishing moratorium; Vietnamese ministry of agriculture and rural development 13 May rejected “unilateral decision”, said Vietnam has sovereignty over its waters. Indonesian FM Retno Marsudi 6 May expressed concern over escalating tensions between U.S., China and claimant parties and urged all to exercise restraint and abide by international law; Indonesia 26 May sent diplomatic note to UN Sec Gen Guterres reiterating support for compliance with international law, and particularly UN Convention for Law of the Sea, and expressed support for 2016 ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration in favour of Philippines against China over SCS territorial dispute. Chinese vessel 15 May left Malaysian area according to shipping data after exploration vessel from Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas 12 May withdrew from same zone; Philippine Navy 19 May announced docking of landing craft at Thitu Islandas work on a port nears completion. A defence intelligence group 11 May disclosed that satellite imagery showed two kinds of surveillance aircraft on Fiery (Yongshu) Reef in the Spratly islands; Chinese media 14 May reported that China had deployed KJ-500 airborne early warning and control system and KQ-200 maritime patrol aircraft on the reef’s base; Chinese FM Wang Yi 24 May stated there is “nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea”.
Series of pro-democracy activities commemorating deadly military crackdown of 2010 Red Shirt protests took place, while insurgent violence in deep south resumed at low intensity. Main insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN)1 May condemned govt’s late April deadly security operation which killed three insurgents and breached group’s unilateral ceasefire; BRN denied allegations that slain insurgent suspects were planning attacks and called on govt to “reciprocate” ceasefire. Suspected insurgents 3 May opened fire on two rangers riding motorcycle, killing one in Saiburi district, Pattani. Amid easing of COVID-19 lockdown, pro-democracy activists launched protests commemorating military crackdown of 2010 Red Shirt movement, which left 99 dead. In capital Bangkok, anonymous group night of 10 May launched campaign projecting slogan “#SeekTheTruth” on several Bangkok landmarks; new Progressive Movement, founded by Thanathorn Jungrungruangkit, disqualified MP and former leader of Future Forward Party, next day claimed credit for projections, decrying lack of accountability for loss of life at hands of army ten years ago. Several dozen Red Shirts 13 May attended memorial in Bangkok of pro-Red Shirt military official killed during 2010 protests, police arrested one for organising protest despite COVID-19 emergency decree; Red Shirt leaders and activists 19 May also held commemoration ceremonies in Bangkok and Chiang Mai city; and student and other activists 22 May gathered in Bangkok to mark sixth anniversary of 2014 military coup, police arrested two demonstrators for violating emergency decree. Govt 26 May extended state of emergency until 30 June; opposition and human rights activists denounced move as means to curb protests and stifle dissent, main opposition party Pheu Thai described it as “a consolidation of power”. Royal Gazette 4 May announced that former head of Constitutional Court, Dr Nurak Marpraneet, had been appointed to Privy Council; in previous role, Nurak oversaw removal of three PMs (including Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014), dissolution of 29 political parties (including most recently of the Future Forward Party), and ruling to nullify 2014 elections.
Papua New Guinea
Tensions mid-month flared between police and military following deadly attack on senior police officer. In capital Port Moresby, hours after imposition of COVID-19 restrictions on sale and consumption of alcohol, off-duty military personnel 8 May attacked senior police inspector investigating illegal alcohol sale at black market; police officer next day died from injuries. Police 23 May arrested former PM Peter O’Neill following allegations of corruption and abuse of office during premiership. Supreme Court 29 May ratified Feb vote by Bougainville regional authorities rejecting proposed change to Bougainville constitution that would have allowed presidents to hold third term in office.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Central Election Commission (CIK) 23 May postponed local elections from 4 Oct to 15 Nov due to disagreement over 2020 budget; Mostar, southern town divided between Bosniaks and Croats that has not held vote since 2008, not included in decision as govt has yet to amend election law in line with 2010 Constitutional Court ruling and Oct 2019 European Court of Human Rights decision; Serbian member of presidency same day called CIK decision “illegitimate”. NGO Transparency International 21 May filed criminal complaint with prosecutor’s office against Milorad Dodik, Serb member of state trilateral presidency, after he told parliamentarians in Republika Srpska that he regularly listened into telephone conversations between opposition politicians; Dodik dismissed charge. Following transfer in April of $361mn in International Monetary Fund emergency assistance to support COVID-19 response, authorities reportedly unable to reach agreement on distribution of money between various levels of govt within Bosniak- and Croat-majority entity of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tensions continued between caretaker PM Kurti and President Thaçi following collapse of Kurti’s govt in late March and Thaçi’s April nomination of former Deputy PM Avdullah Hoti to form new govt. Following request by Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party (which is calling for new elections) to annul presidential decree that gave Hoti governing mandate, Constitutional Court 28 May ruled that president had not exceeded his authority in nominating Hoti as PM, allowing the nomination to go forward. Around 500 supporters of Vetëvendosje party 13 May staged first demonstration in series of protests in support of new elections despite COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings; second protest 28 May involved around 5000 supporters; other parties including Democratic Party of Kosovo criticised protests for endangering public health amid COVID-19 outbreak. Kurti and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo 6 May condemned remarks reportedly made by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Kosovo newspaper Koha that suggested that EU would not oppose potential land swap deal as resolution of longstanding dispute between Kovoso and Serbia; EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak 11 May clarified land swap “is not on the agenda and should not be on [the EU’s] agenda”; Thaçi 27 May stated he would not participate in EU-led talks with Serbia on normalising relations. Kurti 18 May said January agreement with Serbia on restoring commercial flights between capitals was not yet “fully-fledged agreement” but rather “expression of interest”.
Tensions between govt and Serbian Orthodox Church increased after authorities 12 May detained Serbian Orthodox bishop and seven priests for holding religious procession in violation of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings; detention next day sparked nationwide protests and clashes between police and demonstrators in towns of Niksic and Pljevlja; 26 police injured, 60 people arrested. Authorities 15 May released detained clergy.
With highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Caucasus, PM Pashinyan 26 May said country was facing second wave of infections, and warned that penalties, including fines, would be toughened for those not following safety rules.
Regarding controversial case that contributed to deadlock in negotiation process over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, European Court of Human Rights 26 May ruled that Azerbaijan’s decision to pardon, promote and award benefits to soldier convicted of decapitating Armenian officer in Budapest in 2004 violated European Convention on Human Rights; in response, MFA same day stressed that court ruling stated there was no substantive violation of convention’s Article 2 (right to life) and no demand for annulment of pardon decree.
Amid efforts to prevent COVID-19 spread in region, newly elected de facto leadership of breakaway Abkhazia took steps to resume initiatives for regular contacts with Georgian govt. During online conference with co-chairs of Geneva International Discussions (GID), Abkhaz de facto govt 13 May voiced readiness to resume work of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism, forum for Georgian, Russian and de facto local security officials to discuss situation on line of separation; forum halted in 2018 due to disagreements over issues including refusal of Abkhaz de facto govt to punish border guard responsible for death of ethnic Georgian in May 2016. At same meeting, representatives of de facto South Ossetian leadership reasserted their refusal to accept international support to prevent COVID-19 spread unless it enters from Russian border. Georgian Security Service 16 May reported new signs of borderisation at village of Saberio near Abkhaz administrative boundary line; EU Monitoring Mission neither confirmed nor denied reports. In domestic politics, President Zourabichvili 16 May pardoned two prominent opposition politicians as step in implementation of 8 March agreement between opposition and ruling party that lays out agreed electoral reforms.
Armenia and Azerbaijan continued heated diplomatic exchanges with no visible movement in negotiation process, while sporadic exchanges of fire took place along northern part of border zone. Armenian and Azerbaijan forces 13 May exchanged fire near Armenian village Berkaber with bullets reportedly reaching houses for first time in two years; no casualties. Azerbaijan 18-22 May conducted large-scale exercises in different locations, including near Armenian troops stationed in conflict zone and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic; exercises involved newly purchased missile systems, airplanes and drones. Armenia 19-22 May conducted large-scale tactical exercises with involvement of artillery and motorised rifle subdivisions. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group co-chairs 18-19 May continued virtual contacts with Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs, while Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 19 May telephoned Azerbaijani counterpart for third time in a month to discuss NK issue. Arayik Harutyunyan 21 May sworn in as NK’s fourth de facto president at ceremony attended by senior Armenian officials; Harutyunyan called for NK’s unification with Armenia and pledged to carry out economic reforms and work more closely with Yerevan to develop the region.
In North Caucasus, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 5 May reportedly hospitalised in Moscow for potential COVID-19 infection. President Putin 18 May recognised severity of COVID-19 situation in southern republic of Dagestan, stating health care system under “heavy burden”; his remarks followed local mufti Akhmad Abdulayev’s appeal to devote attention to “catastrophe”. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) 26 May reiterated call for Russia to address “climate of impunity” and “very serious” human rights violations by authorities in Chechnya documented in Nov 2018 OSCE fact-finding report. Internationally, in response to U.S. announcement that it will exit Open Skies arms control treaty, Russian Deputy FM Alexander Grushko 21 May said move would deal blow to “key security interests of the allies of the U.S.” (see also U.S./Russia).
Govt 10 May held large military parade in capital Minsk to mark 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day despite COVID-19 outbreak, prompting domestic and international criticism; President Lukashenko 4 May said he refused to set up protective measures or to cancel parade partly because people “would say we were scared”; former head of state Stanislav Shushkevich condemned decision as “not only ignorance, but a crime” while former parliament speaker Mechislav Grib compared Lukashenko’s remarks with Soviet attitudes “when human life was not valued”. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists reported that foreign ministry 6 May cancelled accreditations for two journalists reporting on COVID-19 outbreak for disseminating “information that did not correspond with the reality”. In line with commitment made during Feb visit of U.S. Sec State Pompeo to Belarus, U.S. sent first ever crude oil shipment to Belarus.
Constitutional Court 7 May cancelled parliament’s approval of Russian loan totalling €200mn over ten years, ruling credit agreement unconstitutional. European Parliament 15 May approved proposal for emergency assistance to ten countries to overcome economic consequences of COVID-19 pandemic; Moldova will receive €100mn.
Deadly fighting continued in Donbas as sides conducted online negotiations and Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist leadership moved to lift COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. Violence along Donbas front lines remained concentrated near Donetsk, Horlivka, Zolote disengagement area, and east of Mariupol, according to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); govt forces lost at least five servicemen, and Russian-backed forces lost up to 22 people according to pro-Ukrainian non-government source, while one civilian killed and at least twelve injured, according to OSCE and UN reports. First week of May saw more civilian casualties than any single week over past two years, according to 8 May UN appeal calling for all sides to respect humanitarian law; appeal was “addressed to a greater extent […] to the command of the Joint Forces Operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine”, as all casualties had been reported in separatist-held areas. Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s chief negotiator for Donbas conflict, 13 May visited Berlin to meet with German counterpart; said meeting had produced “agreements on mutual next steps” for conflict resolution. Kyiv 14 May brought newly beefed-up delegation to online Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) negotiations, during which its representatives reiterated their refusal to amend constitution to guarantee self-governing status for areas currently held by separatists within Ukraine, and to hold elections in these areas while Russia and proxy forces controlled country’s eastern border. Following 28 May TCG meeting, Zelenskyy said Russian delegation did “not object” to full Ukrainian control in present-day separatist-held areas before elections.
Amid ongoing tensions over hydrocarbon exploration in eastern Mediterranean, Republic of Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and United Arab Emirates 11 May issued joint declaration denouncing Turkey’s drilling activities, calling on Ankara to “fully respect the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of all states in their maritime zones”; Ankara accused countries of “attempting to create an axis of malice”. EU foreign ministers 15 May condemned Turkey’s unilateral actions in eastern Mediterranean, confirming they stood “in full solidarity with Cyprus”; Ankara dismissed statement. Following April decision by U.S. company Exxon Mobil to postpone planned drilling in eastern Mediterranean due to falling demand for oil and gas, Republic of Cyprus’ energy ministry 5 May announced French company Total and Italian company Eni also postponing planned exploration operations. Republic of Cyprus president and Turkish Cypriot leader 21 May agreed to permit Turkish Cypriot students, workers and those seeking health treatment to cross border from 8 June as part of relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, which had prevented such movement since late Feb.
Northern Ireland (UK)
Police 8 May warned journalists from Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers that loyalist paramilitary group Ulster Defence Association had planned attacks against them, reportedly over their coverage of paramilitary activity; local politicians who condemned planned attacks against reporters also received threats. Suspected dissident republicans 17 May murdered man in his home in west Belfast. Police 28 May reported hospitalisation of young man following “paramilitary-style” shooting in west Belfast.
Hostilities between Turkish military and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq intensified, while fatalities from PKK conflict in Turkey’s south east decreased slightly. In northern Iraq, Turkish military conducted ten air raids targeting PKK, eight more than in April; PKK 14 May attacked Turkish base in Dahuk province with no reported casualties. Turkish air raids targeted PKK militants in northern Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah province 27 May (see Iraq). In Turkey’s south east, military continued small-scale ground operations targeting PKK in rural areas; PKK 14 May reportedly killed two aid workers in Van province, authorities arrested at least 38 suspects in response. During visit to Şırnak’s Cizre district for opening of military command centre, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu reiterated Turkey’s determination to pursue hardline policies, saying “this year we will either be present there [referring to south-eastern Cudi, Gabar, Besta, Kel Mehmet and Kato areas] or die”. Govt continued pressure on pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). During month, interior ministry removed five more elected HDP mayors from office (two province, three district mayors). Out of 65 municipalities HDP won in March 2019 elections, 45 now run by state-appointed “trustees”. Police 20 May also reportedly detained in capital Ankara at least 18 HDP members, including HDP’s Ankara provincial head, protesting govt crackdown. Dozens of HDP members and representatives of pro-Kurdish women’s rights groups 22 May detained in Diyarbakır. In northern Syria, Turkish military 3 May reportedly returned fire at People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants in Turkish-controlled Tel Abyad and blocked three YPG militants attempting to “infiltrate” “Operation Peace Spring” area; Defence ministry 30 May said security forces “neutralised” five YPG fighters who attempted to infiltrate into same area. In Idlib, Turkey and Russia continued joint patrols in effort to uphold their fragile March ceasefire; improvised attack 27 May killed Turkish soldier during patrol along M4 highway (see Syria). Foreign ministry 10 May warned Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar against attacking diplomatic missions in Libyan capital Tripoli after Haftar-aligned forces previous day shelled areas close to Turkish and Italian embassies (see Libya). Detentions of fourteen Islamic State suspects reported this month.
President Tokayev 2 May dismissed former president Nazarbayev’s daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva as senate member and chair, second-highest govt office, replacing her with Deputy Chief of Presidential Administration Maulen Ashimbaev; move prompted speculation over dynamics in top leadership. Lower legislative chamber 6 May passed bill decriminalising libel; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called move “important step forward” and called for further reforms to improve freedom of expression. Senate 28 May approved bill giving parliamentary parties greater agenda-setting power; critics said bill inadequate given widespread govt repression of opposition. International NGOs, including World Organisation Against Torture, 11 May accused govt of using COVID-19 state of emergency “as an excuse to prosecute its critics and opponents”, citing smear campaigns against activists critical of controversial draft assembly law adopted in late March; President Tokayev 25 May signed assembly legislation into law. Deputy governor of southern region Turkistan 2 May criticised Uzbek officials for withholding information on 1 May collapse of dam in Uzbekistan’s Sirdayo region, which forced thousands of Kazakhs to evacuate; Uzbek President Mirziyoyev in telephone call with President Tokayev same day apologised for incident, sent personnel and equipment to help repair damage.
Violence flared along disputed border with Tajikistan in Batken region, when clashes erupted 8 May between dozens of Kyrgyz and Tajik residents over rival claims to land; Kyrgyz and Tajik armed forces exchanged fire, which reportedly injured three Kyrgyz border guards and two Tajik villagers; countries blamed each other but reportedly engaged in talks as hostilities ceased same day. Amid ongoing border tensions over water usage in south, clashes over water dispute 31 May erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbek villagers near Uzbekistan's Sokh exclave in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region. District court 6 May again adjourned trial of former President Almazbek Atambayev and thirteen co-defendants citing Atambayev’s poor health; defendants face multiple charges including attempted murder related to deadly clashes with security forces at Atambayev’s compound in Aug 2019. Supreme Court 13 May upheld life sentence of ethnic Uzbek rights defender Azimjon Askarov despite human rights groups’ calls for his release on grounds of ill health; Askarov was convicted for alleged involvement in murder of police officer and stirring ethnic hatred during deadly clashes in south Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
After clashes erupted 8 May between dozens of Tajik and Kyrgyz residents over rival claims to land along disputed border with Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz and Tajik armed forces exchanged fire that reportedly injured three Kyrgyz border guards and two Tajik villagers; countries blamed each other for escalation but reportedly engaged in talks as hostilities ceased same day. Kyrgyz resident 27 May allegedly shot and wounded Tajik citizen on disputed border in northern Sughd region; Tajikistan’s border guard directorate same day accused Kyrgyzstan of “attempting to destabilise” border. Dozens of residents of Khuroson district in west 17 May blocked key road and demanded govt aid following flooding and mudslides that killed one person, injured several and damaged dozens of houses. In northern Sughd region, police 20 May used gunfire to disperse protest by dozens of Chinese mine workers reportedly demanding payment of salaries and return to China; no injuries reported. Authorities reported first COVID-19 cases 30 April, confirmed 2,140 cases, including 47 deaths, as of 31 May; activists claimed number far higher.
Several hundred people gathered in rare protest mid-May in Lebap regional capital Turkmenabat in east to demand govt help after storms and heavy rains in eastern Lebap and Mary provinces late April-early May reportedly killed at least 30 people, severely damaged property and cut off utilities; protest occurred amid ongoing reports of economic crisis including food shortages and inflation. Govt continued to claim it had not registered any COVID-19 cases, 15 May approved COVID-19 prevention plan and imposed restrictions on mass gatherings. World Health Organization (WHO) early May reportedly cancelled visit to Turkmenistan after it did not receive official invitation; FM Meredov 8 May told reporters country was willing to host WHO delegation. Following ban of foreign currency cash withdrawals in April, state media 18 May announced govt will force local companies to sell all foreign currency proceeds to country’s sovereign fund.
Authorities 3 May launched criminal probe into “official negligence” and potential violations of construction rules following 1 May collapse of Sardoba Reservoir dam completed in 2017 in eastern region Sirdayo, which led to evacuation of at least 70,000 people, hospitalisation of 56 and four deaths. Deputy governor of Kazakhstan’s Turkistan region 2 May criticised Uzbek govt for withholding information on resulting flooding that spilled over into Turkistan and forced thousands of Kazakh citizens to evacuate; President Mirziyoyev apologised to his Kazakh counterpart and reportedly sent personnel and equipment to help repair damage. Interior ministry 3 May announced investigation into temporary police detention of two journalists reporting on aftermath of dam collapse. Clashes over water dispute 31 May erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbek villagers in Uzbekistan's Sokh exclave in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region. Interior ministry 28 May announced security forces detained suspected members of proscribed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Ferghana Valley. On fifteen-year anniversary of Andijon massacre, human rights groups 13 May urged govt to investigate killing of demonstrators by security forces.
Latin America & Caribbean
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, armed groups’ violence continued unabated in south west, while military conducted operations against National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. Violence remained high in Cauca department (south west) as three Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia dissident fronts attempted to take advantage of COVID-19 mobility restrictions to expand and consolidate territory, leaving five social leaders killed 1-15 May. Military conducted several operations against ELN guerrillas throughout country. Notably, army 13 May killed at least five ELN members during operations in south of Bolívar department (north), including Alejandro Montoya alias “Gallero”, commander of Darío Ramírez Castro War Front and member of national leadership. After President Duque late April signed decree authorising creation of demobilisation scheme for individual members of armed groups, military reported 37 ELN members sought to demobilise 29 April-2 May in Cauca; ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán 18 May rejected decree as non-starter. Beltrán 29 May said ELN would back UN’s call for three-month global ceasefire to address COVID-19 pandemic. Small-scale demonstrations against hunger continued almost daily in several major cities, while World Food Programme 19 May said 1mn people need urgent food support throughout country. Govt 11 May relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for several core economic sectors and 22 May extended mandatory isolation until 31 May. Amid high rates of COVID-19 transmission notably in Amazonas department along Brazilian border, govt and Brazil 15 May agreed to establish joint committee of ministers of health, defence and foreign affairs, while govt mid-month deployed at least 1,000 additional troops to border. UN refugee agency 19 May said COVID-19-related school closure increased risk of child recruitment by armed groups in Colombia.
Following foiled armed incursion by sea, reportedly attempting to topple President Maduro, authorities detained dozens suspected of involvement and further suppressed opposition. Govt 3 May said it had prevented group of former soldiers planning to capture Maduro from landing at seaside town of Macuto near capital Caracas same day, killing eight and arresting two; within hours, former National Guard Captain Javier Nieto and Jordan Goudreau, ex-U.S. special forces and head of U.S. private security company Silvercorp, claimed responsibility; Goudreau said he had obtained initial contract for operation signed by two members of strategic committee established by opposition leader Juan Guaidó in 2019; opposition leadership next day said meetings with Silvercorp were exploratory and soon dropped. In following days, security forces detained dozens for alleged involvement in plot, including two U.S. nationals; U.S. Sec State Pompeo 6 May denied “direct” U.S. involvement. Authorities late month moved to crack down further on opposition. Attorney general 25 May asked Supreme Court to declare Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party “terrorist organisation”. Supreme Court 27 May formally recognised MP and President Maduro ally Luis Parra, who pro-govt lawmakers declared head of National Assembly (AN) during Jan session which security forces prevented opposition from attending, as AN chair instead of Guaidó; next day, AN defied ruling and ratified Guaidó as head. Authorities reportedly arrested more than two dozen opposition supporters 18-24 May. Amid COVID-19 crisis, riot 1 May erupted in Llanos prison near Guanare city (west) over ban on outside visits, leaving over 40 prisoners dead. Maduro 12 May announced 30-day extension of countrywide lockdown as widespread protests over petrol, water and food shortages continued. Despite U.S. warning against Iranian assistance and shipments of fuel to Venezuela, first of five Iranian tankers arrived in Venezuelan waters 24 May. In virtual meeting of external actors including U.S. and Russia convened by Sweden 13 May, broad consensus reportedly emerged on need for negotiated solution to political crisis using basis of Norwegian-facilitated opposition-govt talks suspended in Aug 2019, though no formal agreement reached.
Govt continued to face allegations of corruption in handling of COVID-19 crisis, while rising levels of malnutrition sparked concerns and tensions with U.S. persisted over continued deportation of migrants. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, Congress 11 May voted to extend state of emergency into June, and President Giammattei declared total nationwide lockdown 15-17 May and 23-24 May. Police reportedly arrested 19,000 people for violating curfew 22 March-14 May. Human Rights Ombudsman 23 May recommended Giammattei remove health minister for mismanagement of COVID-19 funds. Lawmakers 27 May accused health ministry of overpaying advisers, while failing to provide adequate protective equipment to health facilities and workers. Concerns persisted over COVID-19-related malnutrition, particularly in rural areas; World Food Programme 8 May said 921,000 households were at risk of food insecurity due to pandemic, while govt 11 May said 13,000 children were facing acute malnutrition. Amid ongoing social unrest, residents of Quixayá town (south) 2 May blocked roads to denounce high cost of electricity. Tensions with U.S. remained high over continued deportation flights despite COVID-19 pandemic; Guatemalan govt announced several pauses in flights throughout month and accused U.S. of not testing deportees, saying many returnees tested positive upon arrival. Giammattei 21 May said U.S. is not treating Guatemala like an ally; U.S. embassy immediately denied accusation.
Govt faced accusations of using COVID-19 crisis to embezzle funds and remain in power, while outrage over new penal code forced authorities to delay implementation. Amid accusations of govt corruption in handling COVID-19 crisis, notably embezzlement of funds, National Anti-Corruption Council 12 May said corrupt practices, such as overpricing of ventilators, cost govt HNL20mn ($800,000) since crisis started. President of opposition Liberal Party 3 May accused govt of planning to use COVID-19 crisis to call off general elections scheduled for 2021 and remain in power by cancelling primaries; President Hernández 5 May denied allegations. Congress 9 May delayed application of new penal code, planned for 10 May, until 25 June to allow for debates with opposition, civil society and private sector, after UN Human Rights Office 7 May called for revision of code, citing threat to freedom of expression and press. Govt 24 May extended COVID-19 emergency measures until 31 May despite ongoing protests by taxi drivers and street vendors demanding to resume work. Allegations of President Hernández’s ties to organised crime re-emerged. Local media including Criterio digital newspaper 12 May revealed recorded conversation between Fabio Lobo (former president’s son, arrested in 2015 for trafficking drugs into U.S.) and Hernández’s brother (found guilty of drug smuggling by U.S. court in Oct 2019) in which they apparently referred to Hernández as “boss” behind drug-trafficking operations. NGO Expediente Público 6 May accused Congress President Mauricio Olivia of having ties to Los Cachiros criminal group. U.S. continued to deport migrants to Honduras despite COVID-19 pandemic with 3,339 reportedly deported 1 April-10 May.
Power struggle continued between, on one hand, President Bukele, and on the other, Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court, over terms of COVID-19 restrictions. Bukele 16 May bypassed Legislative Assembly and signed executive decree extending COVID-19 state of emergency for 30 days; two days later, Supreme Court however suspended decree following request from attorney general, and later that day, assembly passed renewed, more lenient version of state of emergency lasting another fifteen days; Supreme Court 22 May announced suspension of Bukele’s decree permanent. Legislative Assembly 30 May passed new version of state of emergency bill establishing calendar to reopen economy in June; Bukele immediately announced he would veto it. Tensions also rose between govt and private sector; govt 12 May suspended talks with businesses over measures to reopen economy, with Bukele accusing representatives of sabotaging govt. Detention in containment centres of people accused of defying COVID-19 quarantine continued to spark controversy. Anti-riot police 4 May dissolved protests of detainees in two containment centres in capital San Salvador. Human rights NGOs 5 May said centres had turned into hotspots for contagion and Human Rights Ombudsman 8 May reported that some detainees were threatened and wounded by gang members inside centres. Following late April spike in homicides, security forces 27 April-3 May detained at least three MS-13 gang leaders and violence early May reportedly went back down to historical lows, with 56 homicides reported 1-29 May. Legislative Assembly 7 May voted against lifting immunity of its former head and presidential candidate Norman Quijano; request made by attorney general’s office to investigate Quijano’s alleged negotiations with gangs for electoral gain in 2014.
Opposition and civil society continued to voice concern over President Ortega’s management of COVID-19 crisis, while govt faced mounting international pressure over human rights abuses and money laundering. Media and NGOs, notably Citizen Observatory whose members include health workers, repeatedly questioned govt’s account of low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths; in Confidencial newspaper mid-May, ministerial source said govt was lying about figures. In response, Ortega govt accused opposition of spreading fake news, with VP and first lady Murillo calling opposition “hate promoters” 13 May. Relatives of 38 political prisoners showing COVID-19 symptoms 14 May urged govt to release them. Opposition attempts to create cohesive front suffered new setback: several student organisations 13 May withdrew request to join opposition platform National Coalition created in Feb, accusing it of excluding student voices. EU and U.S. increased pressure on Ortega over accusations of human rights violations, including repression of opposition and civil society since political crisis erupted in 2018, and money laundering. EU 4 May imposed sanctions on six high-level officials, including four police commissioners and presidential adviser Nestor Moncada Lau, and 7 May added country to money-laundering blacklist; U.S. 22 May placed army top commander and finance minister on sanctions blacklist.
Police protests resumed and govt extended COVID-19 state of emergency amid growing concerns over food shortages. Following violent incidents late April involving armed police protesters demanding back pay, police 11 May arrested seven members of hard-line police organisation Fantom 509, who were protesting near National Police General Inspectorate in capital Port-au-Prince; justice minister same day threatened to designate Fantom 509 as “terrorist organisation”. Fantom 509 blocked roads in Port-au-Prince 15 May to demand release of group member arrested 8 May on murder charges. Amid widespread concern over risk of food shortages, exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture minister 7 May said govt focus was on rapid production of crops and 14 May pledged to support farmers and regenerate abandoned agricultural land. Govt 20 May extended state of health emergency for two months. In response to COVID-19 concerns, Dominican Republic 8 May deployed additional troops along border with Haiti to prevent Haitians from crossing border into its territory. Deportation of migrants from U.S. continued despite risk of some being infected with coronavirus; 50 Haitian nationals flown home 11 May.
Criminal violence continued to reach record levels, while civil society voiced concern over militarisation of public security. High homicide rates persisted in particular in central states of Guanajuato, Mexico state and Michoacán: notably, unknown assailants 18 May killed eight in armed attack on gas station in Guanajuato and police 23 May found twelve bodies in abandoned vehicle in Michoacán. In Sonora state (north), unidentified gunmen 16 May killed journalist Jorge Armenta and police officer in Cajeme municipality. Presidential decree 12 May allowed use of armed forces in wide array of public security tasks until May 2024; civil society groups condemned increasing militarisation, while National Human Rights Commission doubted decree’s legality for not specifying circumstances in which military could take charge of public security. President López Obrador 15 May criticised international media as “famous but unethical” following series of articles accusing govt of downplaying COVID-19 spread in country. Prison riot erupted 12 May in Colima city (centre) over COVID-19 ban on outside visits, leaving three prisoners dead. Amid significant increase in cases of domestic violence in context of COVID-19 restrictions, López Obrador 15 May claimed 90% of calls made by women to seek assistance were “false”, triggering heavy criticism by media and civil society. Govt 7 May signed agreement with Inter-American Human Rights Commission for expert group to resume investigations and technical assistance in case of disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa teaching college students in Guerrero state (south) in 2014; expert group finished previous investigation in 2016 having found evidence of federal and state security forces complicity. In media interview, former U.S. Ambassador Roberta Jacobson 2 May said former President Calderon’s govt had information on alleged ties between then Security Minister Genaro García Luna – currently under trial in U.S. on charges of money laundering and involvement in organised crime – and Sinaloa Cartel.
Middle East & North Africa
Tensions between Israeli govt and Palestinian Authority (PA) rose amid possible looming Israeli annexation of West Bank; meanwhile new Israeli coalition govt was sworn in. In West Bank, Palestinian 12 May killed Israeli soldier during raid in Yabad near Jenin in first Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) combat fatality this year; Israeli security forces next day killed Palestinian teenager in Al-Fawar refugee camp near Hebron. IDF soldiers 29 May killed Palestinian driver in East Jerusalem; Israeli police officers 30 May killed autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli govt 3 May seized municipal power from PA in Hebron, placing Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories in control of planned Israeli construction works around Ibrahimi Mosque; PA’s ministry of foreign affairs condemned move “in the strongest terms”. Israel’s Defence Minister Naftali Bennett 6 May approved construction of 7,000 new settlement units in West Bank. Israeli govt 9 May issued military order banning banks in occupied territories from processing payments to families of Palestinians formerly or currently held imprisoned in Israeli jails. United Arab Emirates (UAE) 19 May sent COVID-19 aid bound for Palestinian territories via Israeli airport, marking first direct flight between UAE and Israel; PA 21 May rejected move as “cover for normalisation”. In Gaza, IDF 6 May struck three Hamas positions in northern Gaza strip in retaliation to rocket fired from Gaza into Israel; no casualties reported. Israeli parliament 17 May swore in coalition govt led by PM Netanyahu and Benny Gantz; Netanyahu reaffirmed intention to carry out annexation of West Bank. In response, PA President Abbas 19 May announced suspension of all agreements with Israel and U.S., including security coordination. Following late April alleged Iranian cyberattack on Israeli civilian water and sewage installations, Israel 9 May reportedly launched cyberattack on Iran’s Bandar Abbas port. In Syria, Israel early May reportedly launched numerous airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-linked targets; outgoing Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett 18 May claimed Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-backed forces were forcing Iran to begin withdrawing from Syria (see also Iran and Syria). PM Netanyahu’s trial over corruption charges began 24 May.
Constitutional Court 13 May ruled that cancellation of natural gas deal with Israel would be illegal, citing inconsistency with Israel-Jordan peace treaty; Jordanian parliament in Jan voted in favour of banning gas imports from Israel. Amid rising tensions between Jordan and Israel, King Abdullah 15 May warned of “massive conflict” if Israel proceeds with annexation plans in West Bank. Israeli security forces 20 May shot and wounded Jordanian south of Galilee Sea suspected of smuggling weapons into Israel.
Amid tanking economy and continued social and financial hardship affecting millions, govt 1 May applied for International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial assistance following IMF’s 30 April approval of economic reform plan; govt 13 May reportedly began negotiations with IMF. Hundreds of anti-govt protesters 1 May gathered in front of Central Bank in capital Beirut to demonstrate against devaluation of currency and rising inflation. Banking sector 1 May rejected govt rescue plan on grounds it will “further destroy confidence” in country, 20 May presented counter proposal. Prosecutor 18 May charged senior Central Bank official with manipulation of exchange rate and money laundering; Central Bank 15 May denied charges. Despite Central Bank’s efforts to impose rate of 3,200 Lebanese lira to the dollar through repressive measures, Lebanese lira 20 May remained at 4,200 on black market; in effort to defend currency, Central Bank 21 May announced it will provide dollars for food imports. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 26 May rejected U.S. and Israeli pressure to change nature of mandate of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); U.S. ambassador to UN 4 May said “the time has come to either pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or to realign UNIFIL’s staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish.”
Jihadist attack on govt forces threatened Idlib ceasefire while Russia and Turkey continued joint patrols in effort to uphold deal; Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) pursued rapprochement with rival Kurdish parties in north east. In Idlib, al-Qaeda linked group Hurras al-Din 10 May attacked govt forces in northern Hama and seized control of al-Manara village in severest cross-line attack since 5 March ceasefire implemented. Meanwhile, following a number of attempts to conduct joint patrols along M4 highway in April, Russia and Turkey conducted five patrols a few kilometres along highway on 5, 7, 12, 14 and 20 May, bringing total patrols to twelve since deal announced in March; IED attack 27 May killed Turkish soldier during patrol along M4 highway. In north east, YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdish National Council (KNC), umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish opposition parties, resumed intra-Kurdish talks endorsed by U.S. and France, aimed at more inclusive governance in SDF-held areas; previous U.S. and French-backed initiatives failed. U.S. state department delegation, led by Deputy Special Envoy to Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS William Roebuck, reportedly met with YPG and KNC representatives in early May in show of support for process. Israel early May reportedly launched numerous airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-linked targets; Syrian army 4 May claimed Israel launched airstrikes on military barracks in al-Safirah in eastern Aleppo province. ISIS detainees in prison compound in provincial capital Hassakeh 2 May rebelled against YPG guards and briefly seized control of prison floor. Seven ISIS militants 17 May escaped from prison near al-Hol detention camp; SDF same day announced three were recaptured. Public rift erupted within Assad family and govt 19 May ordered seizure of assets belonging to Rami Makhlouf, President Bashar al-Assad's cousin and one of Syria’s wealthiest businessmen; govt previously requested 134bn Syrian pounds ($261mn) in taxes allegedly owed by Makhlouf-owned mobile phone company Syriatel.
U.S. continued to expand its sanctions designations against Iran and Iran-linked targets and warned of reimposing pre-nuclear deal sanctions, while regional tensions with both U.S. and Israel persisted. President Rouhani 6 May said govt “will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended” beyond Oct expiry date. U.S. special representative for Iran 13 May confirmed plans to reinstate all pre-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action sanctions if UN Security Council votes against upcoming U.S. resolution to extend arms embargo; Chinese and Russian UN missions next day separately voiced opposition to planned resolution. U.S. govt 27 May announced termination in 60 days of sanctions waivers for civil nuclear projects but extended waiver for Bushehr plant by 90 days; Iran next day said decision “will not in practice have any effect on Iran’s work” while UK, France and Germany 30 May said they “deeply regret the U.S. decision”. U.S. govt imposed series of sanctions, including: 19 May on Chinese company Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited for acting as general sales assistant for U.S. blacklisted airline Mahan Air; 20 May on Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli over alleged role in human rights abuses during Nov 2019 anti-govt protests; and 27 May on two Iranian nuclear officials. Israeli military 9 May reportedly launched cyberattack on Iran’s largest port facility at Bandar Abbas in retaliation to alleged 24-25 April cyberattack on Israeli water infrastructure. Supreme Leader Khamenei 17 May insisted that “Americans cannot stay for long in Iraq or Syria, and they will be expelled”; outgoing Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett next day claimed Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-backed forces were forcing Iran to begin withdrawing from Syria (see also Israel and Syria). Tanker Fortune 25 May arrived in Venezuela; first of reported five tankers delivering gasoline from Iran. Authorities 16 May sentenced French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah to six years imprisonment on national security charges; French govt same day condemned arrest as politically motivated and called for Adelkhah’s release. New parliament inaugurated 27 May; Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf next day elected to speakership.
Islamic State (ISIS) continued to increase level of activity – including engaging in direct clashes with security forces, stepping up attacks on infrastructure, and targeting civilians – while parliament approved new govt amid resuming protests. ISIS early May launched series of attacks in Salah al-Din, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces; clashes between ISIS fighters and paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) forces in Salah al-Din province 2 May killed at least 10 PMU militants. Suspected ISIS fighters 7 May sabotaged three high voltage towers in Nineveh province, 11 May set fire to farm crop in Makhmour in Erbil province. In retaliation, coalition-backed security forces stepped up anti-ISIS operations; coalition 15 May launched airstrikes targeting ISIS infrastructure near Mosul, killing seven ISIS fighters. Turkish air raids targeted Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants in northern Sulaymaniyah province 27 May. Meanwhile, parliament 7 May approved PM designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s cabinet, U.S. and Iran both welcomed move; U.S. same day renewed sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to import Iranian electricity and gas for 120 days. However, Kataib Hizbollah 7 May criticised parliamentarians for endorsing Kadhimi whom they accuse of involvement in U.S. killing in Jan of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and PMU deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Unclaimed rockets 6 and 9 May struck capital Baghdad, one near U.S. facilities; no casualties reported. PM Kadhimi following first cabinet meeting 9 May reinstated and promoted popular Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saedi to head Counter-Terrorism Service; al-Saedi’s demotion by previous govt triggered protests in Sept. New govt 9 May ordered release of all protesters detained since demonstrations erupted in Oct 2019 and set up committee investigating crimes committed against protesters. Thousands of anti-govt protesters 10-11 May took to streets in south and central Iraq demanding government hold early elections and accountability for abuses against protesters. After militants of Iran-backed militia Thar Allah 10 May reportedly fired live rounds at protesters in Basra city that killed one protester, PM Kadhimi 11 May ordered closing of group’s headquarters. Following renewed clashes nationwide between protesters and security forces mid-May, UN 23 May published report documenting armed groups’ abductions of more than 100 people during anti-govt protests since Oct, including allegations of torture.
Suspected Saudi disinformation campaign further dimmed prospects for resolution of ongoing Saudi-Qatari spat. Saudi Gazette newspaper 3 May alleged that member of Qatari ruling family, Sheikh Mubarak bin Khalifa Al-Thani, had called on Emir Al-Thani to step down, prompting next day wide circulation of Twitter hashtag “coup in Qatar” alongside video appearing to show gunshots in Qatari city Wakrah; Doha-based professor said video was fake, tracing pattern of amplification to Saudi-based Twitter users.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s COVID-19 ceasefire extension in Yemen late April, fighting between Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Huthi forces in northern Yemen continued while struggle between Southern Transitional Council (STC) and government forces in south Yemen threatened to unravel Saudi-brokered Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement. Fighting between government and allies, and Huthis, in north Yemen continued throughout month despite Saudi Arabia’s 24 April announcement of unilateral ceasefire extension; UN envoy Martin Griffiths in address to UN Security Council 14 May reported “significant progress” toward ceasefire agreement. In Yemen’s south, Saudi-backed govt forces and STC 1 May reached de-escalation agreement after STC’s attempt to take control of Socotra island in Gulf of Aden sparked fighting. Meanwhile, struggle between Saudi-backed govt forces and southern separatists for control of south escalated in Abyan; Riyadh 20 May hosted STC negotiation team to discuss implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement (see Yemen). U.S. 7 May announced withdrawal of Patriot antimissile systems and other military equipment from Saudi Arabia, downscaling military build-up initiated in 2019 to counter Iranian threat. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 May reported Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, son of Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah, held in “incommunicado detention” since his arrest late March; authorities reportedly refused to reveal his whereabouts, sparking speculation about forced disappearance. To stem economic impact of COVID-19 outbreak and low oil prices, govt 11 May announced austerity measures, including three-fold increase of value-added tax (VAT) rate to 15% and suspension of living allowance paid to state employees.
Fierce fighting between govt forces and Huthis continued in north while escalating struggle between govt forces and southern separatists threatened to unravel Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement; UN continued efforts at nationwide ceasefire and Saudi Arabia attempted to mediate in south but risk of intensified violence in south and north in June remains high. In north, Saudi Arabia’s 24 April announced extension of its purported unilateral ceasefire failed to halt military activities as fighting between govt forces and Huthis continued in al-Jawf and Marib, as did Saudi airstrikes, albeit without major shifts in territorial control. Huthis’ advance east toward Marib remained stalled in face of resistance from local tribes. In south, following Southern Transition Council’s (STC) 25 April declaration of self-administration, power struggle between govt and separatists centred on Abyan and Socotra island in Gulf of Aden; govt forces and STC 1 May reached de-escalation agreement on Socotra after STC’s attempt to seize checkpoints in Hadibo, capital of Socotra, sparked fighting. Meanwhile, fighting between govt forces and STC forces 11 May erupted in Abyan following govt-led offensive on outskirts of STC-held Zinjibar, capital of Abyan; clashes reportedly killed more than 20 soldiers on both sides. Saudi-led coalition 31 May reportedly downed two Huthi drones they claimed were aimed at civilian targets; Huthis did not claim attacks and same day reported coalition airstrikes in Marib. STC negotiation team 20 May arrived in Riyadh at Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s invitation to discuss implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement. UN envoy Martin Griffiths in address to UN Security Council 14 May reported “significant progress” toward ceasefire agreement, raising hopes for comprehensive cessation of hostilities. World Health Organization early May warned of disastrous consequences of potential COVID-19 outbreak, predicting at least 55% infection rate and more than 40,000 deaths. Huthi authorities 5 May confirmed first COVID-19 cases in areas under its control; govt accused Huthis of covering up outbreak and 11 May declared Aden “infested city” following spike in COVID-19 cases.
United Arab Emirates
After repatriation of Pakistani citizens from United Arab Emirates (UAE) began late April, Pakistani govt early May voiced concern that many citizens returned home testing positive for COVID-19, with some flights reporting 50% infection rate; UAE denied claims, warning it could review labour ties with states refusing to take back their nationals. Amid ongoing tensions between UAE and Turkey, UAE 11 May issued joint statement with Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and France condemning “Turkey’s military interference in Libya”; in response, Turkey’s FM Cavusoglu next day accused UAE of sowing chaos in Middle East, notably in Libya and Yemen. UAE 19 May sent COVID-19 aid bound for Palestinian territories via Israeli airport, marking first direct flight between UAE and Israel; PA 21 May rejected move as “cover for normalisation” of relations with Israel.
Crackdown on civil society and activists continued, while govt announced major budget cuts amid falling oil prices. Police continued to arrest protest supporters for social media posts on charges including “attack on the integrity of the national territory” and “inciting illegal demonstrations”, which carry prison sentences of up to eighteen months. Notably, Algiers court 20 May sentenced activist to one year imprisonment for Facebook post; El Bayadh court 20 May sentenced two activists to eighteen months imprisonment for Facebook posts; Chlef court 20 May sentenced twelve activists to prison terms ranging from six to eighteen months imprisonment; Ain Temouchent court 27 May sentenced activist to six months imprisonment. Algiers court 17 May released Abdelwahab Fersaoui, leader of youth group involved in Hirak movement, arrested during demonstration in Oct 2019 and sentenced in April to one year imprisonment. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, President Tebboune 3 May announced plan to halve budget expenditures due to falling oil prices. Presidency 7 May published proposed revisions to constitution; activists welcomed amendment to relax regulations governing associations but voiced concern that amendment to enshrine armed forces’ participation in foreign peacekeeping operations could increase military’s influence over domestic affairs.
With highest number of COVID-19 cases in Africa and Middle East, govt remained occupied with concerns over public health and economic recession, while Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project remained foreign policy priority. PM Mostafa Madbouli 13 May announced preparation of austerity budget for 2021 as govt signalled growing gap in national budget and current account deficits; International Monetary Fund 11 May granted Egypt $2.77bn loan, while govt estimated total $9bn needed from international financial institutions to meet shortfall. Following Cairo and Khartoum’s early May rejection of Ethiopian PM Ahmed’s proposed interim agreement on Ethiopian dam, and anticipating test phase beginning July 2020, Egyptian FM Shoukry 6 May sent letter to refer dispute to UN Security Council; Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan 21 May agreed to resume stalled talks (see Nile Waters entry). Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province 1 May claimed responsibility for 30 April attack on military vehicle near Bir al-Abd in northern Sinai that killed ten soldiers; ministry of interior announced security forces 3 May killed eighteen alleged ISIS members, and 23 May killed 21 alleged ISIS members in clashes near Bir al-Abd.
Tripoli-aligned forces claimed significant military victories as urban areas in capital Tripoli faced unprecedented shelling and civilian casualties, while socio-economic conditions continued to deteriorate amid COVID-19 lockdown and oil blockade; external military support on both sides could fuel an escalation in June. UN mission 19 May said fighting between UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and General Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) killed at least 58 civilians since 1 April; almost double the number of civilian casualties in first quarter of 2020. ALAF forces throughout month launched repeated artillery strikes on Tripoli’s Meitiga airport and residential neighbourhoods; ALAF forces 7 May killed two police and one civilian in attack on Zawiyat al-Dahmani suburb in Tripoli near foreign ministry, Turkish embassy and Italian ambassador’s residence. GNA forces 5 May launched new offensive and 18 May seized control of ALAF-stronghold Wutiya airbase; dozens killed in offensive. ALAF 20 May announced tactical withdrawal from southern Tripoli neighbourhoods, under its control since April 2019 but fighting in city continued. Turkey continued sea and air deliveries of military aid to Libyan forces allied to Ankara; Russia delivered at least 14 MIG-29 and SU-24s fighter jets to Haftar-controlled bases throughout May, prompting U.S. 26 May to voice concern over Moscow’s increased military footprint in Libya and possible escalation. ALAF air force chief 21 May announced plan for “largest air campaign in Libyan history in coming hours” and said “all Turkish positions and interests in all cities are legitimate targets”. U.S., Russia, Turkey, UN and Algeria late May voiced support for ceasefire and resumption of political talks. Central Bank 1 May projected 2020 budget deficit of more than $18bn, in addition to loss of over $4.5bn due to ongoing ALAF-backed tribes blockade of oil production and export sites in place since mid-Jan. Austerity measures, including limits on foreign exchange, led to loss of income, food shortages, price spikes and supply chain disruptions; measures worsened impact of businesses closed due to COVID-19 public health measures and absence of govt financial plan to assist business owners.
Political fissures widened between Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda and other parties while debate over type of political system to adopt intensified. An-Nahda party faced increasing pressure amid fear of being marginalised by new political front comprising partner and opposition parties: 11 MPs of total 38 belonging to parliamentary coalition partner Qalb Tounes resigned in May; President of Free Destourian Party and MP Abir Moussi 22 May organised parliament sit-in targeting An-Nahda president and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi. General Tunisian Labour Union Sec Gen Noureddine Taboubi 18 May called for popular referendum to change political system; move seen as endorsement of presidential system proposed by President Saïed and against current parliamentary regime supported by An-Nahda. Ghannouchi 19 May in telephone call congratulated Libyan PM Fayez al-Sarraj on capture of strategic Wutiya airbase in western Libya and stressed need for political solution to conflict; seven opposition parties next day denounced Ghannouchi’s actions as dragging Tunisia into Libya’s conflict and requested President Saïed’s intervention.
United States (Internal)
Amid COVID-19 crisis and rising mass unemployment, police killing of African American late month triggered large-scale protests across country. Police officer 25 May killed in daylight George Floyd, 46-year-old African American, during arrest outside shop in Minneapolis city, Minnesota. Floyd’s death latest in series of deadly attacks on African Americans in recent months, including Ahmaud Arbery, killed 23 Feb by two white men in southern Georgia, and Breonna Taylor, emergency medic, killed by police inside her home 13 March in Louisville, Kentucky. Floyd’s killing, which was captured on video that circulated widely on social media, prompted large demonstrations across U.S.. While protests were largely peaceful, businesses were looted and property attacked in several places, including 28 May burning of Minneapolis precinct house where police officer who killed Floyd was based. Most crowds multiracial; some participation apparently spontaneous but more organised by various anti-racist groups. A few far-right white nationalist activists, possibly present as provocateurs, reported 28-31 May in Minneapolis, Seattle and elsewhere. Police responded with force in several places, including New York and Philadelphia, dispersing demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets. Big-city mayors set evening curfews, including in Chicago and Washington. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 28 May called for “serious action” to end police brutality in U.S.. President Trump next day derided protesters as “thugs” on Twitter, adding “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”; media commentators remarked language echoed that of George Wallace, governor of Alabama in 1960s who long defended segregation of whites and African Americans. Thousands of protesters arrested nationwide 25-31 May. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists recorded almost 200 press freedom violations, including dozens of police assaults upon reporters 26-31 May. Trump 1 June threatened to summon military; military police and army units 1-2 June arrived downtown District of Columbia, which, as federal district lacking statehood, cannot stop deployment. Meanwhile, U.S. still facing major health and economic crisis. Johns Hopkins University reported at least 105,000 people dead of COVID-19 by 31 May. Amid easing of lockdowns, economic situation also severe with May unemployment figures expected to show nearly 20% unemployment rate.