CrisisWatch is a monthly early warning bulletin designed to provide a regular update on the state of the most significant situations of conflict around the world.
In Asia, the continuing security crackdown in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State prompted over half a million Rohingya civilians to flee, and North Korea conducted its largest nuclear test to date. At least 50 people were killed in Ethiopia in clashes between ethnic Somalis and Oromos, while Cameroon’s increasingly violent standoff between the government and minority Anglophones risks worsening. The main political players in Kenya locked horns over an upcoming rerun of the August presidential vote, and in both Iraq and Spain confrontation mounted over contested independence referendums. El Salvador saw a spike in murders blamed on criminal gangs. In positive news, secessionist rebels and pro-unity factions in Mali agreed to stop fighting, and Colombia’s second guerrilla group signed a ceasefire agreement with the government.
CameroonEthiopiaKenyaKorean PeninsulaMyanmarEl SalvadorIraq
Over 500,000 Rohingya civilians have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, where the military’s violent and disproportionate response to the late August attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has prompted one of the fastest-growing refugee crises since the Second World War. Tens of thousands of Rohingya and members of other groups have also been internally displaced by the ARSA attacks and the ensuing crackdown, which has targeted Rohingyas with systematic burnings of their villages, abuses and killings. The government has blocked access for the UN and most international aid agencies to the area. Crisis Group has warned that the crisis could derail Myanmar’s transition, deepen radicalisation and destabilise the region. The path to stability lies not in a military response but in a political solution that addresses the longstanding challenges in Rakhine State and recognises the concerns of all groups.
North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on 3 September, inflaming regional and international tensions and providing another indication of its determination to push forward with its military nuclear and missile programs. Aggressive rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington continued to intensify, with President Trump telling the UN General Assembly that he would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the U.S. or its allies. Crisis Group has argued that the nuclear test should spur the U.S., China and South Korea to redouble their efforts to craft a common diplomatic approach.
The struggle of Cameroon’s minority Anglophones against the central government reached greater levels of violence, including new deadly clashes between security forces and protestors on 22 September, more arson attacks and the use of homemade bombs. As Crisis Group has argued, to achieve a lasting solution the government needs to acknowledge Anglophones’ grievances and push on with decentralising power. If it does not take action, violence could be worse in October; already on 1 October at least eight protestors were killed.
In Kenya, tensions and uncertainty grew after the Supreme Court on 1 September annulled August’s presidential election result, which gave victory to President Kenyatta, and ordered a rerun. The opposition rejected the ruling party’s proposed changes to the electoral law and commission, threatening to call nationwide protests and boycott the new vote, set for 26 October. As Crisis Group has explained, a credible, peaceful vote will require government and opposition to compromise, especially on changes to the commission, and more effective, non-partisan management of protests by the security forces. In Ethiopia, at least 50 people were killed and reportedly some 55,000 displaced by fresh clashes between ethnic Somalis and Oromos in disputed areas in the south and east along the border between the two groups’ regional states.
Good news from Mali where the rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements, fighting for the secession of the north, and a coalition of armed groups supporting national unity known as the Platform, agreed to halt clashes and release prisoners, among other measures. The deal creates breathing space to push forward the stalled implementation of the wider 2015 Algiers peace pact, but the process remains fragile, with jihadists continuing to launch deadly attacks on the army and UN peacekeepers.
As Crisis Group warned, Iraqi Kurdistan’s determination to hold a referendum on independence from Iraq on 25 September – in which over 92 per cent voted in favour – exacerbated tensions with central government in Baghdad and within the region. Manifesting its ire, Baghdad two days later banned international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan. Political tensions spiralled ahead of an independence referendum organised by the regional government of Catalonia in north-east Spain, which the Spanish government declared illegal. Over 800 people were injured as police tried to block voting on 1 October. Despite efforts to prevent the referendum, the Catalan government reported that 43 per cent of the electorate voted, 90 per cent of them favouring independence.
In El Salvador, 40 murders on 23 September marked the country’s highest death toll in a day this year; nearly 200 people were reported killed that week. Police blamed the violence on fighting between criminal gangs.
There was cause for optimism in Colombia, where the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s second main guerrilla group, announced a temporary ceasefire starting on 1 October. ELN attacks nevertheless continued in Arauca province, and the government has warned that peace negotiations with the “highly radical, ideological” ELN will be difficult. Meanwhile, the leader of the Gulf Clan, Colombia’s largest drug-trafficking organisation, reportedly offered to surrender the group to the judicial system and, under the right conditions, cease its involvement in illegal activities.
UN commission of inquiry 4 Sept released report detailing govt’s human rights violations including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and rape, concluding reasonable grounds to believe govt has committed crimes against humanity, urged International Criminal Court to investigate; unidentified armed assailants broke into compound of UN Human Rights office in capital Bujumbura 13 Sept. UN Human Rights Council 28 Sept passed resolution proposed by Africa group to send three experts to work with govt to pursue perpetrators of crimes; 29 Sept voted to extend for one year commission of inquiry, despite govt’s resistance. Ruling party CNDD-FDD held rally to protest against UN report 16 Sept. 500 refugees repatriated from Tanzania 27 Sept following agreement between Burundi and Tanzania. Four people including one in police uniform kidnapped opposition figure Léopold Habarugira in Bujumbura 12 Sept. Mediators 5 Sept said inter-Burundian dialogue expected to resume in Oct. Congolese security forces near Kamanyola, eastern DR Congo shot dead 39 Burundian refugees and injured about 100 protesting arrest of four fellow refugees. National Communication Council 28 Sept banned ten media outlets including radio and TV stations.
Security deteriorated in two Anglophone regions, North West and South West, and could worsen in Oct when separatists plan to declare independence of Anglophone territory. To protest govt marginalisation of Anglophones, protestors set fire to seven schools and several shops and, for first time, homemade bombs detonated; one explosion at police station in Bamenda, North West region capital 21 Sept injured three policemen. North West and South West governors imposed curfew, blocked internet for 24 hours, banned movement between Anglophone divisions, banned public meetings and demonstrations in two regions until 3 Oct, closed two regions’ maritime and land borders and increased house searches and arrests of young people in Bamenda, Buea, South West region capital and nearby Ekona. Protestors maintained general strikes three days a week and held largest and most widespread protests in months 22 Sept; some called for President Biya to resign, some for federalism, some for secession; three to eight protestors reportedly killed in clashes with security forces. Boko Haram continued to attack civilians and security forces in Far North. Militants killed one person in Doulou, Mayo Sava department 4 Sept. About 100 militants raided Dzaba, Mayo Tsanaga department 5 Sept killing three, abducting several. Soldier and two vigilantes killed 15 Sept when vehicle hit landmine on Abdouri-Woulba road, Mayo Sava. Some 100 militants raided and torched Hidoua and Bavagola, Mayo Tsanaga 17 Sept, no casualties reported. Suicide bombings at Sanda-Wadjiri and Kossa, both Mayo Sava 17 Sept killed seven. Militants killed two civilians and kidnapped others in Mainakoua, Mayo Sava 21 Sept; two injured same day during incursion in Sagme, Logone and Chari department. Suicide bombing at Kolofata 22 Sept killed only bomber. Suspected militants killed soldier on Zamga-Djibrili road, Mayo Tsanaga 23 Sept and two others died when their vehicle hit landmine on Bonderi-Kangarwa road, Mayo Sava 28 Sept.
High levels of violence persisted in many areas. Clashes in Bria in east between rival factions within ex-Seleka group Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) 7-8 Sept left estimated ten people dead. In Zemio, in south east, Christian anti-balaka and Muslim/Fulani groups clashed 25 Sept. In Mobaye in east anti-balaka fighters launched offensive against ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) controlling town 18 Sept, number of casualties unknown. Anti-balaka and UPC fighters also clashed in Ngakobo in east 21 Sept. Fulani-dominated Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation (3R) armed group attacked Bocaranga in north and took control of town 23 Sept. Over 100 fighters attacked humanitarian base in Batangafo in north 7 Sept causing aid organisations to suspend operations in area. After President Touadéra 30 Aug launched disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) pilot project to reintegrate 560 combatants (40 from each of fourteen armed groups) into military or civilian life, 60 ex-fighters integrated into national armed forces 19 Sept. FPRC 11 Sept said its participation in DDR conditional on liberation of detained members. Touadéra 12 Sept announced cabinet reshuffle appointing several people associated with armed groups as ministers and representative of former President Bozizé’s Kwa na Kwa party.
At conference in Paris 7-8 Sept donors pledged estimated $20bn in support of national development program 2017-2021. France 12 Sept encouraged Chad to announce calendar for delayed legislative elections. Amnesty International 14 Sept reported govt increasingly using repressive laws and intelligence services to muzzle critics. President Déby did not attend summit in New York of Sahel G5 countries 18 Sept reportedly to express discontent at international community’s slowness to fund G5 force to counter jihadism in region. Déby also remained absent from UN General Assembly mid-late Sept. Libya 7 Sept reportedly closed its borders with Chad and Niger for three months. U.S. 24 Sept included Chad in new ban on travel to U.S., citing country’s failure to share public-safety and terrorism related information.
Main opposition leaders Felix Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi 18 Sept in New York endorsed “Manifeste du Citoyen Congolais” (Congolese Citizen’s Manifesto) which calls for organisation of large scale protests to force President Kabila to leave power by end of 2017; manifesto drafted late Aug and signed by Lucha and Filimbi youth movements and newly created group “Congolais Debout” (Congolese Stand Up). Govt 12 Sept announced start of voter registration in Kasai region, to last 90 days. Kabila 18 Sept in Kananga, capital of Kasai Central province opened three-day “peace and reconciliation” conference to “bring justice” to Kasais. Govt 19 Sept met EU, African Union, Southern African Development Community, International Organisation of La Francophonie, France and UK on margins of UN General Assembly in New York; participants agreed on need to implement fully 31 Dec 2016 agreement and create team of international experts to assist electoral commission. Kabila in 23 Sept address to UN General Assembly said electoral calendar was “forthcoming”. Security in Kasai Central remained volatile but no major incident in Sept. In N Kivu in east, Nyatura militia attacked Bwalanda and Mutanda in Rutshuru territory 7 Sept, three militiamen and two civilians killed; Mai Mai militiamen 23 Sept attacked Kanyatsi military position in Lubero territory, soldier and two assailants killed; Allied Democratic Forces militia clashed with UN mission (MONUSCO) near Beni 17 Sept, Tanzanian peacekeeper killed. In S Kivu, security forces 15 Sept near Kamanyola fired on Burundian refugees protesting arrest of four fellow refugees, killing 39; govt 17 Sept said it would open inquiry into incident that also killed one soldier. In S Kivu, Mai Mai Yakutumba militia and allied National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC) militia 27 Sept advanced to outskirts of Uvira, province’s second largest city; army and MONUSCO (both bringing in reinforcements) engaged in heavy fighting with attackers, including on Lake Tanganyika; Mai Mai coalition also spread to neighbouring Maniema and Tanganyika provinces. Nearly 120 inmates escaped Kabinda prison in Lomami province 3 Sept; 34 escaped Mwenga prison in S Kivu 25 Sept.
Chinese troops in Djibouti 22 Sept held first live-fire military exercises since Aug deployment.
Clashes between ethnic Oromo and Somalis erupted early Sept in disputed areas along border between Oromia and Somali regional states in south and east, at least 50 people killed. Oromia region official 17 Sept claimed fighting had displaced over 55,000 Oromos from Somali region. Six Oromo parties 13 Sept accused Somali regional state govt of waging war to drive Oromos out of border areas. Govt 25 Sept accused Somaliland of displacing over 3,000 Oromos into Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions.
Political tensions and uncertainty mounted after Supreme Court 1 Sept annulled 8 Aug presidential election result on grounds that process was not conducted in accordance with constitution and ordered new vote to be held within two months; electoral commission (IEBC) set 26 Oct for new poll. Opposition NASA coalition 14 Sept threatened to boycott vote unless major changes made to IEBC leadership. Ruling Jubilee Party 28 Sept proposed changes to electoral laws including dropping electronic transmission as primary mode of relaying tallies from polling stations; NASA walked out of talks 28 Sept, said if laws passed it would launch nationwide protests and boycott election. Suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen 3 Sept killed two police officers guarding church in Ukunda town, south of Mombasa. In Lamu county, suspected Al-Shabaab militants 6 Sept beheaded four people. In north east, Al-Shabaab 19 Sept destroyed telecommunication mast in Mandera county and exchanged fire with soldiers before retreating. One police officer killed 11 Sept when police vehicle hit IED in Lamu county.
Al-Shabaab continued insurgency carrying out terrorist attacks in rural areas and urban centres. Militants 3 Sept raided Somali National Army (SNA) base in Gala Gulud village, near Kismayo in south, allegedly killing 26 soldiers; routed local security forces 16 Sept in El Wak village, Gedo region; overran SNA base in Beled Hawa town near Kenyan border 11 Sept, claiming they killed sixteen soldiers; attacked nearby police station same day; attacked and looted military base outside capital Mogadishu 29 Sept, killing at least eight soldiers. In centre, Al-Shabaab claimed 9 Sept suicide bombing that left six Hiraan regional administration officials dead in Beledweyne city. Unclaimed car bombing 28 Sept killed at least five in Mogadishu’s Hamarweyne district. In Bay region in centre, U.S. airstrike 6 Sept killed three Al-Shabaab fighters in operation also involving SNA and AU peacekeeping mission (AMISOM). In Puntland’s Al-Urur village, unclaimed twin bombing 1 Sep killed at least fifteen people, including eight soldiers and seven civilians. Amid Gulf diplomatic crisis two more federal states (South West state 18 Sept and Galmudug state 20 Sept) declared support for Saudi-led bloc, bringing total to three out of five federal states; federal govt next day reiterated its neutrality.
Ethiopia 25 Sept accused Somaliland of displacing over 3,000 ethnic Oromos into Ethiopia following deadly clashes between Oromos and Somalis in disputed areas along border between Oromia and Somali regions in Ethiopia (see Ethiopia).
Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) rebels loyal to former first VP Riek Machar 20 Sept attacked govt forces in former Unity state in north. In former Western Equatoria state in south west unknown assailants ambushed International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid convoy killing driver, ICRC suspended operations in third of country. High-level meetings surrounding UN General Assembly in New York mid-late Sept addressed peace implementation and humanitarian crisis but participants did not agree on new measures. Visiting UN Commission on Human Rights in S Sudan 20 Sept warned that holding elections in 2018, as required by UN-supported peace agreement, could lead to more violence and would be illegitimate given significant displacement. U.S. 6 Sept imposed sanctions on two current and one former official for corruption and hampering peace.
Rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) 15 Sep claimed govt violated its unilateral ceasefire with attacks on SPLM-N positions in Blue Nile state 16 and 21 Sept, which govt denied. President Bashir 19 Sept urged Darfur’s internally displaced to return home, claiming region had recovered from conflict. Bashir 22 Sept visited Kalma refugee camp in S Darfur sparking protests; at least three protesters killed in clashes with govt troops. Govt same day accused rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement of inciting protest.
Over 100 MPs from ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and NRM-leaning independents 12 Sept said they would support tabling bill in parliament that seeks to remove constitutional presidential age limit, which prevents President Museveni from running for sixth term in 2021. Small group of MPs from NRM, opposition and independents 13 Sept vowed to block any attempt to remove age limit. Legislators abandoned first attempt to introduce bill to remove age limit 21 Sept after opposition MPs disrupted session by singing national anthem in protest against extra security procedures; lord mayor of Kampala placed under house arrest on suspicion of inciting protest; police clashed with university students protesting bill. Opposition Forum for Democratic Change leader Kizza Besigye arrested 26 Sept before second attempt to table bill in parliament. Parliamentary speaker 26 Sept abandoned second attempt after MPs fought in parliament; fighting broke out again 27 Sept but NRM tabled bill. Protests against bill also held outside Kampala, including in Mbale, Mbarara, Arua and Masaka.
Electoral commission 6 Sept announced definitive results of 23 Aug general election: ruling MPLA party won 61.07% majority in legislative elections, two major opposition parties UNITA and CASA-CE won 26.68% and 9.45% respectively; commission denied main opposition group UNITA’s claims of electoral fraud. Constitutional Court 13 Sept rejected UNITA’s 9 Sept appeal to annul election results over alleged vote rigging. President-elect João Lourenço took office 26 Sept.
Two senior army officers 5 Sept shot dead Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Khoantle Motsomotso at his offices outside Maseru and were shot dead by his bodyguards; Motsomotso had reportedly denied his killers’ request to halt police investigations into atrocities committed by LDF under former PM Mosisili. Southern African Development Community sent ministerial fact finding mission to investigate killing, 15 Sept approved deployment of Contingent Force to support Lesotho govt and late-Sept sent technical assessment team to assess security and force requirements.
Political Commission of ruling FRELIMO party 13 Sept nominated President Nyusi as party’s candidate for 2019 presidential election.
Amid ongoing factional tensions within ruling ZANU-PF party including over presidential succession, President Mugabe and First Lady Grace Mugabe at youth rally in Bindura 9 Sept insulted potential presidential contender VP Mnangagwa, President Mugabe said he may name his preferred candidate to succeed him as party leader. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 14 Sept fell ill and next day was airlifted to South Africa for treatment, reportedly stable. Pastor Evan Mawarire, leader of #ThisFlag protest movement, arrested 24 Sept for urging citizens to protest; High Court ordered his release two days later saying govt could not legally hold him on remand. Police 27 Sept fired tear gas to break up protests in Harare against economic crisis. Voter registration for 2018 general election began mid-Sept but electronic system encountered faults in some places.
Insecurity persisted in north, mostly in Soum province bordering Mali. In Soum province, unidentified assailants 4 Sept attacked Kourfadji and kidnapped two people; 7 Sept attacked town hall in Diguel, kidnapped local official releasing him a few days later; 15 Sept killed village chief, imam and third person around Baraboulé; 22 Sept killed civilian in Diadio; 23 Sept attacked police station in Mentao refugee camp; military vehicle same day hit IED in Woro Saba, four soldiers injured; 26 Sept assailants ambushed military vehicle escorting mining convoy after it hit IED, killing two gendarmes; 27 Sept killed local official suspected of complicity with jihadists in Nassoumbou, near Djibo; four bodies found at Touronata 28 Sept. Insecurity spread west: gunmen attacked gendarmerie post 27 Sept in Toéni, Sourou region, near Mali border. Facebook post allegedly by jihadist group Ansarul Islam 12 Sept claimed al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist coalition Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) responsible for 13 Aug attack in capital Ouagadougou. Human Rights Watch 8 Sept criticised security forces for human rights abuses.
Almost 100 prisoners escaped Katiola prison in centre 3 Sept, 44 later caught. Unidentified assailants same day attacked gendarmerie post in Songon near Abidjan stealing weapons and 26 Sept launched similar attack on police station in Abobo, Abidjan. Large weapons cache found 26 Sept in Attécoubé, Abidjan. Govt 7 Sept said it had arrested 35 people, most military officers, for recent attacks on security institutions and accused figures loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo of planning attacks, including youth leader Damana Pickass and Gbagbo’s son-in-law Stéphane Kipré. At congress of ruling party Rally for Republicans 9-10 Sept Henriette Diagri Diabaté appointed party president.
Security forces 20 Sept clashed with protestors calling on govt to hold long-delayed local elections; two youths shot dead. Following three days of consultations with political parties and civil society, electoral commission 25 Sept said local elections would be held 4 Feb 2018. Opposition marched again 27 Sept in capital Conakry to honour protestors killed.
Following late Aug and early Sept ceasefires, rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) and pro-national unity Platform coalition 20 Sept in Bamako signed agreement that includes release of prisoners and return of Platform forces to Takalot, 40km from Kidal from where CMA forced them out. Security situation remained volatile in north, with attacks targeting govt forces (FAMA) and UN mission (MINUSMA). Two IED explosions near city of Aguelhok, Kidal region and on Ansongo-Ménaka axis, Gao region 5-6 Sept killed two peacekeepers and one civilian; unidentified assailants 6 Sept ambushed FAMA patrol in Ménaka city market, killing one; French Barkhane forces 8 Sept reportedly killed two Islamist militants in Gao city; unidentified assailants killed FAMA soldier and peacekeeper in ambush near Ménaka city 14 and 20 Sept; IED explosion targeting MINUSMA vehicle in Kidal city 14 Sept wounded two peacekeepers; military 20 Sept reported attacks on MINUSMA camp and outposts in Kidal region, no casualties reported; MINUSMA vehicle triggered bomb 24 Sept on road some 50km north of Gao, at least three peacekeepers reportedly killed. Preparations for launch of G5 Sahel force to counter jihadism in region continued: MINUSMA 7 Sept transferred control of camp in Léré near Mauritanian border to FAMA for use as G5 force base; President Keita 9 Sept inaugurated new G5 command base in Sévaré, Mopti region, and 19 Sept at UN General Assembly appealed for increased financial assistance to cover estimated €423mn budget. As requested by govt, UN Security Council 5 Sept adopted new sanctions regime to impose travel bans and asset freezes on those undermining peace agreement.
Alleged Boko Haram (BH) militants 6 Sept tried to abduct four villagers in Koutou, Diffa region in south east; three reportedly escaped, one killed. Alleged BH 7 Sept abducted child near Nguigmi, Diffa region. Govt 16 Sept extended by three months state of emergency in Diffa region and in Tillaberi and Tahoua regions on Mali border in west.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in Borno state, killing at least 68 civilians: BH killed 21 farmers 31 Aug-2 Sept in villages near Damboa; stabbed to death eleven people in displaced persons’ camp in Banki 1 Sept; killed at least seven with grenade in displaced persons’ camp in Ngala 8 Sept; killed four people 17 Sept in Kurumari village, Magumeri Local Govt Area (LGA); three suicide bombers 18 Sept in Mashalari village killed at least sixteen; killed at least nine 20 Sept in Daima village, Kala Balge LGA. Security forces continued operations: army 19 Sept reportedly repelled BH attack at Pulka and Bitta, killing eighteen militants; air force reported killing “hundreds of insurgents” in airstrikes around Garin Maloma area of Sambisa forest 1 Sept; army 6 Sept said it killed two deputies of Abubakar Shekau at Alafa, Borno state; domestic intelligence agency 9 Sept reported it thwarted gun and suicide attacks in Abuja and northern states. Military cracked down on Biafra separatists in south east, deepening concerns over army’s human rights abuses. Army 14 Sept stormed residence of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), in Umuahia, Abia state capital; no word from Kanu since and military 29 Sept denied holding him. Court 20 Sept declared IPOB terrorist organisation. In Niger Delta, militant Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators 3 Sept demanded President Buhari’s resignation over non-performance and threatened regionwide protests and attacks on oil facilities; threats not carried through. Gunmen 4 Sept attacked police post in Kolo, Bayelsa state, killing one officer; pirates 18 Sept abducted five sailors from ship near Parrot Island, Cross River state. Police said Fulani herders in reprisal for death of Fulani boy killed at least nineteen 7 Sept in Ancha village, Plateau state; army 11 Sept reportedly killed five men as it battled suspected perpetrators of assault on Ancha, one soldier also killed. Eight people 13 Sept died in intercommunal fight in Ugboju district, Benue state.
Opposition parties and civil society groups led thousands in countrywide protests throughout month calling for President Gnassingbé to step down, reestablishment of presidential term limits and electoral reform; security forces dispersed crowds with live fire and tear gas, one boy reportedly killed in clashes in north 20 Sept. UN 9 Sept said govt must limit presidential terms to avoid political crisis. Opposition boycott 19 Sept prevented parliament passing draft law that would cap presidential term limits and reform electoral process, forcing govt to hold referendum on bill, vote will reportedly be held by end of 2017. Fourteen opposition parties 30 Sept called for new protests 4-5 Oct.
Human Rights Watch called for govt to free thousands of Uighurs and other Muslims, including children, reportedly detained at unlawful “political education” centres in Xinjiang since April 2017. Beijing late Sept denied reports that authorities were seizing Muslim prayer mats and Qurans in Xinjiang.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga 8 Sept said Tokyo remains “seriously concerned” about Beijing’s intentions and “will respond in a calm and resolute manner” to any future Chinese intrusions on Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, which Japan controls but both countries claim. Japan increased vigilance after Chinese bombers flew off Kii Peninsula for first time 24 Aug, scrambling fighter jets even though Chinese aircraft did not enter Japanese airspace; Beijing asserted drills were normal and in accordance with international law, said no amount of interference or shadowing would prevent long-range exercises from continuing. Japan expressed concern through diplomatic channels. Two U.S. air force B-1B bombers and two Japanese F-15 fighters 9 Sept conducted drill over East China Sea. Japanese PM Abe and Indian PM Modi 13-14 Sept reaffirmed bilateral security and infrastructure collaboration, agreed to expand three-way joint military exercises with U.S.. Beijing 8 Sept hosted high profile ceremony commemorating 45th anniversary of normalised ties with Japan involving some 300 prominent figures from both countries; Abe attended ceremony at Chinese embassy in Tokyo marking anniversary and China’s national day 28 Sept, first PM to do so in over a decade, invited Chinese President Xi to visit Japan; Chinese and Japanese premiers exchanged congratulatory messages 29 Sept.
Concerns grew over escalating in rhetoric between U.S. and North Korea, which conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test to date 3 Sept. Resulting artificial earthquake suggested yield of approximately 150 kilotons; Pyongyang asserted device was a thermonuclear (hydrogen) bomb, which is preferable for missile-delivery nuclear weapon system. U.S. 6 Sept circulated draft UN resolution in response to nuclear test, included bans on textile and labour exports, oil embargo, sanctions against national airline and asset freeze on Kim Jong-un, however measures watered down during negotiations between U.S., Russian and Chinese representatives, amid Russian objection to complete oil embargo. Security Council 11 Sept adopted Resolution 2375 banning supply to North Korea of all condensates and natural gas liquids, and all refined petroleum products beyond two million barrels per year; also bans North Korean exports of fabrics and apparel. North Korea 15 Sept launched another intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) over northern Japan, similar to 29 Aug IRBM. U.S. President Trump attacked North Korea in his address to UN General Assembly 19 Sept, calling Kim regime “depraved” citing inter alia rights abuses and its “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles”; said if Kim Jong-un threatens U.S. or its allies, U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea. President Trump 21 Sept issued sweeping Executive Order reinforcing unilateral sanctions on North Korea. U.S. air force 23 Sept flew bombers east of North Korea. North Korean foreign minister 25 Sept said Trump had declared war on North Korea in 23 Sept tweet, giving Pyongyang right to take countermeasures including shooting down U.S. bombers; White House spokesperson denied U.S. had declared war, China called for restraint. U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson during visit to China 30 Sept said U.S. communicating directly with Pyongyang. South Korea’s Unification Ministry 21 Sept approved $8m aid package for vulnerable populations in North Korea, to be delivered through UN agencies, reaffirming Seoul’s intent to separate humanitarian and political/military issues.
President Tsai 5 Sept appointed new Premier William Lai Chin-te, known for tough, pro-independence stance. Delivering first administrative report to parliament 26 Sept, Lai became first holder of his position to explicitly endorse island’s separate status from mainland China, risking further tensions with Beijing.
U.S. and NATO 3 Sept pledged to invest $7bn in Afghan air force over next four years; UN Secretary-General Guterres 16 Sept claimed military victory in insurgency is not possible and highlighted need to invest in conditions for political solution. Reports emerged late Sept that U.S. President Trump pushing President Ghani to ask Qatar to shut down Taliban’s “political office” in Doha, a channel of communication since 2013; Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates reportedly support move. Following further concern over activities of Pakistan-based terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan PM Abbasi speaking at UN General Assembly 22 Sept defended his country’s commitment to regional war on extremism, said military had “cleared out tribal areas of almost all militant groups”. In Nuristan province (east), military 9 Sept reported 85 Taliban killed in airstrikes, 13 Sept said they had repelled major Taliban ground offensive 11 Sept killing over 70 militants, while Taliban reported killing twenty forces. Insecurity continued in Kabul, where unclaimed suicide bomb attack outside cricket stadium 13 Sept killed one policeman and two civilians; Taliban car bomber targeting NATO convoy 24 Sept reportedly injured five civilians; Taliban 27 Sept claimed mortar attack targeting visiting U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis at airport, no casualties reported; U.S. forces retaliated with airstrike, accidentally killing unreported number of civilians due to “missile malfunction”. In Kandahar province (south), suicide bomber 15 Sept struck NATO convoy in provincial capital, killing Romanian soldier; roadside bomb 18 Sept reportedly killed six civilians near capital. As electoral commission began assessment of polling stations in unstable areas, NGO Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan expressed doubts over prospect of credible and legitimate elections due to Taliban control over parts of country, security threats, lack of capacity and trust in electoral commission.
UN reported over 500,000 Myanmar Rohingyas fleeing crackdown by Myanmar military since 25 Aug (see Myanmar) had entered Bangladesh by 28 Sept. Govt strengthened provision for refugees with extra land allocation and construction of roads and makeshift settlements. PM Hasina during visit to Ukhiya refugee camp 12 Sept pledged full support to Rohingyas for temporary period. Foreign ministry pushed proposal for safe zone inside Myanmar for Rohingyas; at UN General Assembly, Hasina lobbied for quick return of refugees. Warning of deteriorating humanitarian situation, UN refugee agency praised response of Bangladesh communities to refugees. Bangladesh accused Myanmar military of violating its airspace late Aug and several times in Sept, and of laying landmines near border. Amid ongoing conflict between judiciary and govt, Supreme Court chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, scheduled to retire Jan 2018, left country 10 Sept for personal reasons, provoking speculation he will not serve remaining months of tenure. Parliament 14 Sept adopted resolution seeking review of Supreme Court’s July verdict which declared 16th constitutional amendment unconstitutional. Law enforcement agencies 6 Sept reported discovering militant sleeper cell in Dhaka’s Mirpur area, near main police station; during three-day operation, alleged militant detonated suicide bomb, killing himself and six family members and associates; security forces also discovered large arms and ammunition cache. Security agencies made several arrests of alleged jihadists, including two alleged members of so-called ISIS-linked “neo-Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh” 9 Sept, and 20 Sept arrested alleged neo-Jamaatul Mujahidin recruiter. Media 23 Sept reported plan by several security guards with alleged ISIS links to assassinate PM Hasina on 24 Aug had been foiled; govt denied reports.
Sporadic exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces continued across Line of Control (LoC), with military and civilian casualties on both sides. One Indian border guard dead after 15 Sept skirmish in Ranbir Singh Pura sector; one soldier killed and three wounded in 20 Sept firefight in Keran sector. Pakistani police 2 Sept reported five-year-old girl killed by Indian firing from across LoC in Poonch district, Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Indian police reported women killed by Pakistani shelling 14 Sept. In Arnia sub-sector of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), India reported Pakistani shelling 15 Sept killed Indian soldier; another exchange of fire 17 Sept left one woman dead and five civilians injured. Pakistan reported Indian firing killed two civilians and one soldier in Poonch district 29 Sept. Suspected militants 1 Sept ambushed bus carrying security personnel in Srinagar, J&K, injuring five policemen. Security forces killed two Hizbul Mujahidin militants including divisional commander in Sopore town 4 Sept, and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) leader Abu Ismail and fellow militant in 14 Sept operation in Srinagar. Suspected militants 21 Sept killed two civilians and injured dozens, including two policemen, in attempt to kill J&K Minister for Public Works Naeem Akhtar in Srinagar. In ongoing protests in India-administered Kashmir, clashes erupted between anti-India protesters and security forces after Eid al-Azha prayers 2 Sept in Srinagar, Anantnag and Sopore, no reported casualties. Islamabad 14 Sept warned that arms deals between India and U.S. would “accentuate military imbalances in the region and undermine strategic stability”, and “embolden India to adopt aggressive military doctrines”.
Following completion of local polls, mainstream parties now focused on next stage of electoral cycle. Madhesi parties participated in third and final local elections phase 18 Sept in eight southern Tarai districts that were strongholds in protests against 2015 constitution; voter turnout (77%) was highest of all three phases. Upcoming provincial and federal elections being held in two phases; first phase 26 Nov in 32 districts including all northern belt districts and some central belt districts; second phase 7 Dec in remaining central belt districts and all southern plains districts. Two biggest parties in parliament, Nepali Congress (NC) and UML, separately discussing alliance with CPN Maoist (Unity Center) to ensure majority in forthcoming elections. Madhesi parties criticised Constituency Delineation Commission for delineating electoral constituencies in Tarai disproportionate to population residing in region. At 23 Sept speech to UN General Assembly, PM Sher Bahadur Deuba sought support for Nepal’s candidacy to UN Human Rights Council; several experts urged govt to fulfil domestic human rights obligations to strengthen candidacy by investigating killings during constitution-related protests in Tarai and revising transitional justice mechanisms. Nepal one of five Asian countries contesting four seats; vote expected Oct-Nov.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif 5 Sept said Pakistan must deal with internal militancy in order to improve international reputation; followed Aug U.S. announcement of new Afghanistan strategy warning Pakistan of adverse consequences of providing sanctuary to Afghan militants, and decision to hold back $255mn in financing for foreign ministry until Pakistan stops cross-border attacks and helps U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. PM Abbasi 18 Sept endorsed foreign minister’s call for “in-house cleaning”, next day met U.S. VP Pence at UN General Assembly, where they reportedly agreed to “stay engaged with a constructive approach”. Also followed BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa) joint declaration 4 Sept expressing concerns over activities of Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Militant violence continued in Balochistan (west), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and elsewhere. In Karachi, gunmen dressed as police 1 Sept opened fire on banned opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) member Khawaja Izharul Hassan, killing two people including a boy; police 4 Sept killed four alleged Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants while searching for suspected perpetrator of 1 Sept attack. In Balochistan, unknown assailants 4 Sept ambushed Frontier Corps (FC) convoy in Panjgur district, killing three soldiers including a lieutenant colonel; gunmen 10 Sept killed four members of Shia Hazara family in Quetta; TTP splinter faction Majlis-e-Abrar suicide bomber 18 Sept killed one child and injured over a dozen near Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan. In FATA, U.S. drone strike 15 Sept killed three suspected militants in Kurram agency; TTP claimed 17 Sept roadside bomb that killed local official and at least four FC soldiers in Bajaur agency. Electoral commission 7 Sept refused to recognise Milli Muslim League (MML) political party, which is directly linked to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, barring its candidate from displaying images of Jamaat-ud-Dawa or using its name in campaign for 17 Sept Lahore by-election to fill seat vacated by former PM Sharif. Candidate ran as independent, still invoking Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its leaders, came third with 4,000 votes; seat won by Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz.
Parliamentary committee on constitutional reform 21 Sept presented parliament delayed interim report with blueprint for new constitution: deals with nature of state, unit of devolution, electoral reform and religion; unclear if and when constitutional assembly will debate report. Coalition govt 20 Sept passed Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill postponing provincial polls planned for 2018, despite opposition protests. Supreme Court ruled that sections of proposed 20th amendment were unconstitutional and would require a referendum. Under bill, polls to be conducted under new hybrid system combining first-past-the-post and proportional representation. At 36th session of UN Human Rights Council, high commissioner for human rights Zeid al Ra’ad Hussein 11 Sept urged Colombo to accelerate “essential confidence building measures” such as replacing Prevention of Terrorism Act and reducing militarisation in north. President 12 Sept operationalised Office of Missing Persons (OMP), breaking deadlock in transitional justice related reforms, but maintained hard-line position on trying military officials amid renewed allegations against retired army commander General Jagath Jayasuriya for war crimes in north during final stages of civil war. Jayasuriya’s predecessor General Sarath Fonseka said he would be ready to testify against him; President Sirisena said he would not allow any “war hero” to be tried by “foreign group”. Addressing UN General Assembly 20 Sept, Sirisena asked international community to recognise and support Sri Lanka’s “slow” but “steady” reform on democratisation and human rights. Govt failed for second time 21 Sept to bring to parliament scheduled legislation to criminalise enforced disappearances, amid campaign by opposition that it could be used against military.
Police 18 Sept reportedly foiled plot to attack President “Jokowi” Widodo following arrest of suspected militant believed to be member of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). Court 20 Sept jailed Muhammad Nur Solikin for eleven years for planning bomb attacks on Presidential Palace. President 12 Sept warned against “vicious” use of social media for propagating hate speech and slander, amid growing concerns over its use in mobilising populist political protest and radicalisation. Govt 13 Sept issued new regulations to curb money laundering and terror-related financing across broader range of financial service providers. UN decolonisation committee 28 Sept said it would not accept petition calling for independence for West Papua, presented to it by independence activist Benny Wenda, saying it goes outside its mandate; Jakarta dismissed petition as “publicity stunt”.
Among counter-terror arrests during month, authorities reported police in Kuala Lumpur had arrested seven Filipino security guards 14 Sept suspected of being members of Abu Sayyaf militant group. Police 18 Sept reported militant groups in Malaysia and Bangladesh have recruited fighters to join Rohingya insurgency in Myanmar’s Rakhine state; no evidence so far that South East Asian fighters are present in Rakhine or Bangladesh.
Following late Aug attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, also known as Harakah al-Yaqin), violent and disproportionate military response targeting Rohingya villagers in Muslim-majority northern Rakhine state continued, including systematic burnings of villages by security forces and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes, abuses and killings. UN reported over 500,000 Rohingya – over two thirds of area’s Rohingya population – had fled to Bangladesh by late Sept, creating one of fastest-growing refugee crises since Second World War; tens of thousands more internally displaced, Rohingya and members of other groups. Govt continued to deny UN and international NGO humanitarian access to northern Rakhine, refused visas to UN Fact Finding Mission. UN human rights chief 11 Sept condemned “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Addressing open UN Security Council session 28 Sept, UN Secretary-General Guterres called for end to military operation and warned of impact of crisis on regional stability; Myanmar national security advisor denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Govt rejected ARSA’s 10 Sept call for “humanitarian pause” ceasefire; ARSA 14 Sept issued statement denying links with al-Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIS), Lashkar-e-Taiba (Pakistan) “or any transnational terrorist group”, warned against their involvement in Arakan conflict. Aung San Suu Kyi 19 Sept gave speech to foreign diplomats condemning human rights violations and expressing concern for those caught up in conflict; international observers criticised her apparent denial of ethnic cleansing and claims that Muslims in Rakhine state have access to health and education services without discrimination; that 50% of Muslim villages remained untouched; and that military operations had ended 5 Sept. Commander in chief 21 Sept said military had handled situation as best it could, called for displaced “ethnic” (ie non-Muslim) communities to return to villages as soon as possible. Govt found two mass graves in northern Rakhine 24 and 25 Sept containing 45 bodies, said they are Hindu villagers killed by ARSA. Nationalist monk Wirathu gave speech on Rakhine crisis in Kayin state capital 10 Sept attended by nearly 40,000 people, in violation of preaching ban.
Military made gains in battle over Marawi City with Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, clearing three militant strongholds including historic Bato Mosque 16 Sept and rescuing five hostages. Military 18 Sept confirmed it had killed three Maute brothers; Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf/ISIS regional leader Isnilon Hapilon still alive. As of 24 Sept, at least 879 people, including 680 militants and 152 government forces, killed since May, 40-60 hostages remain. Defence minister 25 Sept reported militants’ funds for Marawi operation came partly from ISIS HQ and partly from drugs trade. Govt 15 Sept reported foreign funding for govt reconstruction plan for Marawi has reached around $40mn. Defence minister 27 Sept said govt plans to conduct “post conflict needs assessment” after city has been cleared of militants. Marawi bishop announced that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) offered to provide security to Christian groups who assist displaced. Duterte 8 Sept said no resumption of peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which broke down in May, without a ceasefire; clashes continued as soldiers 20 Sept killed nine NPA rebels in Nueva Ecija. Duterte 20 Sept agreed to certify as “urgent” the stalled Bangsamoro Transition Commission version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after discussing BBL’s status in congress with MILF earlier in month. Duterte also met Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Nur Misuari in Davao 16 Sept; Misuari reiterated MNLF’s support for nationwide federalism and offer of help in campaign against extremism in Mindanao. House majority leader 29 Sept confirmed that BBL has been filed as House Bill 6475 and referred to Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity for deliberations.
Media 2 Sept reported U.S. planning to increase Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) involving military aircraft and warships in South China Sea (SCS) to two-three times a month, likely intended to reinforce U.S. position while reducing frictions over individual patrols. Australia began largest naval exercise since 1980s, intended to maintain country’s presence in western Pacific, demonstrate capabilities and bolster military cooperation with South East Asian nations; China’s People’s Daily accused Australia of “encircling China”. Indonesia 1 Sept formally named disputed area off its coast in SCS “North Natuna Sea”, despite official Chinese protests. U.S. and Indonesia conducted bilateral naval exercise 7-17 Sept. Malaysian PM Najib Razak 12 Sept met U.S. President Trump, discussed tensions in SCS and released joint statement affirming maritime claims must be resolved according to international law; Malaysia and U.S. began joint maritime exercises 18 Sept. Vietnam and China traded protests over Chinese military exercises in near Gulf of Tonkin and Paracel Islands late Aug/early Sept, Vietnam condemning drill while Beijing reiterated claim of sovereignty and right to conduct exercises. Amid continuing frictions, and ahead of planned visit to Vietnam in November by President Xi, senior party officials meeting in Hanoi 18-19 Sept reaffirmed ties. Philippines security officials 22 Aug reported China had deployed navy and coast guard ships near Sandy Cay sandbars in SCS, within territorial sea around Thitu (Pag-asa) Island, which Manila controls; President Duterte downplayed concerns and said issue had been resolved.
Technical meeting of peace dialogue process between Bangkok and MARA Patani (Patani Consultative Council, umbrella group of separatist fronts that does not include main militant group BRN) took place 11-12 Sept in Kuala Lumpur, ended without agreement on pilot safety zone. Series of three bombs in Yala province 14 Sept killed one soldier and one police officer and wounded 26 others. Roadside IED in Saiburi district, Pattani, killed four rangers 22 Sept. Supreme Court 27 Sept found former PM Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of negligence for failing to stem corruption in her govt’s rice-subsidy scheme, sentenced her in absentia to five years’ jail; media report she will seek asylum in the UK. King Maha Vajiralongkorn 1 Sept endorsed annual military reshuffle, seen as apparent effort to restore balance to promotions and bolster army unity. Junta officials 11 Sept speculated that general election would be held in Dec 2018, but cautioned that four pending organic laws to manage polling could cause further delay. Aphichat Punnajanto, monk who previously called for burning of mosques in response to Muslim militant violence, detained and defrocked late Sept; govt said his actions demean religion and could cause conflict in society.
Several people injured in continuing election-related violence in Southern Highlands, last seat to be declared.
During two-day visit to Bosnia early Sept – first visit by a Serbian president in six years – Serbian President Vučić reaffirmed Serbia’s “respect for the territorial integrity of Bosnia”, said Bosnia “has a true friend in Serbia”. President of Republika Srpska (RS) entity Milorad Dodik 19 Sept said his party no longer pushing for controversial referendum on jurisdiction of state courts over RS courts, citing lack of political consensus and pressure from international community.
PAN coalition, which won most seats in 11 June snap elections (39 out of 120), signed agreement 4 Sept with New Alliance for Kosovo party (which has four seats), helping end deadlock on appointment of new parliament speaker and govt. PAN 6 Sept reached agreement with main Kosovo Serb party Srpska Lista to support election of Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK)’s Kadri Veseli as new speaker; parliament elected Veseli new speaker next day and President Thaci nominated Ramush Haradinaj (Alliance for the Future of Kosovo) as PM. Parliament 9 Sept approved Haradinaj’s govt by 61 of 120 votes; Haradinaj told MPs there is “no alternative to dialogue with Serbia”. Serbia 12 Sept announced that Russia’s ruling United Russia party had lent its support to Srpska Lista to enter Kosovo govt, following meeting between Srpska Lista president and United Russia delegation. Haradinaj 10 Sept said he would reassess controversial border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, ratification of which is a condition for EU to unblock visa-free access; 12 Sept appointed new demarcation team.
Campaigning began for 15 Oct local elections, seen by observers as popularity test of PM Zaev’s new govt.
Addressing UN General Assembly 20 Sept, President Sargsyan said he was ready to declare Turkey-Armenia Protocols null and void if there is no indication Turkey is ready to reconsider its position and return to discussion of agreed documents by the time he leaves office in April 2018. Protocols were signed in 2009, but countries’ parliaments never ratified them.
Guardian newspaper and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project NGO 4 Sept released investigation about thousands of Azerbaijani bank transactions to European politicians, journalists, lawyers and organisations, allegedly through shell companies in UK 2012-2014, for lobbying and to buy “silence”. President Aliyev rejected allegations; European parliament called for investigation. Officials reported 1,500 people attended anti-corruption rally in Baku 23 Sept; organisers said attendance higher. Tax agency 11 Sept dropped charges against Turan independent news outlet and released its director; authorities 15 Sept informed Turan of new tax investigation and charges, again reportedly dropped 20 Sept. Russian-language blogger Alexander Lapshin released from prison and sent back to Israel 12 Sept; Baku said Lapshin was pardoned following suicide attempt and after writing a letter declaring N-K part of Azerbaijan. Lapshin denied suicide attempt, said he was beaten unconscious in prison. Opposition politician Faiq Amirli, jailed in July for tax evasion, inciting religious hatred and violating rights of citizens, freed 15 Sept after appeals court gave him suspended sentence. Court sentenced journalist Elcin Ismayilli to nine years’ prison 18 Sept for extortion and abuse of office; Ismayilli said case politically motivated. Azerbaijan hosted joint air force exercise with Turkey late Sept.
Parliament 26 Sept adopted controversial amendments to constitution, after opposition parties and president united to present their own amendments, some of which ruling party accepted 22 Sept, including timing for transfer to fully proportional parliamentary system. Primary schools in breakaway republic South Ossetia (SO) reportedly using exclusively Russian for years 1-4 since start of new school year. SO de facto leadership said change was to help local Georgian population, which frequently complains about discrimination, to finally define their future – whether within SO or moving to Georgia. Georgia early Sept hosted military exercises with U.S. and several regional countries (excluding Armenia).
Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met on margins of UN General Assembly 23 Sept with mediation of OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs; in joint statement said that meeting between countries’ presidents “in the near future” expected to “enhance confidence and political will among the parties to find solutions to the remaining key settlement issues”. Addressing UNGA, Armenia’s President Sargsyan 20 Sept accused Azerbaijan of official policy of “Armenophobia”, promised to continue providing security and political support to de facto Nagorno-Karabakh (NK); also called on international community to prevent isolation of N-K. In his address next day, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev called Sargsyan “a criminal” responsible for N-K war and ethnic Azerbaijanis killed during conflict in 1990s; promised to continue to “punish” Armenian side “as was done in April 2016” especially if any Azerbaijani civilians were threatened or attacked. Sides reported occasional use of only small arms during month, though intensity of shootings reportedly increased during the week of 13-22 Sept, with grenade launchers used in southern location of LoC. Armenian soldier reported killed in mine explosion 1 Sept.
Amid ongoing counter-terrorism campaign by security forces, continuing violence in Dagestan included police officer and civilian killed in attack on police car in Khasavyurt district 5 Sept; authorities reported one assailant also killed, identified as militant group leader Valid Motsaev, alleged to have links to Islamic State (ISIS). In Zaterechny district, authorities 6 Sept reported four militants killed in two separate counter-terrorist operations, including Dagestani with alleged links to ISIS. In Chechnya, concerns mounted over Zelimkhan Bakayev, Moscow-based singer who went missing after arriving in republic early Aug; Chechen information minister 19 Sept warned against linking Bakayev’s disappearance with politics. International Human Rights Group 15 Sept reported five family members of imprisoned militant Abbas Kuzhulov had been kidnapped by Chechen police; Kuzhulov later reported killed by landmine following raid by police in Vedeno district. Chechen court 6 Sept sentenced two men to five years prison for “attempt to leave for Syria”; relatives claimed security forces tortured them into confessing. In North Ossetia’s Mozdok district, unknown assailants 21 Sept attacked police station, injuring three officers. Series of anonymous bomb threats forced evacuation of dozens of buildings in Dagestan, North Ossetia and elsewhere in Russia during month. North Caucasus military court 18 Sept found two women guilty of plotting terrorist attack in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia. Relatives of Chechens named by Novaya Gazeta’s July report on Jan 2017 extrajudicial executions appealed to Russian High Commissioner for Human Rights Tatiana Moskalkova. Moskalkova visited Chechnya 19-21 Sept to investigate reports: confirmed some victims, two presented to her as alive; Moskalkova expressed dissatisfaction with work of local authorities and insisted on federal level investigation. Leader of Dagestan Ramazan Abdulatipov late Sept announced his resignation.
Russia and Belarus 14-20 Sept conducted “Zapad” joint strategic military exercise in Belarus and in Russian exclave Kaliningrad, in face of Western concerns over show of military power. Western countries disputed official claims that exercise would involve only 12,700 troops, below internationally agreed threshold at which it must be open to observers; NATO reported some 100,000 troops involved, and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles being fired in exercises. Lithuanian President Grybauskaitė told UN General Assembly Russia is “training its army to attack the West”. Russia repeated assurances that exercise “exclusively defensive in nature”, rejected Western complaints that exercises were not transparent. Opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich reportedly detained in capital 22 Sept, weeks after being briefly jailed for taking part in protest march.
Tensions between EU/U.S.-leaning govt of PM Filip and Russian-oriented President Dodon continued. Govt early Sept overruled decision by Dodon in order to send 57 soldiers to NATO-led military exercises in Ukraine. Dodon 13 Sept rejected govt nomination for defence minister, also vetoed bills passed by parliament which he said limited his powers as supreme commander; parliament 21 Sept overrode vetoes. President Dodon’s opposition Socialist Party 24 Sept launched campaign to increase presidential powers. PM Filip addressed UN General Assembly 22 Sept, called for discussion on withdrawal of Russian troops from breakaway Transnistria region.
Significant reduction in ceasefire violations since Aug agreement, though increasing through Sept; 220 violations reported 21 Sept, days after OSCE deputy Alexander Hug warned of likely uptick. Ukraine reported four soldiers, two border guards and several Donetsk People’s Republic fighters killed during month; six civilians on both sides of line of separation injured. OSCE reported 68 civilians killed in 2017, 315 wounded. Senior officials described large 27 Sept military depot explosion as major blow to Ukraine’s fighting capacity. Putin proposed UN peacekeeping mission for Donbas 5 Sept, in shift from previous opposition to idea; proposal initially specified forces only along front line to protect OSCE monitoring mission (SMM), however Putin told German Chancellor Merkel 11 Sept that he would consider it in all areas where SMM operates. Western observers, including U.S. envoy Volker, expressed cautious optimism, others described it as “a distraction”. Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin 19 Sept said that any peacekeepers should cover all Donbas including Russia’s border, and be accompanied by withdrawal of Russian regular and irregular troops and weapons; Poroshenko repeated this at UN General Assembly. Klimkin 26 Sept said draft peacekeeping force resolution ready for UN submission once Russia indicates willingness to accept Kyiv’s terms. U.S. Senate 18 Sept approved defence budget with $500mn in Ukraine security assistance, including controversial defensive lethal assistance. EU-Ukraine Association Agreement entered into force 1 Sept; EU official 20 Sept said Kyiv needs to implement more reforms in coming months including on corruption as condition for further financial aid. EU also extended for six months asset freezes and travel bans on Russian officials and Donbas separatists. Standoff between Poroshenko and erstwhile Georgian president, ex-Odessa governor Mikheil Saakashvili, now a vocal govt critic, escalated after Saakashvili illegally entered Ukraine from Poland 10 Sept, swearing to help solve country’s political crisis. UN human rights office 25 Sept reported Russian state agents in Crimea have committed grave human rights violations since Russian annexation of region in 2014, including torture, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and at least one extrajudicial execution.
Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı and Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades both met with UN Secretary-General Guterres in margins of UN General Assembly in New York. Akıncı 19 Sept conceded that he did not expect any movement of Cyprus problem over next five months during Cyprus presidential election period, while Anastasiades 22 Sept said he remains determined to continue talks for settlement. U.S. oil company ExxonMobil 6 Sept confirmed controversial plan to start drilling on south coast of island in second half of 2018.
Political tensions spiralled ahead of independence referendum organised by regional govt in Catalonia (north east). Catalonian parliament 6 Sept passed law mandating binding referendum on independence 1 Oct; Spain’s Constitutional Court next day suspended law, however Catalonian regional govt pledged to proceed with referendum. Confrontation intensified ahead of vote as govt arrested some officials, deployed extra police and took measures to prevent voting, including seizing ballot papers.
Military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in south east continued with considerable decrease in security force fatalities (ten killed, mostly in rural areas of Hakkari, Bingöl and Şırnak), slight decrease in PKK casualties (at least 22 fatalities, mostly in Diyarbakır, Hakkari, and Van provinces). Three state infrastructure workers killed in Hakkari and Şırnak provinces, allegedly by PKK early Sept. Environment and urbanisation minister 6 Sept announced reconstruction of areas in south east destroyed during 2016 fighting to be completed within six months. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) late Aug voiced concerns over claims govt drone killed civilian in Hakkari; President Erdoğan and PM Yıldırım condemned remarks as “terrorist propaganda”; PKK 6 Sept confirmed casualty was member of PKK. Govt 19 Sept confirmed abduction of two intelligence agents reportedly on mission to assassinate PKK leader Cemil Bayık in Sulaimaniah; foreign minister Çavuşoğlu said govt engaged in efforts to bring back agents, said no “direct contact” with PKK. In joint statement with Iran and Iraq, Ankara 20 Sept warned Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) not to hold 25 Sept independence referendum, warning of “countermeasures”, amid concerns vote will increase separatist nationalism among Kurds in Turkey’s south east, and damage country’s economic and political ties with KRG. Following referendum, Ankara vowed to cut off oil trade with KRG and close Habur border gate; 29 Sept halted all flights to Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey (see Iraq). Turkey 18 Sept launched military exercise on Iraqi border, beginning in Silopi district and quickly expanding. Iraqi army joined Turkish forces for manoeuvres 25 Sept. Govt 12 Sept confirmed deal to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, adding strain on relationship with U.S. and NATO. Erdoğan 18 Sept again criticised U.S. for supplying weapons to Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Syria. Small-scale outbreaks of violence between refugee and host communities continued during month; related social tensions in urban districts of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir remain high.
President Nazarbayev 16 Sept met with Uzbek President Mirziyoyev during official visit in Tashkent. Tensions increased with Kyrgyzstan after Nazarbayev met Kyrgyz opposition presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov in Almaty 19 Sept. Former PM Serik Akhmetov released from prison 21 Sept after being convicted on corruption charges in 2015.
President Atambayev and Uzbek President Mirziyoyev 5 Sept signed border agreement during two-day visit in Bishkek; Mirziyoyev announced willingness to invest in hydropower projects. Subsequently, main border crossing between two countries near Osh reopened after seven years’ closure. Two suspected terrorists shot dead by security services near Kara-Balta (west of Bishkek in north) 29 Aug. State security service GKNB 30 Sept arrested opposition lawmaker Kanatbek Isayev, accused of conspiracy, mass disturbance organisation and “violent seizure of power” ahead of 15 Oct presidential election; GKNB claimed Isayev planned coup if former PM Omurbek Babanov did not win.
President Rahmon 1 Sept met Chinese President Xi in Beijing; signed 24 cooperation agreements including $230m in grant, $79m loan for power line construction in rural areas. Former Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, police commander who defected to Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015, again reported killed in Russian airstrike on Deir el-Zour, eastern Syria 5 Sept. State news agency 7 Sept said OSCE mission in Tajikistan might be suspended if Mukhiddin Kabiri, leader of banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, attended OSCE human rights conference in Poland 11 Sept; Kabiri attended conference.
FM Abdulaziz Kamilov 7 Sept met Human Rights Watch representatives in Tashkent, first visit since its ban in 2011.
Govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group 4 Sept announced bilateral ceasefire from 1 Oct-12 Jan 2018, while month also saw Gulf Clan leader offer to surrender group to judicial system. Under govt-ELN agreement, latter committed to cease kidnappings, end child recruitment and stop placing landmines; govt to take steps to protect human rights defenders, assess humanitarian situation of jailed ELN fighters, and move forward in negotiations on broader social participation in peace process. Second UN mission, which began work 26 Sept, will monitor ceasefire. Ceasefire announcement came ahead of visit by Pope Francis 6-10 Sept in which he expressed support for peace process. Govt negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo 12 Sept told Reuters peace negotiations with “highly radical, ideological” ELN would be more difficult than with FARC. ELN attacks continued in Arauca province on Venezuela border, killing two civilians and a policeman, while appearing to decrease elsewhere. Police operation 31 Aug killed number two of Gulf Clan (aka Gaitanistas), alias Gavilán, in north west. President Santos 5 Sept said group leader alias Otoniel had offered to surrender group to judicial system and, under right conditions, group would cease its involvement in illegal activities. Santos said attorney general and justice ministry studying legal options and viability of group’s proposal. Killing of individual police officers continued but on lesser scale: two police officers killed by Gulf Clan since Otoniel’s announcement. Reports emerged of divisions within FARC over who should lead new political party. FARC dissidents continued violent attacks, killing two civilians in Guaviare 15 and 20 Sept; defence ministry 28 Sept announced dissident leader alias Euclides Mora killed in air force operation in Guaviare. FARC’s formal declaration of $332mn assets in Aug showed significant holdings, especially land, in hands of dissident groups, including in four of five wealthiest fronts (40th, 1st, 7th and 62nd fronts).
President of opposition-led National Assembly (AN) Julio Borges, visiting Europe early Sept, met with French, German, Spanish and UK leaders, all of whom expressed their support and condemned undemocratic behaviour by President Maduro’s govt. VP Jorge Arreaza also visited Europe 11-13 Sept, spoke at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and met with French and Spanish foreign ministers: defended govt’s rights record and dismissed UN human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad al Hussein’s statement that crimes against humanity may have been committed in Venezuela. Reports of new govt-opposition dialogue in Dominican Republic, previously confidential, brought further recriminations within opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD). Govt demands in talks included AN approval for issuance of fresh international debt and recognition of Constituent Assembly; MUD demands included restoration of AN powers, electoral calendar, “humanitarian corridor”, replacement of govt supporters on Supreme Court and electoral authority (CNE), and commitment not to ban opposition candidates in gubernatorial elections. Sides agreed to formation of group of six guarantor countries, but agreement to re-convene 27 Sept suspended after MUD said conditions not met. MUD 10 Sept held primaries in nineteen of 23 states to determine opposition candidates in 15 Oct gubernatorial elections, amid signs its internal unity is fraying. Acción Democrática won in ten states, giving it twelve candidacies; several contests, including in Zulia and Aragua states, ended with disputes over result. Govt’s international isolation continues to deepen, with EU actively considering individual sanctions on its leaders, and Canada imposing sanctions on senior govt figures; U.S. imposed travel ban on Venezuelan govt officials and their families, citing govt’s lack of cooperation on vetting security threats posed by its citizens. Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro organised hearings on Venezuela’s rights situation in Washington DC beginning 14 Sept and issued fourth report on Venezuela.
Political crisis pitting citizens defending anti-corruption campaign and International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) against Congress and President Morales continued. Congress 11 Sept upheld president’s immunity from prosecution; 13 Sept altered agenda of Congress’ ordinary session and overwhelmingly approved reforms to penal code under the pretext of “national urgency”. Reforms included modifications to rules on illegal financing of politics clearing prominent party leaders from investigations for possible wrongdoing during 2015 campaign, making jail sentences for corruption crimes commutable for fines. Widespread perception of Congress’ actions as impunity pact among political class produced outrage, mobilising thousands to protest. Constitutional Court 14 Sept ruled Congress’ decisions unlawful. Congress met next day to backtrack; hundreds of protesters stopped deputies from leaving premises for nine hours. Series of marches against deputies took place across country 20 Sept, drawing estimated 200,000 people; several govt ministers resigned 19 Sept. Congress 21 Sept again voted to uphold president’s immunity from prosecution but kept request available for future consideration. Revelations emerged 12 Sept of $6,850 monthly bonus paid to President Morales by defence ministry, further undermining support for president.
As campaigning began for 26 Nov general elections, Support Mission Against Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) requested that Jan 2017 Law on Clean Politics be respected; Electoral Supreme Court 1 Sept declared that 48 candidates have open judicial cases against them. Electoral violence watchdog NGO 30 Aug reported nine candidates killed so far in campaign; 15 Sept electoral rally in capital by left-wing opposition alliance saw violent confrontations with police. Among other violent incidents, journalist killed in Northern Cortés department 13 Sept. Women for Peace Movement reported more than 250 women murdered to date in 2017. Long-awaited Anti-Corruption Courts inside attorney general’s office started operations 11 Sept. Police same day carried out anti-gang operation against financial structures belonging to MS-13 gang, arrested several police; U.S. court 5 Sept sentenced ex-president’s son Fabio Lobo, convicted of drug trafficking, to 24 years’ jail; MACCIH same day announced it was investigating ties between former President Lobo and “Los Cachiros” cartel.
Spate of 40 murders on 23 Sept marked highest daily death toll of 2017; police blamed killings on fighting between criminal gangs. Authorities reported almost 200 people killed 21-28 Sept, including three police and two military personnel. Govt announced special measures and stronger military presence in capital in response to recent wave of police killings; new measures include faster trials, isolation in high security prisons, aid for families affected. Online magazine Factum late Aug published investigation detailing activities by alleged death squads inside police, suspected of killings, sexual abuse and extortion. Religious and academic institutions 5 Sept briefed Inter American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and officials in Mexico City on allegations of excessive use of force by security forces. One CIDH commissioner said figures on clashes between police and gangs hid “many extrajudicial killings”; govt denied. Two law enforcement operations made gains against MS-13 gang: police 7 Sept carried out Operación Tecana detaining around 100 including six police; attorney general’s offices from three Northern Triangle countries 12 Sept carried out simultaneous operations against MS-13, several hundred detained. U.S. President Trump’s 5 Sept announcement that policy deferring deportation of children of undocumented migrants will end early 2018 prompted concerns over impact on humanitarian situation.
Several thousand protested in Port-au-Prince 12 Sept over new budget, which they criticised for neglecting poor; demonstrations turned violent, paralysing capital as protesters clashed with police, several wounded. National police chief 29 Aug announced creation of Special Border Police Unit involving deployment of 600 officers along Dominican border in 2018, to combat drugs, arms and human trafficking. U.S. Democratic lawmakers 12 Sept met with Haitian ambassador to discuss the expiring Temporary Protected Status program for Haitian migrants in Jan 2018. Former PM Fritz Jean warned that damage to infrastructure and farming communities from Hurricane Irma 6 Sept will worsen humanitarian crisis. U.S. court 24 Aug dismissed last remaining lawsuit against UN regarding 2010 cholera epidemic.
Criminal violence, attacks against human right activists, migrants and journalists, new corruption allegations against President Peña Nieto’s administration and national discussion on violence against women dominated security concerns during month. Governor of Guanajuato state (centre) established sole military command of state police 14 Sept after Jalisco New Generation Cartel, in clashes with Zetas, murdered five policemen and two others in Apaseo el Alto 4 Sept; three policemen in Coroneo 7 Sept; and former mayor of Pueblo Nuevo 5 Sept. Commando killed five people in bar in Irapuato (Guanajuato) 13 Sept; journalist Juan Carlos Hernandez Ríos from Guanajuato murdered 5 Sept; three decapitated bodies abandoned in public park in capital of Veracruz state (south east) 13 Sept. Rights activist Jerry Barceló murdered in Tabasco state (south east) 2 Sept; NGO network Red Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos 5 Sept reported 106 rights activists killed since 2012, 81 victims of forced disappearance, over 1,000 attacked. Detectives collaborating with organisation representing families of victims of disappearance 15 Sept reported discovery of 149,000 fragments of human bodies in mass grave in García, Nuevo León (north east). More than 400 people killed by two earthquakes: first on 8 Sept, killing around 100 in southern states Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Tabasco; second 19 Sept killing at least 340 people, many in capital. U.S. President Trump’s 5 Sept announcement of his decision to end policy deferring deportation of children of undocumented migrants exacerbated bilateral tensions.
Israeli PM Netanyahu in meeting with Egyptian President Sisi 19 Sept in New York expressed desire to “resume negotiations” and reach “comprehensive solution” to conflict. U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt 19 Sept said priority was to implement “existing agreements” and open up “new areas of cooperation” to benefit Palestinians and Israelis; U.S. President Trump 20 Sept said U.S. would publish before end of 2017 plan to renew Israeli-Palestinian talks, without stating preference for specific solution. In interview published 1 Sept, U.S. ambassador to Israel described occupation of Palestine as “alleged”; Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said statement “unacceptable”. Hamas 17 Sept said it was ready to dissolve its committee governing Gaza and hand over administrative responsibility to Palestinian Authority (PA). PA said its cabinet would convene in Gaza 2 Oct. Palestinian authorities 3 Sept confirmed death of Palestinian youth from wounds incurred early Aug during Israeli raid in West Bank’s Dheisheh refugee camp. Netanyahu 10 Sept said security services pre-empted some 70 attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians in previous two months. Palestinian gunman 26 Sept shot dead Israeli border police officer and two Israeli security guards at Har Adar settlement, West Bank. Coalition of Palestinian human rights organisations 20 Sept submitted to International Criminal Court alleged evidence of war crimes by high-level Israeli officials in West Bank since 13 June 2014. Interpol 27 Sept voted to accept Palestine as member despite Israel’s efforts to block move. Israeli army 5 Sept began ten-day drills simulating conflict with Hizbollah including manoeuvres into Lebanese territory. Israeli jets 10 Sept broke sound barrier flying over southern Lebanese city of Saida; Lebanese govt 11 Sept said it would file complaint at UN for violation of its airspace.
Israeli army 5 Sept began ten-day drills simulating conflict with Hizbollah including manoeuvres into Lebanese territory. Israeli jets 10 Sept broke sound barrier flying over southern Lebanese city of Saida; govt 11 Sept said it would file complaint at UN for violation of its airspace. President Aoun 8 Sept said army would deploy along border with Syria cleared in late Aug of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. Army 15 Sept reportedly arrested nineteen ISIS militants allegedly planning to carry out “terrorist action”. Aoun 20 Sept rejected call from UN peacekeeping mission (UNIFIL) to adopt stronger stance toward Hizbollah’s activities on southern border, saying he could not ask Hizbollah to lay down weapons when country is still facing urgent security threats. Court 28 Sept sentenced prominent Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Assir to death for his role in clashes between soldiers and his supporters in Sidon in 2013.
In east, regime forces and allies broke Islamic State’s (ISIS) nearly three-year siege on Deir el-Zour city 5 Sept, gained ground in city’s west and crossed Euphrates River to eastern part. East of city U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) advanced south against ISIS capturing Conoco gas field late month; SDF 24 Sept appointed 100 tribal figures to elect council to govern Deir el-Zour province. Tensions heightened between Russia-backed regime forces and U.S.-backed SDF: Russia 16 Sept reportedly bombed SDF in east and 21 Sept accused SDF of shelling Syrian army and threatened to retaliate, SDF accused Russia of bombing its positions 25 Sept. In north east, SDF made slow progress in capturing Raqqa from ISIS; 20 Sept said it had taken 80% of city. In north west, Islamist rebels including Tahrir al-Sham 19 Sept attacked regime-held areas near Hama provoking regime and Russian airstrikes on rebel-held areas in Hama and Idlib provinces, reportedly including on medical facilities. In Jobar district, eastern Damascus and environs, fighting continued between regime forces and Failaq al-Rahman rebels despite Aug ceasefire, while govt’s ceasefire with Jaish al-Islam rebels in neighbouring Eastern Ghouta largely held. Ceasefire in south west agreed in July among Russia, U.S. and Jordan largely held. Israeli jets reportedly bombed research centre linked to govt chemical weapons program near Masyaf in north west 7 Sept. Russia, Iran and Turkey in sixth round of talks in Kazakh capital, Astana 14-15 Sept agreed to deploy observers along edges of “de-escalation zone” in north west including Idlib province and parts of adjacent provinces; Tahrir al-Sham rejected deal. Communal elections held 22 Sept in Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, Kurdish-led autonomous area in north. Amid rising tensions in Deir el-Zour province and following threats against SDF mid-Sept by senior govt official, FM 26 Sept said govt open to discussing Kurdish autonomy.
Amnesty International 7 Sept accused govt of using repressive tactics including arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence on over 160 govt critics between June 2016 and June 2017; govt said report “inaccurate”. Govt 18 Sept accused Qatar of seizing fifteen Bahraini fishing boats since 2009 including three 16-18 Sept with at least sixteen civilians on board; Qatar confirmed it had detained fishing boats that had entered its territorial waters and said it would soon release sailors.
After International Atomic Energy Agency late Aug reported that govt had complied with obligations under 2015 nuclear deal, U.S. President Trump 14 Sept extended waivers suspending nuclear sanctions for additional 120 days. U.S. Treasury same day imposed sanctions on eleven Iranian individuals and entities accused of hostile “provocations” including support for ballistic missile program and cyber-attacks on U.S. financial institutions. U.S. House of Representatives 13 Sept passed bill to prevent U.S. companies selling commercial aircraft to Tehran; if bill becomes law, move would breach nuclear deal. Iran and P5+1 met at ministerial level on sidelines of UN General Assembly 20 Sept; all agreed that Iran was in technical compliance with nuclear deal and U.S. repeated its desire to renegotiate agreement that Trump 19 Sept called “an embarrassment”. Iranian military vessel 10 Sept reportedly “confronted” U.S. warship in Persian Gulf, cautioning it to stay away from Iranian fishing boat in distress; U.S. Navy denied having direct contact with Iranian forces. Revolutionary Guards 13 Sept said it had arrested in Tehran Islamic State (ISIS) member at centre of plot to stage 300 suicide attacks in Iran. In joint statement with Turkey and Iraq, govt 20 Sept warned Iraqi Kurdistan not to hold independence referendum 25 Sept, saying “countermeasures” would follow if it did; govt 24 Sept halted flights between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Tensions rose between Iraqi Kurdistan and central govt in Baghdad over 25 Sept Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. Despite opposition from U.S., UK, UN, Turkey, Iran and Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan President Barzani 12 Sept said referendum on independence would take place in governorates of Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk) and territories disputed with Baghdad. Parliament in Baghdad 12 Sept declared referendum “unconstitutional” and authorised PM Abadi to “take all measures” to preserve country’s unity; parliament 14 Sept voted to dismiss Kirkuk governor for endorsing referendum, Kirkuk governor challenged validity of dismissal. Kurdistan parliament 15 Sept convened for first time in nearly two years and voted in favour of holding referendum; opposition parties Gorran Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) boycotted session. Supreme Court 18 Sept ordered suspension of referendum which it claimed was unconstitutional. At Baghdad’s request, Iran 24 Sept halted flights between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Referendum held 25 Sept as planned; over 92% voted in favour of independence. Baghdad 27 Sept began ban on international flights in and out of Iraqi Kurdistan. Abadi 1 Sept announced end of ten-day battle to retake Tal Afar from Islamic State (ISIS) in north west. Military 16 Sept began offensive to dislodge ISIS forces from Akashat region on Syrian border. In Thi Qar province in south, ISIS-claimed shooting and suicide bombing near Nasiriyah 14 Sept left at least 80 dead. UNSC 21 Sept authorised probe into ISIS’s alleged war crimes in Iraq.
Following call 8 Sept between leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss ongoing diplomatic rift, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman 9 Sept suspended dialogue with Qatar, accusing it of “distorting the facts”. U.S. President Trump 7 Sept offered to mediate.
Following call 8 Sept between leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss ongoing diplomatic rift, King Salman 9 Sept suspended dialogue with Qatar accusing it of “distorting the facts”. Authorities reportedly arrested over twenty people 9-13 Sept in crackdown on clerics and intellectuals; govt said it had detained foreign parties acting against kingdom’s security but did not identify them. Authorities 11 Sept said they foiled Islamic State (ISIS) plot to attack defence ministry.
Huthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Saleh continued to clash with Saudi Arabia-led coalition along Saudi border and vie for control of Taiz city in south. Govt 10 Sept said 145 Huthis killed 1-10 Sept in Saudi airstrikes and clashes with loyalist forces. Saudi airstrikes 15-16 Sept reportedly killed twenty Huthi fighters in city of Medi on Saudi border; airstrike 16 Sept hit civilian vehicle in Hareeb al-Qarameesh district, Marib governorate killing all twelve passengers. UN 19 Sept condemned Huthi-Saleh shelling of Taiz city that killed three and injured seven children 15 Sept and 16 Sept Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Marib that killed five children, four women and three men from same family. Saudi Arabia 22 Sept said Huthi rockets fired previous day landed in village in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arda governorate, causing no casualties. Saudi Arabia 24 Sept reportedly intercepted Huthi-fired missile targeting King Khaled air base in Saudi’s Asir province. Tensions between supporters of Huthis and of Saleh’s allied General People’s Congress (GPC) party remained high following 25 Aug clash in capital Sanaa, despite leaders on both sides giving public assurances that alliance will continue. In Aden in south, forces loyal to President Hadi 16 Sept clashed with faction nominally loyal to Hadi but backed by United Arab Emirates (UAE), one civilian killed. UAE-backed forces’ campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), begun in Shebwa governorate in south-centre in Aug, continued in adjacent Abyan governorate; by mid-Sept forces had dislodged militants from many areas including Wadea, Hadi’s home district, but AQAP fighters reportedly fled into Mafadh district ahead of offensive. UN Human Rights Council 29 Sept passed resolution establishing group of “international and regional experts” to investigate human rights violations in conflict dating back to Sept 2014.
National assembly president 4 Sept rebuffed calls by some opposition MPs for removal of President Bouteflika according to article 102 of constitution that authorises president’s destitution if serious illness hinders his capacity to rule. Authorities 6 Sept briefly detained protesters calling for application of article 102.
As govt crackdown on Islamists and other opposition continued, appeal court 16 Sept upheld life sentence for former President Morsi delivered in 2014 for leaking state secrets and documents to Qatar. Attacks claimed by Islamic State (ISIS) rose mid-month in N Sinai. Militants 11 Sept attacked police convoy near Arish killing at least eighteen policemen. Sniper shot dead soldier 11 Sept on outskirts of Rafah near border with Gaza. Suicide bomber 13 Sept attacked checkpoint outside Rafah killing at least seven. MPs 3 Sept tabled motion to remove from parliament MP Abdel Raheem Ali for criticising other MPs in newspaper al-Bawaba News of which he is editor-in-chief. Govt 8 Sept blocked Human Rights Watch website after it published report 5 Sept documenting govt’s arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture; websites blocked by govt now total over 420. U.S. Congress 6 Sept confirmed cuts or delays of almost $300mn in military and economic aid citing govt’s rights violations; U.S. 27 Sept announced development assistance worth some $121.6mn.
Ghassan Salamé, UN envoy for Libya, 20 Sept unveiled three-step plan to break political stalemate including renegotiation of parts of 2015 peace deal, conference aimed at appointing new Presidency Council reducing nine members to three and preparation of elections; international actors voiced unanimous support. Negotiations between rival parliamentary bodies House of Representatives and State Council began 25 Sept in Tunis as first step in UN plan. Representatives of Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to eastern-based strongman General Haftar visited Moscow early Sept and French and Italian ministers made separate visits to his headquarters; Haftar also visited Rome and Paris 27-28 Sept in ongoing consultations. Members of State Council representing city of Derna 14 Sept called on UN Human Rights Council to take action to end LNA’s siege on city and avoid humanitarian disaster. Rival armed groups Dabashi Brigade and Anti-ISIS Operations Room clashed in Sabratha area, 80km west of Tripoli mid to late Sept, at least seventeen killed, clashes lessened end-Sept. Migrant departures to Europe resumed after lull in July and Aug; at least 100 left Sabratha 15 Sept, over half feared drowned after boat ran out of fuel. U.S. airstrikes 22 Sept killed seventeen alleged Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in camp some 200km south east of Sirte.
PM Chahed 6 Sept replaced thirteen ministers, appointing to key positions anti-Islamists and members of regime of former President Ben Ali (1987-2011). President Essebsi 6 Sept called for amendment of 2014 constitution to expand presidential powers. Parliament 13 Sept passed revised version of economic reconciliation law that offers amnesty to civil servants implicated in administrative violations under Ben Ali, previous version also offered amnesty to businessmen; thousands protested against law 16 Sept in Tunis for encouraging impunity and killing spirit of 2011 revolution. Independent High Authority for Elections 18 Sept announced postponement of municipal elections scheduled for 17 Dec to unspecified date, expected late Mar 2018.
Former German President Horst Köhler 8 Sept took office as UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara; armed independence movement Polisario Front lauded appointment and reiterated willingness to cooperate with UN. Moroccan security forces 10 Sept broke up crowd demonstrating in Laayoune city against transfer of prisoners to Morocco.