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Sporadic jihadist violence persisted in north despite govt’s efforts to strengthen military power.
Suspected jihadist attacks continued in northern Atakora department. Suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) militants 3 Feb attacked army position in Kerou commune, causing no confirmed casualties. Hundreds of residents around 4 Feb fled Niéhoun-Daloga village in Matéri commune after unidentified armed group late Jan reportedly gave them ultimatum to leave. Unidentified gunmen 21 Feb clashed with security forces near Daloga village, also in Matéri commune, reportedly leaving one soldier and at least two assailants dead. Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees arrived in northern Benin following 10 Feb deadly jihadist attack in Togo (see Togo).
Govt acquired new military equipment to help contain jihadist threat. As part of largely militarised response to jihadist violence, authorities 3 Feb acquired two attack helicopters and 9 Feb 50 new military trucks. Troops 19 Feb reportedly began patrolling border with Burkina Faso to prevent jihadist incursion.
Military suffered highest death toll from back-to-back jihadist attacks since 2015; govt worked to strengthen ties with other military regimes in West Africa.
Back-to-back jihadist attacks against military left scores dead. In Sahel region’s Oudalan province, alleged Islamic State in the Sahel (IS-Sahel) 17 Feb ambushed military convoy between Oursi and Déou localities, leaving at least 51 and as many as 80 soldiers dead. IS-Sahel 20 Feb attacked military detachment camp in Tin Akoff town, also Oudalan, and later took control of town, killing dozens of soldiers, volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) and civilians. Similar large-scale attacks significantly contributed to former Presidents Kaboré and Damiba’s fall. Earlier in month in Sahel region’s Seno province, IS-Sahel 4 Feb killed 22 civilians and three police officers in Bani town. In Centre-North region’s Namentenga province, alleged al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) fighters 7 Feb killed seven gendarmes and one VDP in Boala village. In East region’s Tapoa province, unidentified jihadists 26 Feb killed as yet unknown number in Partiaga town.
Armed forces and VDPs faced new allegations of abuses in East region. VDPs 1 Feb reportedly killed seven civilians suspected of cooperating with JNIM in Ganyela village (Gourma province). Local NGO Collectif contre l’impunité et la stigmatisation des communautés alleged military same day killed at least 30 civilians in Piega, Sakoani and Kankangou localities (Tapoa province). After Nigeria 6 Feb said unidentified gunmen killed at least 15 Nigerian pilgrims near Boudieri village (Tapoa province), rumours of Burkinabé forces’ involvement circulated online; FM Olivia Rouamba same day denied allegations and announced investigation.
Authorities deepened cooperation with military regimes in Mali and Guinea. PM Apollinaire Kyélem de Tambèla 1 Feb met with Malian Interim President Col. Goïta in Mali’s capital Bamako to discuss bilateral security cooperation and allegedly also potential partnership with Russia; Kyélem de Tambèla reportedly proposed formation of federation between Mali and Burkina Faso. Malian PM Choguel Maïga 23-26 Feb visited capital Ouagadougou to sign counter-terrorism cooperation agreement. Meanwhile, FM Rouamba 9 Feb met with Malian and Guinean counterparts in capital Ouagadougou, announced “joint initiatives” against West African regional bloc ECOWAS sanctions (see Guinea and Mali).
Human rights record received mixed reviews from local and international actors, and relations with Rwanda warmed up.
National and international bodies recorded modest human rights improvement. Local NGO Burundi Human Rights Initiative 1 Feb published report covering state of human rights in country in 2022, noting modest progress but highlighting continued impunity for ruling party’s youth militia, Imbonerakure. During three-day visit to Burundi, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore 2-4 Feb held meetings with President Ndayishimiye, govt ministers and civil society; welcomed “progress” in human rights record, but said “challenges” remain, particularly regarding rule of law and women’s rights, and called on country to collaborate with UN special rapporteur for Burundi. Meanwhile, police 14 Feb arrested five human rights activists en route to Ugandan capital Kampala on accusations of financing terrorism.
Ruling party figure proposed removal of ethnic quotas. Senate President Emmanuel Sinzohagera 6 Feb called for repeal of ethnic balance quotas in public sector employment provided in 2018 constitution and Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation; move, if taken, could legitimise exclusion of Tutsi minority and may become issue in view of 2025 legislative elections, though Hutus already hold almost all positions in public sector.
In other important developments. Rwandan President Kagame 4 Feb visited Burundi for first time since 2012 to attend extraordinary East African Community heads of state summit in Bujumbura city, held bilateral talks with Ndayishimiye on sidelines of summit. FM Albert Shingiro 9 Feb said encounter represented progress in normalising ties, though reiterated call on Rwanda to hand over suspects of 2015 coup attempt. Meanwhile, Congolese civil society mid-Feb questioned mission of Burundian forces in South Kivu province, particularly their presence around gold mine in Luhwindja chiefdom, Mwenga territory, citing absence of armed group activity in area.
Tensions between govt and Anglophone separatists remained high amid stalled peace initiative, and jihadist violence persisted in Far North.
Future of Canada-led facilitation of Anglophone crisis remained uncertain. After President Biya late Jan denied asking any country to organise peace talks with Anglophone separatists, and announced massive drive to recruit 9,500 soldiers, Ottawa launched diplomatic effort to change his stance. Meanwhile, separatist leaders, who are divided into distinct militia factions, late Jan-early Feb started discussing possibility of more united anti-govt front.
Both parties intensified military activities in North West (NW), South West (SW). After army 31 Jan killed separatist group Ambazonia Defence Forces commander “General Transporter” Ayuk Ndifon Defcam, group early Feb announced stepping up attacks and use of IEDs against military. Govt forces 7 Feb clashed with separatist combatants in Baba 1 village, Ngo-Ketunjia division (NW), with at least five killed on each side. Ahead of 11 Feb National Youth Day marking 1961 plebiscite in which British Southern Cameroons (current NW and SW) voted to join independent Republic of Cameroon, unidentified gunmen 10 Feb attacked Cameroon Development Corporation plantation workers near Tiko town, Fako division (SW), killing five and wounding at least 40. During annual Mount Cameroon Race of Hope in South West capital Buea, three roadside bombs 25 Feb exploded, wounding 19 people.
Jihadist attacks continued in Far North region. Boko Haram 2 Feb killed five people in Koza commune, Mayo-Tsanaga division; overnight 6-7 Feb killed eight fishermen near Blaram village, Logone-et-Chari division; 26 Feb killed one vigilante in Tumbun Ali island, also Logone-et-Chari. Meanwhile, clashes between fishermen and farmers 27 Feb left three people seriously wounded in Moulva locality, Mayo-Kani division.
In other important developments. After killing of investigative journalist Martinez Zogo in Jan caused national outcry, Biya 2 Feb ordered investigation and authorities in following days detained several intelligence officials as well as businessman Jean-Pierre Amougou-Belinga in relation to case, lending credence to theory that Zogo’s murder was state crime. Biya 13 Feb celebrated 90th birthday and over 40 years in power.
President Touadéra moved closer to holding constitutional referendum in 2023, rebel groups continued to step up attacks in hinterlands, and anti-French sentiment ran high.
Touadéra enacted referendum law ahead of local elections. Touadéra 6 Feb enacted referendum bill passed by parliament in Dec 2022, raising concern he will pair local elections (scheduled for July and Oct) with constitutional referendum that could allow him to run for third term in 2025. Meanwhile, UN mission in CAR 14 Feb announced agreement with govt to secure local elections.
Rebels’ advance continued in north east, use of explosives spread in north west. In Vakaga prefecture (north east), Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels 14 Feb attacked army base in Sikikédé locality, leaving at least three soldiers dead, four injured and another 20 held hostage; CPC retreated with hostages after army and Russian paramilitary Wagner Group 23 Feb retook locality. North-western prefectures saw series of explosive-related incidents in Feb. Notably in Ouham-Pendé, improvised explosive devices 6 Feb killed two soldiers and one civilian near Ndim locality, and 10 Feb seriously injured five civilians near Bozoum town.
Disinformation campaign and violent attacks targeted French companies. After Wagner Group in Jan opened brewery in country, media campaign from late Jan targeted French-owned local brewery MOCAF, accusing it of financing rebel group Union for Peace in CAR; pro-govt youth platform and one minister reportedly involved in campaign. Trade ministry 2 Feb condemned violent demonstrations against MOCAF held 19-20 Jan in capital Bangui. Meanwhile, unidentified individuals 3 Feb threw grenades at two petrol stations owned by French company TotalEnergies in Bangui.
In other important developments. Touadéra and Chadian Transitional President Mahamat Idriss Déby 9 Feb met in Angola’s capital Luanda to discuss increasing activities of armed groups along shared border; leaders reportedly agreed to work together to address security issues (see Chad). UN independent expert on human rights Yao Agbetse 20 Feb accused govt forces and allies of committing “arbitrary arrests and detentions, violations of the right to life” in last quarter of 2022.
Hundreds of rebels faced trial over President Idriss Déby’s death, and interim govt launched security-oriented diplomatic push.
Trial of rebels accused of killing Chad’s long-time strongman kicked off. First audience in closed trial of 454 Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) rebels, captured in April 2021 during clashes that led to death of then-President Idriss Déby, held 13 Feb in capital N’Djamena; trial adjourned 15 Feb after security guard reportedly accidentally detonated teargas grenade. FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali mid-Feb questioned trial, citing Transitional President Mahamat Idriss Déby’s pledge in Oct 2022 to free all prisoners of war.
Security challenges persisted. Security forces from late Jan to mid-Feb conducted series of weapons search operations in Ouaddaï region (east) and capital N’Djamena, allegedly amid concerns over intercommunal tensions. Search at house of influential senior army official, Gen. Tahir Erda, 14 Feb sparked outrage among ruling Zaghawa clan. Chadian governors in their annual conference held 3-4 Feb confirmed creation in Jan of new rebel group in Logone Oriental region (south west). Communications Minister Aziz Mahamat-Saleh late Feb however denied existence of any rebellion on Chadian territory.
Transitional authorities sought security cooperation with partners. Déby 2 Feb inaugurated Chad’s first embassy in Israel amid reported plans to acquire Israeli military equipment to defend Chadian borders. Déby 6 Feb met with French President Macron in Paris to discuss bilateral cooperation; 9 Feb met with Central African counterpart, President Touadéra, in Angolan capital Luanda, to discuss security issues, notably increasing activity of armed groups on CAR side of shared border (see CAR). G5 Sahel (Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) 20 Feb held summit in N’Djamena, first since Mali pulled out in June last year, reaffirmed joint commitment to fighting terrorism in Sahel.
In other important developments. U.S. daily The Wall Street Journal 23 Feb reported U.S. warned Chadian authorities that Russian Wagner Group was working with Chadian rebels to destabilise country and oust President Déby.
Political heavyweights continued to position themselves with eye toward 2023 regional and 2025 presidential elections; govt maintained efforts to contain insecurity in north.
President Ouattara strengthened position as fragmentation of opposition widened. Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) continued to gather strength ahead of local and regional elections due for Oct-Nov. Two prominent Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) figures, including Chief of Staff Narcisse N’dri, 6 Feb defected to RHDP, reflecting growing internal division in Henri Konan Bédié’s PDCI. Ouattara, Bédié and former President Gbagbo 8 Feb attended Félix Houphouët-Boigny/UNESCO Peace Prize ceremony in capital Yamoussoukro; Bédié took opportunity to point out Ivorian failure “to engage in a frank dialogue” and “build sustainable peace”, in possible criticism of Ouattara’s refusal to release certain political prisoners and ensure return of exiled politicians, notably former PM and Parliament Speaker Guillaume Soro. Meanwhile, Court of Appeal in Abidjan 13 Feb confirmed life prison sentence for Soro on charge of “attempting to undermine state security”.
Govt kept up efforts to contain jihadist threat in country’s north. Paris-based news outlet Africa Intelligence 14 Feb reported Ivorian army expected delivery of 20 armoured vehicles from Turkish defence manufacturer Otokar to be used in fighting jihadists, following first delivery of armoured vehicles from Otokar in early 2022. Africa Intelligence 20 Feb also reported Ivorian govt was close to signing $60mn deal with Chinese defence company Norinco for 50 infantry fighting vehicles. Ouattara 20 Feb met in economic capital Abidjan with French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu, who pledged to increase military support to Côte d’Ivoire as Paris adjusts strategy in region.
M23 offensive moved closer to North Kivu’s capital Goma with rebels capturing more ground in Masisi territory as fighting fuelled regional tensions despite efforts to resolve crisis; voter registration kicked off in eastern provinces.
M23 made major gains in North Kivu province’s Masisi territory. Fighting between M23 and govt forces early Feb moved to area around Sake, last major town before North Kivu’s capital Goma in Masisi territory. As clashes throughout month continued on hills around Sake, M23 captured several other localities in area, notably strategic town of Mushaki 24 Feb, and 26 Feb seized important mining town of Rubaya.
Frosty Kinshasa-Kigali relations continued to dominate regional diplomacy. Demonstrations 6 Feb erupted in Goma over frustration with UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) and East African Community (EAC) regional force’s failure to stop M23 rebels’ advance. Mob next day attacked MONUSCO convoy on its way to Goma, with eight civilians killed in skirmishes. Govt 16 Feb claimed 350 Rwandan troops had just entered North Kivu to reinforce M23 positions (see Rwanda). EAC summits 4 and 17 Feb failed to break new ground, reiterating calls for ceasefire.
Armed group violence remained widespread in North Kivu, Ituri provinces. Islamist militia Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 8 Feb killed 12 civilians in Konge Pwendi village, Beni territory (North Kivu), and 12 Feb killed another 12 in two villages of Irumu territory (Ituri). Congolese and Ugandan joint operations nonetheless recorded modest successes against ADF, including 5 Feb killing four ADF members attacking civilian convoy in Irumu territory. Meanwhile, CODECO ethnic militia carried out several attacks in Ituri, notably killing 21 people across several villages of Djugu territory 12 Feb. Rival “Zaire” ethnic militia 5 Feb attacked Dyambu village, also Djugu, killing 11 people.
Voter registration kicked off in conflict-ridden eastern provinces. Ahead of general elections scheduled for Dec, voter registration 16 Feb began in conflict-ridden eastern provinces. Registration 19 Feb started in two large camps hosting displaced persons around Goma; electoral commission said those living in M23-controlled areas will be registered gradually, depending on army’s reconquest of these zones.
During two-day trip to Kenya, President Isaias discussed Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict, strengthened ties with Nairobi and pledged to rejoin regional bloc.
Isaias spoke about war in Tigray during rare media briefing. President Isaias 8-10 Feb visited Kenya’s capital Nairobi, 9 Feb spoke to international journalists about Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict for first time since war broke out in 2020. Isaias dismissed as “fantasy” claims Eritrean soldiers committed atrocities in Tigray, sidestepping questions about accountability, significant losses and troop withdrawals from Tigray (Eritrean soldiers have mostly left region but small units remain in strategic positions in border areas). Isaias added Eritrea has “no intention of interfering” in Ethiopia’s peace process amid concerns it could act as spoiler. In separate interview conducted in Asmara, Isaias 12 Feb said it would have been “game over” for Tigray People’s Liberation Front had “Washington enablers” not saved it via peace deal.
Asmara agreed to strengthen ties with Kenya and pledged to rejoin regional bloc. During Kenya trip, President Isaias and Kenyan President Ruto pledged to strengthen bilateral ties, which have been strained since 2011 when Nairobi openly criticised Eritrea for its alleged support of Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab. Leaders abolished visa requirements for respective countries’ citizens and Kenya agreed to open its embassy in Asmara. In signs Asmara may wish to end its isolation, Isaias also said Eritrea would rejoin regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development; however, Asmara’s conditions for rejoining a bloc it views as dominated by Ethiopia remain unclear.
PM Abiy met with TPLF leaders as peace process progressed, violence escalated in Oromia after Orthodox Church split, and authorities and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) hinted at interest in truce.
Tigray peace process continued to advance. Federal govt and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) continued to take concrete steps toward consolidating peace. PM Abiy 3 Feb met with TPLF leaders for first time since 2020 in southern Halala Kella resort. National Security Adviser Redwan Hussien next day announced central bank would send 5bn birr ($90mn) to Tigray to increase cash flows and upped number of daily flights to regional capital Mekelle. TPLF 12 Feb established committee to form regional interim administration. Additionally, TPLF chief negotiator Getachew Reda 6 Feb said Eritrean forces had mostly withdrawn from Tigray but that “small units” remained (see Eritrea). UN humanitarian agency 2 Feb said assistance had scaled up. Meanwhile, news agency Reuters 27 Feb claimed Addis has been “courting support” from other govts for motion to end UN-mandated inquiry into atrocities in Tigray; over 60 human rights organisations next day urged UN Human Rights Council, due to discuss allegations in March, to reject any such resolution.
Ethiopia Orthodox Church split stoked deadly intercommunal violence. After three archbishops in Oromia late Jan formed breakaway synod, accusing Holy Synod in Addis Ababa of discrimination, Abiy 1 Feb instructed his ministers not to get involved. Abiy’s remarks angered Holy Synod and its mostly Amhara supporters, who viewed him as condoning breakaway faction. Some 4 Feb protested in Oromia’s Shashemene town (West Arsi Zone); violence escalated as demonstrators clashed with Oromia regional special forces backed by breakaway faction, leaving around eight dead. Church same day called for nationwide protests, raising fears of more violence, but called them off after Church leaders 10 Feb met with Abiy. Two factions 15 Feb agreed to resolve disagreement peacefully.
Authorities and Oromo Liberation Army signalled interest in truce. While fighting in Oromia between govt forces and OLA continued, sides indicated growing interest in truce. Reports emerged of informal indirect talks between OLA and Abiy. Oromia President Shimelis Abdissa 17 Feb urged OLA to negotiate; OLA following day expressed readiness for talks but said request lacked “clarity”.
Interim President Doumbouya defied West African regional bloc over transition-monitoring body; opposition protests resumed and turned deadly again.
Relations with ECOWAS soured amid rapprochement with Mali and Burkina Faso. FM Morissanda Kouyaté 9 Feb met with Malian and Burkinabé counterparts, Abdoulaye Diop and Olivia Rouamba, in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou; ministers pledged to deepen economic and security cooperation and called on West African regional bloc ECOWAS and African Union to lift suspensions imposed on all three countries after military coups in 2021 and 2022 (see Burkina Faso and Mali). Col. Doumbouya same day unilaterally installed committee to monitor transition back to civilian rule, largely made up of govt ministers and their close aides, overtly disregarding ECOWAS’s months-long efforts to create inclusive committee. In response, ECOWAS Mediator for Guinea Thomas Boni Yayi suspended planned visit to country in March, while regional bloc 18-19 Feb called on junta to “refrain from any unliteral action that risks undermining collaboration” and declined to lift sanctions. In sign of possible concessions, Doumbouya 21 Feb reaffirmed that junta “will not be part of the after-transition”, while PM Bernard Goumou 23 Feb asked ECOWAS to provide “the necessary support” for pursuing transition.
Security forces clashed with opposition protesters. Outlawed coalition National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) 15-16 Feb led anti-govt demonstration in capital Conakry, demanding authorities lift nationwide ban on protests, release FNDC leaders and other prisoners detained for political reasons, and hold inclusive dialogue; clashes erupted between protesters and security forces, with FNDC 16 Feb reporting two protesters shot dead, 58 wounded and 47 detained; police said demonstrators erected roadblocks in several locations and threw stones at security vehicles, with seven security personnel injured. Govt later same day threatened to suspend opposition parties that 12 Feb supported FNDC’s call for protest, including Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea and former President Condé’s Rally of the Guinean People.
Military launched new operation against banditry and cattle rustling in north west, and Al-Shabaab continued deadly attacks along border with Somalia.
Military deployed in north west to curb banditry and cattle rustling. In Turkana county, suspected bandits 6 Feb killed four people in Lomelo village; 10-11 Feb killed seven police officers on Kitale-Lodwar highway and Kainuk town. Govt 15 Feb deployed military to support police operations against banditry and cattle rustling in drought-affected counties of Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu. Violence continued in second half of month. Notably, suspected bandits 22 Feb ambushed govt forces near Kainuk town (Turkana), resulting in fierce shootout. Suspected cattle rustlers 24-25 Feb killed three, including local chief, in raids on four villages in Ikek-Sabuki area of Samburu.
Al-Shabaab continued attacks along Somali border in north east. Amid concern that offensive against Al-Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia could have pushed some fighters south, notably toward Kenya, President Ruto 1 Feb called for regional effort against Al-Shabaab at Somalia-Frontline States Summit in Somali capital Mogadishu (see Somalia). Govt 3 Feb announced plans to reopen Mandera border crossing with Somalia for first time since 2012 in bid to crack down on smuggling and improve border security. U.S. 9 Feb issued alert for potential “terror attacks” in capital Nairobi. In Garissa county, suspected Al-Shabaab roadside bombs 14 and 24 Feb killed at least five police officers along Garissa-Dadaab road.
In other important developments. Clashes between Toposa pastoralists from South Sudan and Turkana pastoralists from Kenya along shared border 6-8 Feb reportedly left over 20 dead. South Sudan 8 Feb summoned Kenyan envoy to Juba Samuel Nandwa to protest armed Kenyans’ alleged encroachment upon its territory; Kenya denied claims. Integrated Food Security Phase Classification 21 Feb warned 5.4mn Kenyans likely to experience acute food insecurity from March amid worst drought in decades.
Bamako expelled UN mission’s human rights chief, tensions between interim authorities and northern armed groups reached new heights, and new reports of human rights abuses emerged amid military operations in centre.
Relations with UN mission MINUSMA deteriorated further. After civil society representative Aminata Cheick Dicko 27 Jan denounced abuses by Malian and Russian forces before UN Security Council, govt 5 Feb requested MINUSMA’s human rights chief leave country within 48 hours, citing his “partiality” in choosing Dicko for Security Council testimony.
Govt strengthened relations with Russia and military-led neighbours. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 7 Feb met with Interim President Col. Goïta in first ever visit to capital Bamako, saluted ongoing military cooperation. Burkinabé PM Kyélem de Tambèla 1 Feb travelled to Bamako to discuss bilateral security cooperation, while PM Choguel Maïga 23-26 Feb travelled to Burkinabé capital Ouagadougou, signed counter-terrorism cooperation agreement with Burkinabé counterpart. FM Diop 9 Feb met with Burkinabé and Guinean counterparts in Ouagadougou, discussed joining forces against West African regional bloc ECOWAS sanctions (see Burkina Faso and Guinea).
Northern armed groups and Bamako exchanged threats of military action. Permanent Strategic Framework bringing together signatory groups of 2015 Algiers Accord 1 Feb met with accord’s international mediation mechanism (led by Algeria), warned armed groups would “take action” if govt continues to block accord’s implementation. Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), coalition of three signatory rebel groups, 8 Feb announced merger into single entity. Member of transitional legislature 10 Feb claimed war with signatory armed groups was “inevitable”; CMA immediately denounced “belligerent” comments. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslim (JNIM) leader Iyad ag Ghaly late Jan-early Feb toured northern Mali, reportedly met with local notables including leaders of signatory armed groups to discuss cooperation against Islamic State-Sahel Province.
Army faced allegations of abuses amid ongoing operations in centre. Military 7 Feb announced operation against JNIM in Korientzé village (Mopti region) had killed 37 fighters. Locals alleged Malian and Russian Wagner forces 13 Feb killed five civilians in Soumouni village (Ségou region), whose inhabitants are believed to have reached agreement with JNIM.
Islamist insurgents launched series of attacks on Cabo Delgado province’s main highways during visit of TotalEnergies’ head, while also trying to garner support from residents.
Insurgent attacks persisted notably in Cabo Delgado’s central districts. In Meluco district, alleged Islamic State Mozambique Province (ISMP) 1-4 Feb launched ambushes along N380 road connecting Cabo Delgado’s capital Pemba to province’s north, killing up to seven people near 19 de Outubro village and at least one civilian near Mitambo village. In Mueda district, ISMP 4 Feb attacked Chapa village on R698 road connecting Mueda to Montepuez towns, beheading at least two civilians and kidnapping several others. Further south in Montepuez district, ISMP same day entered Namoro village, also located along R698 road, and set several buildings on fire; 12-13 Feb raided military outpost at Nairoto village, reportedly killing five soldiers and prompting UK-based precious stone mining company Gemfields to 14 Feb evacuate staff from nearby exploration camp. As levels of violence decreased in second half of Feb, govt forces together with Rwandan troops 27 Feb captured at least ten militants after shootout in Makulo, Cabecera and Malinde villages in Mocímboa da Praia district.
Insurgents reached out to villagers in apparent change of strategy. Alleged ISMP militants 3 and 7 Feb appeared in Maculo village, Mocímboa da Praia district, called on residents to cooperate with them rather than with security forces. In Montepuez district, alleged ISMP elements around 9 Feb left handwritten note in settlement near Nairoto village, imploring villagers not to fear insurgency. Emerging trend could aim to garner support from population and secure supply lines to offset ISMP’s gradual losses since deployment of Rwandan and Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique troops in 2021.
TotalEnergies CEO in Cabo Delgado to assess resuming operations. TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné 3 Feb visited site of group’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Afungi Peninsula, Palma district, as part of determining when company will resume operations (on hold since April 2021 due to insecurity); same day met with President Nyusi in Pemba as Maputo bets on resumption of LNG project to attract other investors.
Military court sentenced several soldiers to prison for role in 2021 coup attempt, disinformation campaign targeted President Bazoum; deadly jihadist violence continued, notably in south west.
Trial of 2021 coup attempt concluded, fake news about new coup circulated online. Military court 24 Feb sentenced 27 people, mainly soldiers, to prison terms for involvement in March 2021 coup attempt during transition between former President Issoufou and President Bazoum. During trial, two mid-level officers admitted to playing role in coup plot, while many defendants claimed without evidence that coup attempt was false flag operation organised by Issoufou to eliminate dissenting officers from military. Rumours of new coup attempt throughout month circulated on social media in apparent bid to destabilise Bazoum, who has expressed vocal opposition to Mali and Burkina Faso’s military regimes and has remained committed to military cooperation with France; govt 17 Feb denied coup, denounced “malicious messages” and attempts to create “psychosis” among population.
Deadly attacks targeted civilians and govt forces, notably near Malian border. In Tahoua region (south west), suspected Islamic State-Sahel Province (IS-Sahel) combatants 1 Feb attacked displaced persons camp near Tillia village (Tchintabaraden department), which hosts Dawsahak people from Mali, leaving at least 18 dead. In Tillabery region (also south west), presumed IS-Sahel militants 10 Feb killed 17 soldiers, with another 13 wounded and 12 missing, in ambush near Intagarmey village (Banibangou department). In Maradi region (south), unidentified armed group 12 Feb attacked Oumba village (Madarounfa department), killing two civilians, wounding seven and abducting at least eight.
Presidential and parliamentary elections proceeded mostly peacefully despite violent incidents disrupting votes in some states; delayed result announcements raised concerns about vote rigging.
Sporadic attacks disrupted elections while delayed results spurred concerns. Voting 25 Feb proceeded peacefully in most states, though armed individuals attacked polling stations notably in Lagos and Rivers states, destroying ballot boxes and elections materials, in some cases stopping people from casting votes. In Lagos state, gunmen 25 Feb intimidated people into voting for ruling All Progressive Congress's presidential candidate Bola Tinubu. In Rivers state, youths also 25 Feb protested alleged attempts to manipulate elections; skirmishes with vigilantes left two people dead. Following vote, electoral commission delayed uploading results online, prompting concerns about rigging. Provisional tallies 27-28 Feb showed Tinubu closing in on victory, as Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party rejected results, citing flawed process.
Violence continued in parts of the country, particularly in North West and North East. In Katsina state, clashes between cattle thieves and vigilantes 2 Feb reportedly left around 100 people killed in Bakori area, prompting thousands of residents to flee. Govt forces continued operations against jihadist groups in North East. In Borno state, army airstrikes 10 Feb killed scores of Boko Haram (BH) militants in Sambisa forest. Meanwhile, clashes between rival jihadists continued in Borno, with Islamic State West Africa Province around 9 Feb killing roughly 15 BH fighters near Gulmari village, Konduga area.
Biafra agitation and other violence persisted in South East. In Anambra state, gunmen 18-20 Feb killed at least eight police officers in spate of attacks on police stations in Idemilli North and Oyi areas. In Enugu state, gunmen 22 Feb killed Labour Party senatorial candidate Oyibo Chukwu and five others in ambush near Agbani town.
Banknotes swap caused cash shortages, sparking unrest. Following 10 Feb deadline (extended from 31 Jan) to turn in old banknotes as part of govt plan to reduce inflation and promote transparency, insufficient supply of new notes prompted protesters to attack banks and erect roadblocks in several cities. Notably, clashes 15 Feb erupted between security forces and protesters in Benin City, Edo state (South-South), with three people shot dead.
Kigali and Kinshasa continued to trade blame for eastern DR Congo violence amid alleged border post clash and deployment of hundreds of troops by Rwanda.
Tensions continued to run high between Kigali and Kinshasa. Rwandan military 15 Feb said its troops briefly exchanged fire with a dozen Congolese soldiers who entered neutral zone in western district of Rusizi and opened fire at Rwandan border post, condemned “act of provocation”. Congolese authorities immediately denied entering neutral zone, said clashes took place between its military and “bandits” near border with Rwanda in Bukavu city, South Kivu province. Congolese army 16 Feb accused Rwandan army of deploying 350 troops to North Kivu to reinforce M23 positions on “western axis”. President Kagame continued to deny Rwanda’s support for M23, and 22 Feb argued that Kinshasa had “crossed the red line” by collaborating with Hutu-led Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia. Kigali 27 Feb announced reinforcing security along border with DR Congo (DRC), claiming that Kinshasa is “bellicose” and is massing military hardware and foreign mercenaries along Rwandan border.
Regional and international efforts to resolve crisis continued. Kagame and Congolese President Tshisekedi 4 Feb met in Burundi for East African Community Summit, held first bilateral meeting since UN General Assembly in Sept 2022, but failed to break new ground on M23 issue. European Union 14 Feb blamed Rwanda and DR Congo for ignoring regional peace initiatives, urging “Rwanda to cease its support to the M23” and “DRC to cease all cooperation” with armed groups, “in particular the FDLR”.
Govt and clan militia offensive against Al-Shabaab faced resistance in central states but started in southern Jubaland state; political tensions subsided in South West state.
Anti-Al-Shabaab offensive made slow progress in Galmudug, Hirshabelle states. Govt offensive against Al-Shabaab slowed in Galmudug state with govt forces focusing on clearing rural areas, particularly between Xaradheere and Bacadweyne towns in Mudug region. Amid heavy fighting, govt 10-11 Feb took back Doonlaye and Shabellow towns, and 14 Feb took control of Qeycad town, while other fronts in Galmudug remained largely stagnant. In Hirshabelle state, govt forces began pushing westward across Shabelle river and 23 Feb captured Shaw village. Al-Shabaab continued to put up significant resistance in Hirshabelle state, notably targeting Macawisley clan militia and govt position near Afcad village in Hiraan region and Eji village in Middle Shabelle region around 15 Feb. Al-Shabaab 21 Feb also attacked house reportedly hosting recuperating Macawisley members in Mogadishu, killing at least ten people.
Military operations against Al-Shabaab kicked off in southern state of Jubaland. Govt forces launched offensive in Jubaland with aim of clearing main road from state capital Kismayo to Afmadow town; Qunbi village recaptured 12 Feb. Group attempted to stymie operations in Jubaland: militants 11 Feb attacked Afmadow town with vehicle-born improvised explosive devices; temporarily took control of Bar Sanguni village 16 Feb. During Somalia-Frontline States Summit in capital Mogadishu, leaders from Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti 1 Feb vowed to support Somalia’s war with Al-Shabaab, as expansion of operations to Jubaland and South West states would likely involve Kenyan and Ethiopian bilateral forces.
Political tensions subsided in South West state. Conference to reconcile political elites in Baidoa in South West state, led by House Speaker Adan Madobe, 3 Feb concluded. Parties agreed to compensation following late Dec clashes between govt and opposition forces, while opposition accepted South West President Lafta-Gareen’s one-year term extension, with state-level presidential election to be held in Jan 2024. President Mohamud attended closing ceremony, stressing need to resolve political tensions in order to maintain pressure on Al-Shabaab.
Situation in Las Anod worsened dramatically, with clashes between Somaliland forces and local militias killing over 100; violence could escalate further in coming weeks if fighting spreads in Sool region or draws in Puntland, Somali or even Ethiopian actors.
Violence in Las Anod left over 100 dead. Conference of Dhulbahante clan representatives 5 Feb concluded in contested Sool region’s administrative capital Las Anod; participants said they did not recognise Somaliland’s administration and wanted to be part of Somalia, demanding withdrawal of Somaliland forces from wider area they inhabit in Sool region. Clashes same day broke out between Somaliland armed forces and Dhulbahante militias in Las Anod. Violence 6 Feb killed at least 34 people and wounded another 40, next day left at least 24 people dead and 53 injured. Hargeisa 7 Feb asserted fighters from neighbouring Puntland state of Somalia were fighting alongside local militias in Las Anod, which Puntland denied. Hargeisa 10 Feb announced unilateral ceasefire, which promptly broke down amid fresh fighting, and violence continued throughout month with mortar shelling in town itself. Somaliland 25-26 Feb withdrew forces from important military base in Tukaraq village east of Las Anod.
Regional and international actors called for calm. Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud 7 Feb called for negotiated settlement between Somaliland administration and clan elders of Las Anod, said “solution is in our pursuit of united Somalia”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk same day urged Somali authorities “to carry out a credible and impartial investigation into the clashes to determine who is responsible and to hold them accountable in fair trials”. UN humanitarian agency 14 Feb said violence since early Feb had displaced over 185,000 people from Las Anod.
Govt lifted suspension of Rome peace talks ahead of Pope’s visit, reports emerged of troop build-up in restive Upper Nile, and violence persisted in several other states.
Kiir lifted suspension of Rome peace talks ahead of papal visit. As part of his “pilgrimage of peace”, Pope Francis 3-5 Feb visited capital Juba, meeting privately with President Kiir on first day. To mark Pope’s arrival, Kiir 3 Feb formally lifted suspension of Rome peace talks with holdout opposition groups, but groups’ leaders raised doubts about govt’s intentions. Meanwhile, govt 21 Feb announced beginning of extended transitional period lasting until Feb 2025.
Reports of mobilisations in Upper Nile state emerged throughout month. Concerns grew early Feb about possible resumption of hostilities in Upper Nile state, where late 2022 fighting pitting ethnic Shilluk “Agwalek” forces under Gen. Johnson Olony against Nuer forces, predominantly backed by Gen. Simon Gatwech, killed hundreds and displaced thousands. UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) 1 Feb stated it was concerned about reported build-up of Agwelek forces, who may want to regain territory lost late 2022. Officials in Jonglei state warned renewed violence could spill into Jonglei. Agwalek forces 24 Feb harassed UNMISS patrol. Situation in Upper Nile began to de-escalate late Feb, however, following Juba’s efforts to defuse tensions among local commanders.
Violence remained rampant elsewhere. Clashes between Twic Dinka from Warrap State and Ngok Dinka from Abyei Administrative Area continued, with Ngok Dinka 3 Feb attacking Twic communities, killing three; Twic Dinka 6, 13 Feb attacked Alal county in Abyei, killing dozens. In Central Equatoria state, armed Kuku youths 2 Feb attacked Bor Dinka cattle camp in Kajo Keji county, killing several herders; Dinka cattle keepers same day retaliated, killing over 20 civilians. Luacjang armed groups from Tonj East county, Warrap state, 21 Feb attacked Payam communities of Rumbek North county, Lakes state, killing at least 36. Deadly clashes between South Sudan’s Toposa and Kenya’s Turkana communities 5-8 Feb left 13 dead near Nadapal border crossing in disputed border territory Ilemi Triangle.
“Phase II” negotiations to restore civilian rule struggled to make headway as manoeuvring by Egypt and South Sudan risked further complicating transition; Israel sought to advance normalisation.
Phase II negotiations to resolve outstanding issues and restore civilian rule stalled. Trilateral mechanism led by African Union (AU), UN mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) 31 Jan-3 Feb organised workshop on controversial Juba Peace Agreement (JPA); JPA signatories, who reject December Framework Agreement, boycotted meeting; Quad – U.S., UK, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) – mid-month offered to facilitate talks amid standoff between JPA signatories and main opposition group Forces for Freedom and Change-Central Council (FCC-CC). Meanwhile, number of tribal representatives 12-15 Feb attended conference on crisis in eastern Sudan, but some Beja chieftains boycotted meeting. FFC-CC throughout month held closed meetings on transitional justice and security sector reform to address internal divisions before negotiating with military.
Egypt hosted parallel conference rejecting Framework Agreement. In move widely viewed as attempt to increase Egypt’s role in negotiations and secure its interests in Sudan, Cairo 2-7 Feb organised parallel conference on transitional period. Egypt claimed meeting would complement trilateral mechanism, but did not invite UN, AU or IGAD. FFC-CC rejected invitation, accusing Egypt of derailing transition to civilian govt. Over 80 representatives participated, mostly from FFC-Democratic Block, National Movement Forces and Alliance of the Revolution Committees, as well as UAE, South Sudan, U.S., and Arab League. Participants rejected Framework Agreement and 7 Feb outlined new proposals for sovereign council and announced new alliance, National Democratic Forces Coordination.
South Sudan hosted parallel meeting on implementation of JPA. South Sudan 13-19 Feb hosted conference in its capital Juba to discuss JPA implementation. Sudanese military and 13 rebel groups that signed JPA attended but Juba did not invite FFC-CC, which demands amendments to JPA. Participants 19 Feb signed implementation matrix for original JPA, ignoring civilian demands for revision.
In other important developments. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Israeli FM Eli Cohen 2 Feb agreed to move toward normalising relations; scores 6 Feb protested agreement in capital Khartoum. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 8-9 Feb visited Sudan to garner support against Western sanctions levied against Russia over war in Ukraine.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists launched deadliest attack in country to date, with dozens of civilians killed, suggesting group is durably implanted in northern Togo.
Suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) militants 10 Feb attacked Tola and Gningou villages, Kpendjal prefecture (Savanes region), leaving 31 civilians dead in what amounts to deadliest jihadist attack in Togo to date; in response, army next day reportedly killed around ten suspected assailants. Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks also continued in Savanes region. Notably, IED 2 Feb reportedly killed between four and 12 civilians in Enamoufali locality, also Kpendjal.
Corruption scandals shook President Museveni’s cabinet; East African military chiefs reportedly directed Uganda to deploy troops to fight M23 in eastern DR Congo.
Museveni’s ministers faced corruption allegations. Parliament 31 Jan-17 Feb conducted investigation into allegations that Gender, Labour and Social Development Minister Betty Amongi misused $1.6mn from National Social Security Fund under her supervision. Authorities 11 Feb arrested three relatives of Karamoja Affairs Minister Maria Goretti Kitutu for allegedly selling govt-funded relief items destined for residents of north-eastern Karamoja region; Karamoja legislators 22 Feb started process to have Kitutu censured, while Parliament 27 Feb opened formal investigation into case.
Govt announced closing UN human rights office. Foreign ministry 3 Feb announced govt will not renew mandate of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Uganda beyond its current term, effectively terminating body’s work, citing progress in domestic capacity to monitor rights compliance; human right activists and advocacy groups, notably Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, in following days denounced “mockery” and accused govt of running from international scrutiny.
Army allegedly set to fight M23 rebels in DR Congo’s east. At meeting in Kenya’s capital Nairobi 9 Feb, East African Community military chiefs reportedly agreed that Uganda (as well as Burundi and South Sudan) will deploy troops in North Kivu province to fight M23 rebels alongside Kenyan forces; Uganda did not officially confirm plan, which, if implemented, could exacerbate regional rivalries. Meanwhile, Ugandan army 18 Feb reportedly handed over to Congolese military 34 civilians rescued from Islamist militia Allied Democratic Forces captivity in eastern DR Congo (see DR Congo).
Political tensions remained high ahead of general elections, as new boundaries for constituencies and wards faced backlash.
Politically motivated violence continued to run high. Members of main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and ruling Zanu-PF party 12 Feb clashed at CCC rallies in towns of Gokwe (Midlands province) and Chivi (Masvingo province); both sides traded blame for violence. Authorities 18 Feb arrested CCC councillor in Masvingo city (Masvingo province) for holding unauthorised meeting at his house. CCC leader Nelson Chamisa 26 Feb called out President Mnangagwa over banned rallies and continued persecution of party activists.
Mnangagwa gazetted constituency delimitation report despite opposition. Electoral commission 3 Feb presented final delimitation report to Mnangagwa, with commission president saying constituency and ward boundaries had been redrawn following feedback received in Jan. Opposition and civil society however said new delimitation of constituencies and wards tilts electoral playing field in favour of Zanu-PF. Notably, opposition Movement for Democratic Change 6 Feb said elections may be null and void because of massive defects in delimitation exercise, while CCC around 17 Feb said Zanu-PF was resorting to “their usual dirty tactics of violating the Constitution, political violence and electoral malpractices”. Mnangagwa 20 Feb gazetted delimitation report, setting stage for general elections in July-Aug.
Senate passed controversial amendment to Private Voluntary Organisations Act. Senate 1 Feb approved amendment bill to Private Voluntary Organisations Act meant to counter terrorism and money laundering by giving govt greater control of NGOs and other non-profits. CCC VP Tendai Biti next day warned of “unprecedented attack on human rights defenders”, while UN experts 14 Feb urged Mnangagwa to refrain from enacting bill, warning it would “severely restrict civic space and the right to freedom of association”. Mnangagwa 19 Feb said bill will protect country from “foreign interests” and vowed to sign it into law.
Taliban killed Islamic State members while violence continued in south; senior Taliban officials voiced veiled criticism of leadership, signalling dissatisfaction with country’s direction.
Taliban forces claimed victories over Islamic State, violence persisted in south. Feb saw lowest levels of violent incidents countrywide since Taliban takeover in Aug 2021, notwithstanding Taliban raids on Islamic State hideouts and incidents in south. Social media accounts linked to Islamic State’s local branch (ISKP) 21 Feb claimed that Taliban security forces 14 Feb killed Ejaz Ahmad Ahangar, head of group’s Indian chapter known as Islamic State Hind. Taliban 27 Feb confirmed they had killed Qari Fateh – head of ISKP’s intelligence and operations and mastermind behind group’s recent attacks in capital Kabul – in raid in Kabul. Taliban authorities late Jan launched website aimed at countering ISKP propaganda, which criticised Taliban’s relations with China and urged Uighur militant group Turkestan Islamic Party to join ISKP. Meanwhile, in addition to Afghan Freedom Front activity, Afghanistan Liberation Movement (both composed mostly of former security members) claimed attacks in south against Taliban; notably, Afghanistan Liberation Movement gunmen 8 Feb killed Taliban judge in Helmand province. Inter-tribal grievances pitting pro-Taliban elements of Noorzai tribe against anti-Taliban rival southern tribes appear to be driving conflict.
Senior officials signalled potential disapproval of draconian policies. Several top officials offered subtle yet notable criticism of Taliban leadership. Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani 11 Feb stated govt’s responsibility was to avoid monopolising power. Deputy PM Abdul Salam Hanafi 13 Feb indirectly criticised shutdown of girls’ schooling, stating that development of country without strengthening and modernising educational institutions was “mere fantasy” and Islamic scholars ought to find solutions to people’s problems rather than declare everything prohibited. Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob 15 Feb stated that govt leaders “must respond to the legitimate demands of the people”. Comments may signal attempted pushback against recent draconian measures reportedly spearheaded by emir.
Islamabad urged Taliban to curtail Pakistani Taliban. Senior Pakistani delegation 22 Feb met top Taliban security officials in Kabul, reportedly to urge authorities to curb Pakistani Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan amid series of deadly attacks in Pakistan (see Pakistan).
Ruling Awami League continued clampdown on opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), while violence persisted in Rohingya refugee camps.
BNP held anti-govt rallies countrywide, leading to violent clashes. Calling for govt to step down and next election to be held under caretaker administration, BNP and allies 11 Feb held rallies in Narayanganj, Sirajganj, Natore, Bogra, Jamalpur, Ghazipur, Barguna and Narsingdi districts, which led to clashes with Awami League supporters that left over 100 BNP leaders and supporters injured; police arrested scores of BNP and opposition Jamaat-e-Islami supporters. Election commissioner 14 Feb announced general election to be held between late Dec and early Jan. BNP sec gen 17 Feb reiterated demands and accused police of torturing and killing opposition activists; earlier, NGO Human Rights Watch 3 Feb had called on authorities to investigate allegations of forced disappearances. Court 20 Feb upheld govt’s late Dec order shutting down BNP newspaper.
Violence in Rohingya camps continued. Assailant 16 Feb shot and injured Rohingya camp leader and armed Rohingya women same day reportedly shot dead woman; shooters 22 Feb targeted another camp leader who died next day. Govt report 15 Feb revealed ten militant and criminal groups active in Rohingya camps and said violent clashes between Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – dominant group in most camps – and rival Nabi Hossen Dakat Dal often resulted in casualties. As envoys from France, Japan, China and UN agencies visited Bhasan Char camps to monitor living conditions, World Food Programme 17 Feb said it would reduce food assistance to Rohingya refugees from $12 to $10 per person, citing funding shortfall, and warned of “immense and long-lasting” food insecurity repercussions.
Authorities arrested suspected militants. Paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 7 Feb arrested five militants of Christian-dominated tribal group Kuki-Chin National Front, which is fighting for separate state in some Chittagong Hill Tracts regions, amid reported gunfight in Bandarband district. RAB director next day said 14 members of group, and 43 militants from aligned outfit Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, had been arrested in operation under way since Oct 2022. Authorities 21 Feb arrested Jama’atul Ansar chief in Dhaka.
China continued military activity in Japan’s territorial waters, while Tokyo and Beijing held high-level security talks.
China continued maritime activity in region amid Japan-U.S. military drills. As of 26 Feb, Japanese Coast Guard had spotted 86 Chinese vessels in Japan’s contiguous zone. Notably, Chinese Navy survey vessel 12 Feb crossed into Japanese territorial waters from south west of Yakushima island, marking seventh entry by such a ship into seas off Kagoshima city since Nov 2021, with last sighting in Dec 2022. Tokyo 14 Feb said three unidentified flying objects spotted over its territory in Nov 2019, June 2020 and Sept 2021 are “strongly suspected” to have been Chinese spy balloons. Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Marine Corps 16 Feb held large-scale joint drills in south-western Japan, simulating defending and recapturing small islands, until 12 March.
Tokyo and Beijing discussed contested islands and Taiwan. In their first conversation, recently appointed Chinese FM Qin Gang and Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi 2 Feb discussed East China Sea and Taiwan Strait; Qin expressed Beijing’s hopes Japan can stop “right-wing forces” from provoking disputes over contested islands, while Hayashi noted Japanese public opinion regarding China is “extremely severe” and also expressed “serious concern” about China’s increasing military activity near Japan and Taiwan; pair agreed to continue close communication “at all levels”. Sides 22 Feb held first high-level security talks in four years in Japanese capital Tokyo; China cited Japanese military build-up as worry, while Japan highlighted concerns about disputed islands, China’s ties to Russia and Chinese surveillance balloons.
Govt bolstered border presence as it held talks with China on disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC), while Maoist violence continued.
Govt shored up presence along border and continued talks with China. Amid border dispute with China, govt 15 Feb mandated seven new battalions of paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police to guard full length of 3,488km India-China border. Govt same day approved construction of Shinku La tunnel to boost connectivity between Ladakh region (location of LAC) and neighbouring Himachal Pradesh state, and allocated $580mn to boost development and tourism in villages along disputed border. Govt and Chinese officials 22 Feb held bilateral consultation mechanism meeting in Chinese capital Beijing, discussing disengagement on remaining friction points along LAC and pledging to “continue discussions through diplomatic and military channels”.
Maoist violence continued in centre and south east. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), suspected Maoists 5 Feb killed tribal leader and member of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bijapur district; 20 Feb killed police constable in Bijapur district and two policemen in Rajnandgaon district; 25 Feb killed three security personnel in clashes in Sukma district. In Andhra Pradesh state (south east), security forces 20 Feb arrested two Maoists in Alluri Sitaramaraju district and 22 Feb arrested local Maoist leader during clashes near border with Odisha state.
In other important developments. Tax authorities 14 Feb raided news channel BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, in apparent retaliation for broadcasting in Jan documentary examining PM Modi’s rise and role during 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim riot. Bajrang Dal – Hindu nationalist militant group with ties to BJP – 15 Feb allegedly kidnapped two Muslims suspected of cow smuggling in Rajasthan state’s (north west) Bharatpur district; police next day found victims’ burned bodies in neighbouring Haryana state. Meanwhile, hundreds of residents from Ladakh region – which govt split from Jammu and Kashmir state and turned into separate union territory in 2019 – 15 Feb held protest in capital New Delhi, demanding statehood and constitutional safeguards.
Acrimony persisted between India and Pakistan, while Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) witnessed insecurity, Hindu Pandits’ relocation campaign and protests of property demolitions.
India alleged Pakistani drone operations. Indian security agencies continued to claim they had intercepted drones infiltrating Indian territory from Pakistan. Notably, forces 3 Feb shot down drone in Punjab’s Amritsar sector; 10 Feb recovered arms and drugs from intercepted drone in Punjab’s Ferozepur sector and intercepted three Pakistani infiltrators in Kupwara district, killing one.
Militant attacks and security operations remained at low ebb. Amid harsh winter, militant activity remained reduced while security forces conducted arrests: 1 Feb arrested three alleged Lashkar-e-Tayyaba militants in Rajouri district and three more in Srinagar city 7 Feb; 3 Feb arrested six Jaish-e-Muhammad militant associates in Kulgam district. The Resistance Front claimed responsibility for reported 15 Feb attack in Srinagar; security forces 17 Feb arrested two militants of group in Srinagar. Security forces 18 Feb arrested three suspected Hizbul Mujahideen militant associates in Kulgam district. On fourth anniversary of Pulwama suicide attack that killed 40 security personnel, Kashmir’s senior police official 14 Feb announced four of 19 Jaish-e-Mohammad militants involved were still at large and that group has only eight local fighters in region. Media outlet Indian Express 21 Feb reported govt was considering withdrawal of army from Kashmir, to be replaced by paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force.
Hindu Pandits sought relocation, locals protested authorities’ “anti-encroachment” drive. Kashmiri Hindu Pandit govt employees continued protests, refusing to work until demands are met for transfer to Jammu from Kashmir following targeted militant attacks against them. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi early Feb urged govt “not to force Kashmiri Pandit government officials to return to the Valley amid targeted killings”. Suspected militants 26 Feb killed Kashmiri Pandit man in Pulwama district. Meanwhile, J&K authorities continued anti-encroachment efforts through demolition of properties that started in Jan, triggering mass protests in Srinagar, Bathindi and Ramban on 4 Feb, while markets 15 Feb observed shutdown in Kashmir valley; people claimed authorities have not given enough time to prove ownership.
Separatist fighters in Papua region kidnapped New Zealand pilot, demanding govt recognise region’s independence.
Members of West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) – military wing of Free Papua Organisation – 7 Feb took hostage New Zealand national and Susi Air pilot Philip Mehrtens in Paro District of Nduga regency, Papua region, demanding govt recognise Papua’s independence in return for his release. TPNPB 9 Feb claimed it sought to bring “ongoing state of human suffering and war in West Papua to the attention of the international media and world community” and reiterated demands, including that foreign govts cease training and arming Indonesian security forces. Reports during month suggested dialogue was under way to secure Mehrtens’ release; Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD 28 Feb said security forces had surrounded hostage takers but would refrain from action that could endanger pilot’s life.
North Korea continued spate of provocative missile launches amid U.S.-South Korea drills, raising prospect of escalation around allied military exercises in March.
North Korea elevated threats amid frequent missile tests. Pyongyang seized upon perceived threats posed by U.S. and South Korea as pretext for planned military testing. Notably, North Korea 18 Feb launched Hwaseong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on lofted trajectory, which reached almost 6000km altitude before falling into East Sea/Sea of Japan. South Korea and U.S. 19 Feb conducted joint drills involving B1-B strategic bombers. North Korea 20 Feb launched two “tactical nuclear” 600mm rockets at targets 395km and 337km away; U.S. and ten other states same day raised missile launch two days prior at UN Security Council, though no agreement was reached on Council response. After South Korean, U.S. and Japanese Aegis-equipped destroyers 22 Feb participated in missile defence drill off peninsula’s eastern coast, Pyongyang next day fired four long-range cruise missiles on 2000km trajectories. U.S. 23 Feb said it held tabletop drill with Seoul simulating North Korea using nuclear weapon, at which North Korea expressed deep concern. North Korea 24 Feb indicated further actions to come, underscoring likelihood of period of military escalation in coming weeks, potentially around U.S.-South Korea 11-day spring military exercise that commences mid-March.
North held military parade to mark anniversary. Pyongyang 8 Feb held late-night military parade to mark founding of country’s military. Though largely aimed at domestic audiences, event allowed military to display numerous intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Row erupted over nuclear contamination claims. South Korea 24 Feb offered to test for nuclear contamination almost one thousand North Korean defector-migrants from regions near North Korea’s only nuclear test facility at Punggye-ri in remote north east; offer followed 21 Feb report by Seoul-based NGO Transitional Justice Working Group that claimed many thousands of North Koreans from towns and villages near nuclear test site may have been exposed to contaminated water.
Govt delayed elections as it extended state of emergency and expanded martial law, while military and resistance groups clashed heavily and regional leaders debated crisis response.
Regime extended state of emergency and imposed martial law. Amid widespread insecurity, regime 1 Feb announced six-month extension of state of emergency, beyond constitutional deadline, pushing back timeline of election to no later than 31 Jan 2024. Regime 2 Feb imposed martial law on 37 townships in eight states and regions, and another three townships on 22 Feb, bringing total number of townships under martial law to 52. Election preparations, however, continued: govt 3 Feb said voter list data from some 87% of households had been verified.
Resistance groups continued raids and battled regime forces. In Chin State, Chin National Army and Chinland Defence Force 8 Feb raided police station in Thantlang town, killing four soldiers; military next day launched airstrikes around town. In Sagaing region, resistance groups led by Homalin People’s Defence Force (PDF) early Feb overran Shwe Pyi Aye town, Homalin township, before major military offensive repelled resistance. Regime forces 4-5 Feb allegedly raided five villages in Kanbalu township, displacing 2,000 villagers. Regime 7 Feb overran resistance camps in southern Salingyi township following martial law imposition. Light Infantry Division 44 soldiers 3 Feb allegedly beheaded six PDF members and killed one civilian near Pale township. In Magway region, Pakokku District PDF Battalion 3 on 5 Feb attacked two regime vehicles on Pakokku-Yesagyo road, killing seven.
Indonesia and Malaysia urged more robust crisis response. Indonesian President Widodo 1 Feb revealed intention to send top general to Myanmar “as soon as possible” for dialogue and said regional bloc ASEAN would not be “held hostage” by crisis. ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat held 3-4 Feb concluded “inclusive national dialogue” was only way to peacefully resolve crisis. In meeting with Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim 9 Feb urged Thailand to take more active role, next day said crisis should “not frustrate our moves”. Meanwhile, European Union 20 Feb imposed fresh sanctions on nine regime-linked individuals and seven entities.
Ahead of presidential election in March, coalition govt collapsed just two months into tenure as Nepali Congress and Maoists revived their alliance.
Maoists, Nepali Congress, and six other parties 24 Feb struck new pact endorsing Nepali Congress’ candidate for forthcoming 9 March presidential election. Deal contravened Dec agreement between Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), or UML, which propelled Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” to PM. In response, UML 27 Feb announced its withdrawal from govt, following two other parties leaving governing coalition earlier in month. Senior Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel 25 Feb filed his nomination for presidency at Election Commission, while UML put forward former House Speaker Subas Nembang. With new president to be elected via electoral college comprising federal parliament and provincial assemblies, Poudel appears set to garner sufficient support if new Maoist-Nepali Congress pact holds. Further politicisation of ceremonial head of state position could portend further political instability, as observers expressed concern over activist presidency undermining legislature.
Insecurity persisted amid surging militant attacks, political tensions remained high over timing of provincial polls, and relations with Taliban authorities in Afghanistan displayed rifts.
Pakistani Taliban and Baloch militants continued deadly attacks. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 17 Feb attacked police headquarters in Karachi city, financial hub and capital of Sindh province, killing four security personnel and civilian. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police chief 17 Feb reported 62 militant attacks in Jan. In Balochistan province, attacks continued amid reports of TTP alliance with local Baloch militant groups: notably, roadside blasts 4 Feb killed soldier in Gwadar and two soldiers in Bolan district; bomb blast 10 Feb killed two soldiers in Kohlu district. Meanwhile, TTP’s Peshawar bombing fuelled political tensions: PM Sharif 1 Feb implicitly blamed former PM Imran Khan, whose govt had backed talks with TTP, as Khan in turn blamed Sharif for security failures; senior official of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) 19 Feb blamed former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Constitutional-political crisis deepened over forthcoming provincial polls. Following dissolution of legislatures in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, President Alvi (PTI loyalist) 20 Feb announced elections in both would be held on 9 April; announcement came after both provincial governors refused to set dates and election commission claimed it did not have legal authority. Sharif govt strongly rejected Alvi’s declaration, emphasising his lack of constitutional jurisdiction. Supreme Court 22 Feb took up polling date controversy; ruling coalition parties 24 Feb demanded full court hearing. Meanwhile, Khan 21 Feb announced “court arrest drive” against “attack on our constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights” and “economic meltdown” amid accusations of govt intimidation and abuses; almost 100 party activists and leaders were detained.
Govt publicly urged Afghan Taliban to address terrorism. FM Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari 17 Feb confirmed “uptick in terrorist activity in Pakistan since the fall of Kabul” and warned of it spreading, citing need to convince Kabul to “take on terrorism within their borders”. High-level security delegation 22 Feb met Taliban officials in Kabul to discuss TTP sanctuaries; Islamabad said authorities agreed to collaborate, but it remained unclear if engagement can stem TTP attacks.
Insecurity persisted in south amid attacks by Islamist groups and clan feuds, while deadly hostilities continued between govt and Communist rebels.
In south, military clashed with Islamist groups and clan feuds continued. Insecurity persisted in Bangsomoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). In Lanao del Sur province, remnants of Islamic State-linked Maute group 5 Feb ambushed Philippine Marine Corps unit in Marogong town, killing soldier and injuring three others. In Sulu province, police 5 Feb clashed with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters at Maimbung and Parang boundary while serving arrest warrant, wounding two civilians. In Sultan Kudarat province, military 18 Feb killed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander “Boy Jacket”, previously involved in clashes with Moro Islamic Liberation Front and govt forces, in Tacurong city. Two ASG militants 6 Feb surrendered to military in Patikul town, Sulu province, while five BIFF members 20 Feb surrendered in Tacurong city. Meanwhile, violence stemming from clan feuds during month killed several minors in Pikit town, Cotabato province; in response to attacks, police 18 Feb suspended gun permits and imposed province-wide gun ban.
Communist insurgency killed over dozen and displaced hundreds. Military operations and some militant ambushes by communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao Island in south, Visayas Islands in centre and Luzon Island in north killed at least 18 combatants and civilians. Clashes between military and NPA in Negros Occidental province 4 Feb displaced hundreds of civilians.
Philippines deepened military cooperation with U.S. and Japan amid elevated tensions with China over South China Sea (SCS).
Philippines expanded partnership with U.S. and Japan. U.S. and Philippines 2 Feb signed deal permitting U.S. forces access to four military bases in Philippines, adding to five existing bases and bolstering U.S. presence on south-eastern rim of SCS; pair also agreed to restart joint maritime patrols in SCS. U.S. Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and marines 11 Feb conducted drills in SCS; Manila 15 Feb announced annual Balikatan joint exercises with U.S. will be conducted in spring on greater scale than last year. Philippine President Marcos 8-12 Feb signed seven agreements with Japanese PM Kishida, including $13bn package covering several areas related to defence; deal marks step toward completing Reciprocal Access Agreement facilitating greater military cooperation. Marcos 12 Feb also expressed interest in adopting Visiting Forces Agreement with Japan as well as revisiting potential trilateral security pact with Washington. Philippines 22 Feb discussed conducting joint patrols with Australia.
Maritime tensions persisted between Philippines and China. Two Chinese Coast Guard and two maritime militia vessels 1 Feb tailed Philippine warship near Mischief Reef. Philippine Coast Guard 6 Feb accused Chinese Coast Guard vessel of shining “military-grade laser light” at one of its boats around 20km from Second Thomas Shoal (Ayugin Shoal) in Spratly Islands under control of Philippine forces; Beijing said incident was “intrusion without permission” by Philippine Coast Guard. Marcos 14 Feb summoned Chinese ambassador to express “serious concern” over “increasing frequency and intensity of actions”. Philippine FM Enrique Manalo 20 Feb said Chinese harassment of Philippine vessels in SCS is “daily situation”. Chinese Coast Guard vessel 21 Feb issued radio challenges to Philippine Coast Guard aircraft flying over Sabina and Second Thomas Shoals inside Manila’s exclusive economic zone; around 30 Chinese vessels continued to linger in area late month.
Regional bloc ASEAN pledged to wrap up Code of Conduct negotiations. ASEAN foreign ministers during 3-4 Feb meeting vowed to complete SCS Code of Conduct negotiations with China; ASEAN chair Indonesia said it is ready to host first round of negotiations by March.
Tensions spiked as govt claimed funding shortfall, forcing indefinite postponement of local elections; police crackdown on pro-election protesters killed opposition politician and injured over dozen.
Govt invoked financial crisis, forcing election commission to postpone local polls. Ahead of local elections scheduled for 9 March, cabinet 13 Feb approved President Wickremesinghe’s proposal to limit govt expenditure on credit to five “essential” categories, which excluded election expenses. Election Commission next day was forced to suspend postal voting and 24 Feb announced vote’s indefinite postponement. Election monitoring groups, Bar Association and opposition parties condemned govt’s decision, while Wickremesinghe 23 Feb confirmed “we have no money” for elections and denied vote was ever properly scheduled. Police 20 Feb dispersed people protesting move in capital Colombo led by main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party; opposition National People’s Power member 26 Feb died from injuries sustained in police attack on protest previous day that injured over dozen.
Govt marked Independence Day amid dissent and widespread strife. Amid high inflation and severe recession, govt was roundly criticised for spending $500,000 on military parade to mark 75th anniversary of independence on 4 Feb; police violently dispersed Colombo sit-in protesting cost. Tamil communities in north and east same day held demonstrations demanding end to “occupation of the Tamil homeland” and began four-day march from northern city Jaffna to eastern town Batticaloa. Govt employees continued protests over income tax hikes. Further compounding hardship, Ceylon Electricity Board 15 Feb announced increase in electricity prices by average of 66%, which threatens collapse of small and medium-sized businesses. Efforts to secure financial bailout continued: notably, media reports 17 Feb claimed International Monetary Fund was considering approving bailout before China agrees to join debt restructuring deal.
Protest leader released amid UN Human Rights Council session. Authorities 1 Feb released on bail student activist and protest leader Wasantha Mudalige after five and a half months of detention under Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and other laws. UN Human Rights Council same day began scheduled Universal Periodic Review; many states praised govt for its commitment to reform and reconciliation, while U.S., UK, Canada, New Zealand and Norway urged govt to repeal PTA.
China maintained frequent aerial and maritime activity around island, while opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) went to China, and U.S. and Taiwan exchanged visits by senior officials.
China continued military presence around island. As of 27 Feb, Taiwan detected 311 Chinese military aircraft entering its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) during month, of which at least 110 either crossed unofficial maritime demarcation known as “median line” or were detected in south-western ADIZ near strategic Bashi Channel; Taiwan reported 109 sightings of Chinese naval vessels in surrounding waters in course of month. Notably, Taiwan 1 Feb activated missile systems and scrambled jets in response to operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships, including 20 aircraft crossing median line.
Taiwan opposition delegation visited China. Ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election in Jan 2024, main opposition party KMT’s Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia 8-17 Feb led delegation to China, meeting with newly appointed Director of Taiwan Affairs Office Song Tao and China’s top Taiwan affairs official Wang Huning; KMT said visit concerned needs of Taiwanese based in China, Chinese business regulations and developing ties with Chinese officials; Song and Wang both expressed China’s desire to enhance mutual trust and cooperation with KMT on basis of “1992 consensus”. Shanghai’s Taiwan Affairs Office officials 18-20 Feb visited Taiwan following invitation by Taipei city authorities, marking first visit by Chinese officials to Taiwan since borders reopened last Oct.
Taiwan and U.S. continued defence ties and exchanged visits by senior officials. Taiwan 8 Feb signed two contracts with U.S. worth total of $85mn to maintain its fleet of F-16 fighter jets. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Chase 17 Feb arrived in Taiwan, marking visit by most senior U.S. defence official since 2019. Bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation 21 Feb met President Tsai, who confirmed two countries “continue to bolster military exchanges”. Reports late month indicated U.S. looking to expand its small troop presence in Taiwan to help train Taiwanese forces. FM Joseph Wu and National Security Council Sec Gen Wellington Ku 23 Feb visited Washington for security dialogue with senior U.S. officials, including Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman.
Courts granted bail to several prisoners convicted of lèse-majesté as activists continued hunger strike, while insecurity persisted in deep south amid peace dialogue meetings.
Courts granted bail to protesters amid activists’ hunger strike. Activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong 27 Feb entered 40th day of hunger strike, and fourth day carrying out their protest in front of Supreme Court, demanding release of political prisoners and revocation of lèse-majesté and sedition laws; both women were charged with variety of crimes, including lèse-majesté. Courts granted several bail requests during month: notably, court 9 Feb granted bail to Sombat Thongyoi, convicted of lèse-majesté; Supreme Court 10 Feb granted bail to Sitthichok Sethasavet, convicted of lèse-majesté; Bangkok Criminal Court 17 Feb granted bail to four people jailed following June 2022 pro-democracy protest; Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court 20 Feb granted temporary release of three activists. Meanwhile, authorities indicated that general election is expected to be held on 7 May.
Deep south peace dialogue produced new plan as insecurity persisted. Malaysia’s General Zulkifli Zainal Abidin – newly appointed facilitator of peace dialogue process between main separatist group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and Thai govt – 3 Feb met head of Thai dialogue delegation General Wanlop Rugsanaoh in capital Bangkok. Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim 9-10 Feb visited Bangkok, where he expressed optimism about finding solution to instability in southern provinces. Sixth round of Joint Working Group-South Thailand Peace Dialogue 20 Feb commenced in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur; Thailand and Malaysia next day issued statements that Thailand and BRN agreed on Joint Comprehensive Plan toward Peace with timeframe of 2023-2024. Meanwhile, in Pattani province, IEDs 2 Feb damaged two power poles in Khok Pho district; unidentified gunmen 14 Feb shot and killed retired imam in Saiburi district. In Yala Province, militants 17 Feb ambushed police officers responding to arson attacks in Bannang Sata district, killing one police officer and wounding four.
International efforts to advance peace negotiations continued but with little progress, European Union (EU) launched monitoring mission, and earthquake in Türkiye opened up opportunities for cooperation.
Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged draft peace treaty, but talks between FMs did not resume. Blockade of Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia (see Nagorno-Karabakh) continued to hinder diplomatic efforts, with no meetings in Feb between Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs, who are responsible for formal negotiations on peace treaty. Still, PM Pashinyan 16 Feb announced Yerevan had sent draft proposal of peace treaty to Baku, which Azerbaijani President Aliyev 18 Feb confirmed receiving. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 18 Feb chaired meeting with Pashinyan and Aliyev at Munich Security Conference to discuss progress on draft, among other issues. Meanwhile, Russia intensified its own mediation efforts amid growing competition with West over peace agenda. Notably, Russian Special Representative Igor Khovayev 9, 14 Feb visited Yerevan and Baku, respectively; Russian President Putin 14 Feb spoke with Aliyev; and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 27 Feb met with Aliyev in Baku.
Armenia and Azerbaijan debated control of corridors, EU launched monitoring mission. Aliyev 18 Feb proposed establishing Azerbaijani checkpoints along Lachin corridor and creating similar Armenian checkpoints at Azerbaijan-Armenia state border along any future railway and motorway connecting mainland Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan via Armenia; FM Ararat Mirzoyan 22 Feb rejected proposal, saying Russian peacekeepers should retain control of Lachin corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Meanwhile, EU 20 Feb launched civilian monitoring mission along Armenian side of international border with Azerbaijan, aimed at contributing to border stability, building confidence and supporting efforts toward normalisation.
Ankara and Yerevan made progress on opening border following earthquake. In aftermath of devastating earthquake that hit Türkiye, Armenia 7 Feb sent rescue team, while border 11 Feb symbolically opened for first time since 1988 to allow humanitarian aid to pass through. Mirzoyan 15 Feb visited Türkiye and sides agreed to repair border bridge and work toward opening land border for diplomats and third-country nationals. Pashinyan 18 Feb expressed optimism that increased communication and collaboration could lead to more progress on political front.
International efforts to advance peace negotiations continued but with little progress, European Union (EU) launched monitoring mission, and relations with Iran continued to worsen.
Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged draft peace treaty, but talks between FMs did not resume. Blockade of Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia (see Nagorno-Karabakh) continued to hinder diplomatic efforts, with no meetings in Feb between Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs, who are responsible for formal negotiations on peace treaty. Still, Armenian PM Pashinyan 16 Feb announced Yerevan had sent draft proposal of peace treaty to Baku, which President Aliyev 18 Feb confirmed receiving. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 18 Feb chaired meeting with Pashinyan and Aliyev at Munich Security Conference to discuss progress on draft, among other issues. Meanwhile, Russia intensified its own mediation efforts amid growing competition with West over peace agenda. Notably, Russian Special Representative Igor Khovayev 9, 14 Feb visited Yerevan and Baku, respectively; Russian President Putin 14 Feb spoke with Aliyev; and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 27 Feb met with Aliyev in Baku.
Armenia and Azerbaijan debated control of corridors, EU launched monitoring mission. Aliyev 18 Feb proposed establishing Azerbaijani checkpoints along Lachin corridor and creating similar Armenian checkpoints at Azerbaijan-Armenia state border along any future railway and motorway connecting mainland Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan via Armenia; Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 22 Feb rejected proposal, saying Russian peacekeepers should retain control of Lachin corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Meanwhile, EU 20 Feb launched civilian monitoring mission along Armenian side of international border with Azerbaijan, aimed at contributing to border stability, building confidence and supporting efforts toward normalisation.
Relations with Iran continued to deteriorate. Following armed attack late Jan on Azerbaijani embassy in Iran’s capital Tehran, Azerbaijan 31 Jan-1 Feb conducted “special police operations”, resulting in detention of 39 members of “Iranian spy network” and 66 members of criminal gang that trafficked drugs from Iran to Azerbaijan. Aliyev 17 Feb accused Iran explicitly for first time of orchestrating attack on embassy and called for transparent investigation and consequences for those responsible before any normalisation can occur.
Govt stepped up aggressive rhetoric toward Ukraine, Belarusian partisans attacked Russian military aircraft near capital Minsk, and relations with Poland grew increasingly strained.
Anti-war partisans claimed responsibility for attack on Russian aircraft. President Lukashenko 16 Feb said Belarus is “ready to fight” with Russian troops in Ukraine “if even one soldier enters Belarus territory from Ukraine to kill [his] people”. Lukashenko 20 Feb announced creation of civilian paramilitary defence force “in case of aggression”. Defence ministry 21 Feb warned that “a significant grouping” of Ukrainian troops had massed near border. Senior Ukrainian official same day said Minsk had stepped up “aggressive” rhetoric but that Kyiv saw no imminent threat from its neighbour. Meanwhile, partisans 26 Feb claimed responsibility for drone attack on Russian military aircraft at Machulishchy airfield near capital Minsk; senior official 28 Feb dismissed claim as “fake… given the absence of an official reaction”.
Ties with Poland deteriorated, leaked Russian documents revealed alleged plans to take over Belarus. Court in capital Minsk 8 Feb sentenced Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut to eight years in prison for “inciting hatred”, among other charges. Poland same day condemned “politically motivated” trial, 10 Feb closed key Bobrowniki border crossing with Belarus; Minsk 20 Feb announced expulsion of three Polish diplomats in response. Meanwhile, various media outlets 21 Feb published document allegedly leaked from Russia’s presidential administration that dates back to 2021, detailing Kremlin plans to assert full control over Belarus’ politics, economy and military potential by 2030.
Repression of dissent continued. Court 10 Feb sentenced two activists to 22 years in prison for sabotaging railway lines used by Russia for transporting military equipment and troops for war in Ukraine. Court in Homel 17 Feb sentenced ten members of Workers’ Movement to between 11 and 15 years in prison for “high treason” and extremism.
Republic of Cyprus elected new president who pledged reunification of island and held first informal meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader.
New Republic of Cyprus president met Turkish Cypriot leader. Former FM Nikos Christodoulides 12 Feb won Greek Cypriot run-off presidential elections against left-wing contender Andreas Mavroyiannis (51.9% to 48.1%). During inauguration speech, Christodoulides remarked “my biggest concern is the end of the Turkish occupation and the reunification of our homeland”, adding “I will do everything to break the deadlock, to restart the dialogue”. In first informal meeting following his election, Christodoulides 23 Feb met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar in UN buffer zone in Nicosia; after encounter, Tatar said formal return to talks will require recognition of Turkish Cypriot sovereignty, while Christodoulides remarked he did not hear anything unexpected.
Tensions continued between sides prior to presidential poll. Outgoing Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 2 Feb visited Greece, thanking Greek PM Mitsotakis for “support in containing Turkish revisionism”. Turkish FM Fuat Oktay 3 Feb referred to “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” as “Turkish Cypriot Republic”, urged UN Security Council to recognise north as having “equal international status” with Republic of Cyprus; Oktay also claimed UN peacekeeping mission has “no humanitarian, diplomatic, or legal value”. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 4 Feb reiterated “sovereign equality” of “Turkish Cypriot Republic”.
Russia and breakaway regions responded harshly after co-chairs of Geneva International Discussions postponed talks; foreign agents law proposal sparked controversy.
Russia and de facto authorities continued to deny entry to co-chairs of Geneva talks. After co-chairs of Geneva International Discussions late Jan postponed planned 57th round of talks until April, Abkhazia and South Ossetia de facto authorities, as well as Russia, voiced anger at “unilateral” move and denied co-chairs entry to either breakaway regions or Moscow, despite visits scheduled for 8-9 Feb. Despite this move, co-chairs decided to proceed with their planned trip to capital Tbilisi 6-7 Feb to meet with Georgian govt.
Proposed law on foreign influence provoked harsh criticism. People’s Power movement, closely affiliated with Georgian Dream party and critical of Western policies in Georgia, during month submitted two draft laws that would oblige NGOs and media outlets that receive over 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence”; failure to fulfil this requirement, which would apply to individuals as well, would result in variety of penalties from fines to prison term of up to five years. Georgian Dream party 21 Feb announced support for draft, but U.S. 16 Feb criticised law and rejected claim it resembles U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act; Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe same day raised “several concerns”; over 60 media outlets 27 Feb released joint statement “categorically opposing” draft law; and President Salome Zourabichvili 28 Feb pledged to veto it.
In other important developments. Tbilisi City Court 6 Feb ruled against transfer of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili abroad for health reasons.
Kosovo and Serbia edged closer to deal on normalising relations following European Union (EU)-mediated talks in Brussels.
PM Kurti and Serb President Vučić tacitly approved EU proposal on normalising relations. Following meeting in Pristina with EU Special Representative Lajčak, PM Kurti 6 Feb accepted Franco-German proposal on normalising relations with Serbia as “good basis”. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 9 Feb confirmed inviting leaders to EU-mediated dialogue 27 Feb, 10 Feb said proposal is “the only way to solve the problems and normalise relations”. Vučić 17 Feb confirmed readiness for dialogue on condition that Kosovo Association of Serb Municipalities – which would enable Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo to form self-governing association – is discussed. Borrell 27 Feb announced sides agreed that “no more discussions are needed on the European Union proposal” and expressed readiness to “proceed with implementation”. Talks will now focus on leaked annex, which spells out timeline for reaching final deal.
International actors showed support for normalisation process ahead of talks. Turkish President Erdoğan 3 Feb expressed “support” for dialogue. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Quint ambassadors (France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S.) 7 Feb reiterated importance of making “concrete progress” in EU-facilitated talks. European Council 9 Feb “underlined the urgent need for progress in the normalisation”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 15 Feb said normalisation “will bring security and prosperity” to region.
Court extended pre-trial detention for activists protesting border delimitation agreement until April, govt agreed to host CSTO military drills and U.S. sought to deepen engagement in region.
Authorities extended pre-trial detention of imprisoned activists for second time. Court in capital Bishkek 15-17 Feb extended pre-trial detention of 26 activists and politicians, detained late Oct for protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan, until April; court first extended their pre-trial detention in Dec.
Govt repatriated 59 nationals from north-eastern Syria. Govt 16 Feb repatriated 18 women and 41 children from displaced persons camps in north-eastern Syria. U.S. 20 Feb welcomed Kyrgyz govt’s efforts to “help resolve the ongoing humanitarian and security challenges” in region, where Islamic State remains “a persistent threat”; U.S. added that repatriation remains “the only durable solution” and urged “all governments to follow Kyrgyzstan’s example and repatriate their nationals”.
In other important developments. After Armenian PM Pashinyan mid-Jan announced Armenia would not host annual military exercises for Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) military alliance, CSTO’s Chief of Staff Anatoly Sidorov 14 Feb announced Kyrgyzstan had agreed to host them instead. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 28 Feb held talks with FMs from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, amid U.S. efforts to deepen engagement in region; Blinken announced $25mn of new funding to support economic growth.
Govt resigned, and tensions with Russia escalated over alleged coup attempt, violation of Moldova’s airspace and Russian accusations of provocation in Transnistria.
Govt resigned over economic pressures and war in Ukraine. Pro-European govt 10 Feb resigned after turbulent 18 months in power marked by economic turmoil and spillover of Russia’s war in Ukraine. President Maia Sandu same day nominated pro-European National Security Adviser Dorin Recean to lead new govt, who vowed to advance on European Union integration and said govt should continue efforts for withdrawal of Russian troops from separatist Transnistria region; parliament 16 Feb approved nomination.
Allegations of Russian destabilisation efforts in Moldova mounted. Govt’s resignation announcement came amid escalation of tensions with Russia, on the rise for months over latter’s suspected role in anti-govt protests and threats to gas supplies in former Soviet republic. Ukrainian President Zelenksyy 9 Feb warned of Russian plan to “destroy” Moldova; Sandu 13 Feb provided further details of alleged plan to topple govt using Russian and Belarusian operatives. Zelenskyy 20 Feb accused Moscow of plans to seize airport in capital Chișinău for transport of soldiers and equipment to Ukraine. Further aggravating tensions, defence ministry 10 Feb announced Russian missile headed for Ukraine had violated Moldova’s airspace, prompting FM Popescu to summon Russian ambassador, Oleg Vasnetsov. Meanwhile, several thousand protesters in Chișinău 19 Feb took part in anti-govt rally organised by opposition Shor party, which has strong ties with Russia and is under investigation for illegal financing; more anti-govt protests took place 28 Feb.
Tensions over Transnistria escalated. Kremlin 20 Feb said “anti-Russian hysteria” had worsened bilateral relations and urged Moldovan authorities to be “very, very careful” regarding calls to demilitarise Transnistria. Russian President Putin next day revoked 2012 decree which, among many other things, underpins Moldova’s sovereignty in resolving future of Transnistria. Russia 23 Feb warned Kyiv could carry out “armed provocation” in Transnistria, next day said it would view any actions that threatened Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria as “an attack on the Russian Federation”. Kremlin 27 Feb accused Ukraine and other European countries of “provoking” situation in Transnistria.
Efforts to unblock Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia failed to produce results, and Baku and de facto leadership met to discuss energy supply issues.
Lachin blockade continued throughout month. Azerbaijani govt-backed activists’ blockade of Lachin corridor, only road linking Armenian-populated NK to Armenia, continued, worsening humanitarian crisis. Diplomatic efforts failed to produce breakthrough. Armenian PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev 18 Feb met with U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken at Munich Security Conference (MSC) (see Armenia and Azerbaijan), where Blinken highlighted importance of “free and open commercial and private transit through the Lachin corridor”. However, leaders same day engaged in panel discussion on security in South Caucasus, where Aliyev denied blockades’ existence. International Court of Justice 22 Feb ordered Azerbaijan to “ensure unimpeded movement” along Lachin corridor. Pashinyan 23 Feb said decision was “extremely important” and “satisfies Armenia’s claim”, while Azerbaijan claimed Armenian authorities had misrepresented ruling; UN and EU same day released statements noting court decision and repeating calls to open road.
Armenia and Azerbaijan debated control of corridors. During MSC, President Aliyev proposed establishing Azerbaijani checkpoints along Lachin corridor and creating similar Armenian checkpoints at Azerbaijan-Armenia state border along any future railway and motorway connecting mainland Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan via Armenia; Aliyev claimed Europe and U.S. had found proposal “logical”. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 22 Feb rejected proposal, saying Russian peacekeepers should retain control of Lachin corridor, as stipulated in 2020 ceasefire deal to end second NK war.
Baku and Stepanakert resumed meetings after dismissal of controversial de facto official. NK’s de facto leader, Araik Harutyunyan, 22 Feb dismissed Russian businessman Ruben Vardanyan as state minister, citing strategic differences in their approaches to internal and external issues; Vardanyan’s appointment in Nov 2022 had angered Baku, which claimed Moscow had sent him to NK “with a very clear agenda” and thus ruled out negotiations with him. One day after Vardanyan’s removal, Russian peacekeepers reported first talks between de facto leadership and Azerbaijani representatives on gas and electricity supply issues, which began after start of Lachin blockade.
Putin suspended participation in key nuclear arms treaty, Ukrainian shelling of Russia continued, and Western states imposed more sanctions.
Putin suspended participation in key arms treaty with U.S. In state-of-the-union address delivered days before one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, President Putin 21 Feb announced suspension of Russia’s participation in 2010 New START Treaty (last arms control treaty in force between Russia and U.S.), which could portend end of arms control system established during Cold War and built upon since. Putin also said “the more long-range Western systems are delivered into Ukraine, the further we’ll have to push the threat from our borders”.
Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory continued. Putin 1 Feb said preventing Ukrainian strikes on Russia was “priority task”, though cross-border attacks continued. Notably, governor of Bryansk region 3 Feb said Russian air defences shot down four Ukrainian rockets in Starodubsk municipality; governor of Belgorod region 19 Feb reported child killed in Novaya Tavolzhanka village. Series of drone attacks 27-28 Feb occurred in six regions, striking oil refinery in Krasnodar Krai region. Meanwhile, founder of paramilitary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, 20 Feb accused officials of denying his fighters sufficient ammunition for Ukraine war and admitted having uneasy relations with people “at the top”.
Persecution of war opponents persisted. Court in Barnaul city 15 Feb sentenced journalist Maria Ponomarenko to six years in prison for spreading disinformation, or “fakes”, about army. Russian Investigative Committee chairman 20 Feb said authorities had opened 152 criminal cases against individuals for “fakes” since invasion of Ukraine. Police 24 Feb reportedly detained at least 54 people in 14 cities at protests on anniversary of Ukraine war.
West and Russia imposed more tit-for-tat sanctions. Western states continued to impose sanctions throughout month; European Union 25 Feb introduced tenth sanctions package. Deputy PM Alexander Novak 10 Feb announced Russia would cut oil production by 500,000 barrels per day starting in March. Meanwhile, media outlet The Financial Times 6 Feb reported that at least 16 Iranian “ghost” ships, previously used to breach U.S. sanctions, have begun shipping Russian oil since Group of Seven imposed price cap.
Authorities handed down lengthy prison sentence to Islamic State recruiter, and U.S. sought to deepen engagement in region.
Court in capital Dushanbe 16 Feb announced it had sentenced notorious Islamic State recruiter Parviz Saidrahmonov, who enlisted over 200 people in the group’s ranks, to 21 years in prison in Nov 2022 on terrorism charges. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 28 Feb held talks with FMs from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, amid U.S. efforts to deepen engagement in region; Blinken announced $25mn of new funding to support economic growth.
Deadly earthquakes wreaked unprecedented destruction, spurring international response; Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) announced conditional ceasefire as hostilities persisted in Syria and Iraq.
Earthquakes killed tens of thousands, unleashed humanitarian crisis. In deadliest natural disaster in republic’s almost 100-year history, two major earthquakes 6 Feb rocked 11 southern provinces, killing over 40,000 people, injuring over 100,000, collapsing or damaging 100,000 buildings, and displacing up to 1.5mn people. Earthquakes galvanised international support: notably, more than 75 countries dispatched over 10,000 rescue workers and, alongside other high-level officials, NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 15-16 Feb and U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 19-20 Feb visited affected areas. Facing public criticism over its earthquake response and allegations of malpractice in construction sector, govt 8 Feb reportedly briefly restricted access to Twitter and detained some individuals voicing criticism, while ruling party officials reportedly raised prospect of delaying May elections. Social media users and far-right politicians framed Syrian refugees as “looters” amid reports of sporadic law and order breakdown in some areas.
PKK announced unilateral ceasefire in Türkiye. Following earthquakes, one of PKK’s leaders Cemil Bayık 9 Feb announced cessation of hostilities within country, conditional on military not attacking group; month witnessed no military operations against PKK in country following announcement. Authorities 25 Feb arrested PKK militant in Konya province who was allegedly waiting for orders to carry out sensational attack. Hostilities persisted elsewhere: Turkish forces continued operations in northern Iraq, while northern Syria witnessed slight reduction in fighting, notwithstanding several drone strikes (see Iraq and Syria).
Tensions eased with Greece following disaster. Greek FM Nikos Dendias 12 Feb visited earthquake-affected areas with FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu; Dendias pledged continued support, while Çavuşoğlu said both countries should not “wait for another disaster to hit … to restore their relations”, adding that their solidarity following earthquakes will be decisive in “opening a new page” in relations.
Authorities arrested Islamic State (ISIS) suspects. Authorities detained some 95 individuals with alleged links to ISIS countrywide. Notably, police 4 Feb detained 15 suspects in Istanbul with alleged instructions to carry out attacks in city in retaliation to Quran-burning incidents in Jan.
One year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, signs of new Russian offensive in embattled east began to emerge, Biden visited Kyiv, and Zelenskyy called on Western states to send fighter jets.
Stepped-up Russian activity along front line signalled new offensive. 24 Feb marked one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, amid indications of new Russian offensive to fully occupy eastern Donbas region, including increased Russian activity along front line, arrival of electronic warfare equipment, more reconnaissance activities and spike in losses of Russian soldiers. There were no major breakthroughs, however. In Donetsk region, Russian forces attempted to capture Vuhledar hilltop mining town, control of which would give them strategic advantage for operations to occupy remainder of Donetsk, but reportedly suffered major losses of troops and equipment in assault. Their troops made more progress around Bakhmut town, but suffered unsustainably high rate of attrition, while Ukrainian units retained control of main road out of town. With Russia’s land force so far unable to punch through Ukrainian defence lines, Western partners 14 Feb warned Russia could intensify airstrikes, making efforts to bolster Ukraine’s air defences a priority. Strikes on critical infrastructure continued, albeit at lower frequency.
Zelenskyy appealed for fighter jets, U.S. President Biden visited Kyiv. During 8 Feb visit to UK, President Zelenskyy urged British lawmakers to send fighter jets; UK PM Rishi Sunak responded that “nothing is off the table”. Zelenskyy’s plea came hours after UK announced it would train Ukrainian pilots to fly NATO-standard fighter jets, suggesting Western countries may be working on plan to send military aircraft. Zelenskyy 8-9 Feb also visited Paris and Brussels. Israeli FM Eli Cohen 16 Feb visited Ukraine, promising more support but refusing to condemn Russia. In strong show of support ahead of anniversary, President Biden 20 Feb made unannounced visit to Kyiv, promising more military aid and tighter sanctions on Russia before heading to Poland.
Defence minister announced new deputies. Following Jan corruption scandal that rattled defence ministry, Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov 14 Feb announced three new deputies as part of anti-graft efforts.
Legal proceedings over Karakalpakstan unrest continued, and U.S. sought to deepen engagement in region.
More trials following Karakalpakstan unrest took place. After authorities late Jan charged 22 Karakalpak activists with instigating deadly violence in autonomous Karakalpakstan region in July 2022, authorities 6 Feb announced that one had died while in custody; in following days, exiled activists raised concerns about prison conditions and demanded an investigation. Bukhara city regional court 6 Feb opened trial for 39 more activists for similar charges of inciting unrest in Karakalpakstan. General Prosecutor’s Office 9 Feb announced arrest of three police officers amid investigation into police misconduct during protests.
U.S. pledged deeper engagement in region. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 28 Feb held talks with FMs from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, amid U.S. efforts to deepen engagement in region; Blinken announced $25mn of new funding to support economic growth.