Global Overview APRIL 2019
Outlook for This Month May 2019
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month April 2019
In April, war broke out in Libya, a failed opposition uprising in Venezuela increased fears of violent escalation, and over 250 people were killed in terror attacks in Sri Lanka. In Sudan, the end of President Bashir’s almost 30-year rule gave way to a tense standoff between military chiefs and protest leaders. Now that Algeria’s long-time ruler has resigned, the country runs the risk of violent confrontations between protesters and the military, while Egyptian President Sisi consolidated his authoritarian rule. Political tensions rose in Mali and Benin amid opposition protests. Fighting escalated in Yemen on multiple front lines, with risks of more clashes around Hodeida and in the south, and conflict could resume in South Sudan if President Kiir unilaterally forms a new government. In Somalia, security forces clashed with protesters and Al-Shabaab could step up attacks in Ramadan starting early May. In Cameroon, Boko Haram intensified attacks in the north, while violence between state forces and Anglophone separatists could spike around National Day on 20 May.
Trends and Outlook
Proxies and Manipulators Vex More and More Wars
PRESIDENT & CEO
In his introduction to this month’s edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group’s conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley reflects on Sudan, Libya and Venezuela, and how fear and ex
In Libya, war broke out when forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar advanced on the capital Tripoli in early April, intent on taking the city from the UN-backed Government of National Accord. As we have warned, the fighting, which has already caused the deaths of at least 300, could escalate further. Both sides consider the fight an “existential war” that leaves no opportunity for a cessation of hostilities. Regional powers could also add fuel to the fire seeking to protect their own allies and interests. To prevent a protracted proxy war, regional powers should refrain from militarily backing their Libyan allies and instead support calls for a ceasefire and UN-led talks, while the UN should work toward a new negotiating format with political, military and financial tracks.
A failed uprising by Venezuela’s opposition leader and “interim President” Juan Guaidó on 30 April led to clashes between troops and defecting soldiers and protesters, leaving scores injured. Further polarising the country’s dangerous political standoff, these latest developments raise the risk of violent escalation by domestic and even international actors, underlining the need for all stakeholders to support a negotiated settlement between chavistas and the opposition.
The ouster of Sudan’s President Bashir after almost 30 years in power triggered celebrations, but also friction between the military council that stepped in and the protest movement demanding civilian rule. As we have argued, Sudan needs a civilian-led transitional authority that includes the opposition, security forces and civil society. In Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down, but weekly protests continued, calling for an end to military control of the transition. To mitigate the risk of violent confrontations, the regime should open dialogue with protest leaders and agree on a transition broadly acceptable to all parties. In Egypt, President Sisi entrenched his authoritarian rule – a referendum endorsed his changes to the constitution that could see him stay in power until 2030 – and the authorities intensified a crackdown on civil society and opposition voices.
In Sri Lanka, over 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, which the government blamed on a little-known Islamist militant local group acting with foreign support; Islamic State also claimed responsibility. The attacks represent a departure from previous conflict dynamics, and threaten to open up new tensions between the overwhelmingly peaceful Muslim community and other ethnic and religious groups.
In Yemen, fighting continued to escalate on multiple front lines. With negotiations over military redeployments in Hodeida stalled, rival forces could resume their battle for the strategic port and city, while tensions between nominally allied pro-government forces could spark conflict in the south.
In Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, a police killing sparked clashes between protesters and security forces that left another five civilians dead, as Al-Shabaab attacks continued. We fear the insurgency could escalate in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that starts on 5 May. South Sudan’s fragile peace agreement could come under severe strain this month, risking collapse. President Kiir has said he will form a transitional government on 12 May as scheduled, while rebel leader Riek Machar – who should be part of the new government according to the agreement – has called for a six-month delay. If Kiir goes ahead and forms a government absent a new deal, the peace plan could derail and fighting resume.
Mali’s government resigned in the wake of mass protests denouncing its failure to stop ethnic violence in the centre. Attacks could intensify there in May as tensions between ethnic Fulani and Dogon communities continue to fester. In Benin, security forces cracked down on opposition protests before and after parliamentary elections on 28 April, prompting fears that unrest could escalate in coming weeks.
In Cameroon, Boko Haram stepped up attacks in the Far North and Anglophone separatists continued to clash with security forces in the west. Violence could escalate there around 20 May, Cameroon’s National Day. To get to talks, a first step in ending the bloodshed, Cameroonian and international actors should pressure those who stand in the way of dialogue and reward the more flexible.
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Deadly incidents continued almost daily in several areas, especially in north and east, attributed to jihadist activity, banditry or intercommunal violence, and President Kaboré began talks with opposition ahead of 2020 elections. Notably in Sahel region in north, killing of ethnic Fulse religious leader in Arbinda 31 March by suspected ethnic Fulani jihadist militants triggered intercommunal violence that according to govt left over 60 dead. Also in north, suspected jihadist attack on Djika village 19 April left at least seven people dead; suspected jihadists shot dead four people in Liki 23 April; suspected jihadists attacked church in Silgadji 28 April killing priest and five worshippers; some twenty unidentified gunmen attacked town hall and burned police station in Gorgadji 29 April. In east, suspected jihadists attacked school in Maytagou 26 April killing six. Burkina Faso and Mali 11 April said joint operation Kapidgou in border area killed 24 militants. Kaboré initiated political dialogue to prepare for 2020 general elections and facilitate constitutional referendum; Kaboré 4 April met Zéphirin Diabré, head of opposition party Union for Progress and Change (UPC). Kaboré 12 April met Ivorian Minister of Defence Hamed Bakayoko to discuss security issues in sub-region. As part of Accra Initiative aimed at fostering regional cooperation against common security threats, Burkina Faso took part in meeting in Togolese capital Lomé 18 April to plan deployment of joint forces along Burkina Faso’s borders; representatives from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Togo also attended. Trial of those responsible for Sept 2015 failed coup attempt opened 9 April, next session postponed to 30 April.
Massacre of ethnic Fulani late March spurred pressure on govt, including mass protests, forcing PM Maïga and cabinet to resign; ethnic violence continued in centre and could escalate in May, as violence and banditry continued in north. Heeding calls of political and religious leaders, tens of thousands protested in capital Bamako and other cities 5 April to denounce govt’s failure to stop violence in centre and demand PM Maïga’s resignation. President Keïta 16 April said govt would increase troops, UN peacekeepers and French Barkhane forces in centre. PM Maïga and cabinet resigned 19 April, hours before parliament was set to vote on no-confidence motion. Keïta 22 April appointed former Minister of Economy and Finance Boubou Cisse as new PM. In centre, massacre of Fulani at Ogossagou late March exacerbated tensions between Fulani and Dogon communities and fuelled support to their respective militias. Dogon self-defence group Dan Na Ambassagou announced withdrawal from Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reinsertion program 8 April citing insecurity. Residents in Koro 13 April prevented arrest of local Dan Na Ambassagou commander. French Barkhane vehicle detonated mine in Foulséré, Mopti region 2 April, one doctor killed. Bombings in centre 1-22 April killed six civilians, five soldiers and one UN peacekeeper. Unidentified gunmen 11 April attacked Tiofoli in Mopti region killing one. Al-Qaeda linked militants 21 April killed at least eleven soldiers in Guire, claiming attack was revenge for Ogossagou massacre. In Mopti region, unidentified gunmen 25 April killed at least fifteen in Bouldé; 27 April attacked military vehicle in Acharane, killing one soldier. In north, unidentified assailants 3 April fired at UN camp in Kidal, injuring two peacekeepers. Two unidentified gunmen night of 5-6 April killed one civilian in Gao region. Unidentified assailants killed local commander of pro-govt armed group Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) in Talataye, Gao region 7 April. Unidentified gunmen 11 April killed one MSA officer and at least one other in Ménaka region. Army vehicle detonated mine in Ménaka region 18 April, two soldiers killed. Pro-govt armed group Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA) 24 April accused army of arresting and executing three Tuaregs in Gao region. Expert committee on constitutional reform 1 April submitted new draft constitution, which includes creation of senate and permanent electoral commission and substitution of regional council with regional assembly.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in south east near border with Nigeria and suspected jihadists kept up attacks in west near border with Mali. In Diffa region in south east, BH militants 9 April attacked gendarmerie camp, killing two. Unidentified gunmen 13 April killed one in Biri Boula, Diffa region. After governor of Diffa region imposed stricter curfew, civil society organisations 15 April launched “ville morte” protest against restrictive security measures, shutting down economic activity in Diffa town; governor 19 April reverted curfew to previous hours. BH 26 April attacked Doctors without Borders office in Maïné Soroa, Diffa region. In west, bombing killed at least five soldiers in Tahoua region bordering Mali 20 April. Suspected jihadists night of 26-27 April killed Tuareg chief in Inatès, near border with Mali. Thousands of school students protested in capital Niamey 9 April against poor education conditions; protests turned into riots, with students burning tyres and vandalising and looting public and private goods. Security forces used teargas to disperse protesters and arrested 92; all released ten days later.
Authorities and ruling party continued to intimidate opposition using violence and arrests, as insecurity persisted in border areas. Notably, police and intelligence officers 4 April arrested four members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) in Kizuka area, Rumonge province in south west; police 5 April rearrested CNL member in Gitega province in centre; authorities 15 April assaulted and arrested three CNL leaders in Mutumba, Karuzi province in centre; ruling party youth wing Imbonerakure 16 April assaulted CNL leader in Mutaho commune, Gitega province. Insecurity persisted in Burundi-Rwanda and Burundi-DR Congo border areas. After heavy gunfire reportedly heard on Rwandan side of border 3 April, armed men seen 8 April near Ruhororo military position, Mabayi commune, Cibitoke province in north west. Unidentified armed group 6 April attacked police station in Gihanga commune, Bubanza province in west near DR Congo border, reportedly injuring six officers. Congolese army 11 April said it had killed 36 members of Burundian rebel groups National Liberation Forces (FNL) and Burundian Republican Forces (FOREBU) during operation 6-8 April in Uvira territory, South Kivu province in DR Congo. France 11 April froze for six months assets of four officials already sanctioned by EU, accusing them of attacks on democracy or responsibility for violence in 2015. International partners in joint statement 5 April expressed concern at govt’s late March decision to withdraw BBC’s licence to operate in country and maintain suspension of Voice of America’s licence.
Boko Haram (BH) intensified attacks in Far North, Anglophone separatists continued to clash with security forces in west and violence could escalate there around 20 May National Day, commemorating 1972 vote to transform federal state into unitary one. In Far North, BH attacks left ten soldiers and at least 24 civilians dead. BH fighters 6 April killed five soldiers near Fotokol, Logone and Chari department; four soldiers killed 12 April when they detonated bombs laid by BH on Gouzda-Vreket-Vouzi road, Mayo Tsanaga department, and same day one killed in same way on Kerawa road, Mayo Sava department. BH killed eleven civilians in Tchakamari, Mayo Sava 19 April; killed at least seven civilians in Blangoua, Longone and Chari department 22 April; one vigilante member in Malloumri, Mayo Sava 26 April; one civilian in Bourouvare, Mayo Sava 27 April; four civilians in Kofia, Logone and Chari 28 April. Security forces killed two BH in Sanda-Wandjiri 14 April. Conflict in Anglophone regions continued. Clashes between separatists and soldiers in Bali, Northwest region 15 April left three separatists and four soldiers dead. Appeals court of Centre region in capital Yaoundé 9 April rejected detained opposition leader Maurice Kamto’s demand for temporary release; police same day arrested seventeen members of Kamto’s party Cameroon Renaissance Movement who protested outside court building. European Parliament 18 April passed resolution calling on govt to immediately release Kamto and members of his party, start inclusive dialogue with Anglophone leaders and reform electoral system; it called on EU Commission to assess EU support to security forces and, in absence of progress, put Anglophone crisis on UN Security Council agenda. Govt rejected resolution as “biased, unfounded”.
Central African Republic
Insecurity persisted in provinces as international actors increased pressure on govt to implement Feb peace agreement. In west, UN mission (MINUSCA) 5 April conducted operation in Zoukombo, Mambere Kadei prefecture against members of Abdoulaye Miskine’s rebel group Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), who took control of town in early March; MINUSCA dislodged rebels, including from road leading to Cameroon. In south east, clashes between members of rebel group Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) and self-defence groups at Zangba, Basse-Kotto prefecture left tens dead 17-23 April, some report over 100. Heads of regional bloc Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) 2-5 April visited capital Bangui to support Feb deal’s implementation. African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security Smaïl Chergui and UN Under-Sec-Gen for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix visited country 14-18 April; they and PM Ngrebada attended ceremony 15 April in Bambari in centre to present future members of special mixed security units to comprise soldiers and former rebels; Ali Darassa, leader of UPC rebel group and appointed military adviser late March, also attended. Joint AU-UN-EU mission visited Bangui 17 April for second meeting of International Support Group for CAR aimed at reinforcing international support for implementation of Feb agreement. UN Security Council 9 April fixed conditions for partial lifting of UN arms embargo, imposed in 2013: in July UN will assess authorities’ efforts to improve security sector, advance disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, and set up protocol for management of weapons and Security Council will re-examine arms embargo by 30 Sept.
Boko Haram (BH) kept up attacks on security forces in west as authorities continued to repress opposition and civil society nationwide. In Lake Chad province in west, BH militants 15 April attacked army position at Bohama killing at least eleven soldiers, unknown number of militants also killed; unidentified assailants 16 April attacked gendarmerie position at Dabansali killing one gendarme; BH 23 April attacked army at Tetewa, fighting left four soldiers and six militants dead. Supreme Court 12 April ruled that Romadoumngar Félix Nialbé should replace Saleh Kebzabo as parliamentary opposition leader on grounds that, following defection of one MP from Kebzabo’s party, Romadoumngar’s party had more MPs than Kebzabo’s. Governor of Guera province banned congress of Kebzabo’s party planned for 12 April citing security concerns. Govt 23 April rejected request of youth-led movement Les Transformateurs to become political party. Govt 22 April banned protest against three-month shortage of butane gas that civil society collective had scheduled for 25 April. Authorities 23 April arrested collective’s leader Dingamnayal Versinis after he continued to call for protest, but released him next day when he postponed it. Authorities 25 April arrested thirteen protesters for defying protest ban; released twelve 28 April after public prosecutor dismissed cases against them, but one still detained, reportedly for having contacts with rebel group. President Déby promoted 104 military officers to senior grades 12 April, day after Sudanese military unseated President Bashir. Déby 23 April attended summit on Sudan in Cairo 23 April, at which African leaders gave Sudan’s Transitional Military Council three months to hand over power to civilians.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Govt formation remained stalled as coalitions led by President Tshisekedi and former President Kabila failed to agree on PM and cabinet appointments; insecurity continued in centre and east. Officials from Tshisekedi’s Heading for Change (CACH) alliance and Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) met in Kisantu, Kongo Central province 6-7 April to negotiate PM and cabinet, but failed to reach agreement; Tshisekedi refused to appoint FCC’s proposed PM Albert Mulimbi, chairman of state-owned mining company Gecamines. In 31 March legislative elections in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi (postponed from Dec due to Ebola and violence), Lamuka opposition platform won ten of fourteen parliamentary seats and Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) of Tshisekedi’s Chief of Staff Vital Kamerhe and FCC won one seat each. In governorship elections, FCC won in sixteen of 22 provinces 10 April; governor elections postponed in North Kivu, Mai-Ndombe, South Ubangi and Sankuru. In document made public 30 April, prosecutors dropped investigation into allegations opposition leader in exile Moise Katumbi hired mercenaries, opening way for his return. Tshisekedi made first domestic tour as president 12-16 April to Lubumbashi in south east, and Goma and Beni in east. In U.S. 3-5 April, Tshisekedi met International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde who promised resumption of cooperation, suspended since 2012, and Belgian Deputy PM Reynders who pledged to revive ties. In east and centre, over 2,600 Mai-Mai militiamen surrendered 25 March-9 April. In South Kivu in east, army 2 April arrested leader of Raia Mutomboki armed group; 29 more Raia Mutomboki units surrendered 8 April. In North Kivu in east, clashes between three rival armed groups – Nduma Defence of the Congo/Rénové de Guidon, Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and Mai-Mai Nyatura – caused escalation in killings, rapes and robberies. Army 11 April said it had killed 36 members of Burundian rebel groups, National Liberation Forces (FNL) and Burundian Republican Forces (FOREBU), 6-8 April in Uvira territory, South Kivu. In Ituri province in north east, unidentified attackers killed eight people in Kalo 5-7 April.
Republic of Congo
Govt late April lifted suspension of party led by Frédéric Bintsamou, known as Pasteur Ntumi, imposed in April 2016 when rebels led by Ntumi resumed attacks in Pool region; peace agreement signed in Dec 2017.
Relations between Rwanda and Uganda remained tense as Ugandan security forces continued crackdown on Rwandans. In western Uganda, following 2 April kidnapping of U.S. citizen and Ugandan tour guide in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ugandan authorities 4 April arrested over 40 Rwandans near park for being in country without necessary papers. After Rwanda late Feb restricted travel across two of three principal border crossings with Uganda (Gatuna and Cyanika), Rwanda relaxed restrictions at Gatuna, allowing Rwandans to enter Uganda during daytime, returning before end of day.
Govt closed two border crossings with neighbouring Ethiopia without giving reasons: Omhajer-Humera crossing 18 April and Bure-Assab crossing 22 April.
Inter-ethnic fighting erupted in Amhara region in north leaving some 25 people dead and govt reshuffled key positions. Ethnic Oromo and Amhara militias reportedly clashed in Oromo-administered zone and North Shewa Zone in Amhara region particularly around Kemissie and Ataye towns 5-7 April leaving around 25 dead before military put stop to fighting. Former President of Amhara region Gedu Andargachew was appointed FM 18 April. Same day president of Oromia region Lemma Megersa was appointed defence minister. Finance Minister Ahmed Shide was confirmed as chair of Somali People’s Democratic Party 2 April. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), one of four parties in ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), 13 April said it was opposed to plans to convert EPRDF into one party, while EPRDF Council meeting 15-17 April failed to address coalition’s key challenges. Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye 12 April announced arrest of 59 people for corruption including agency heads and mid-ranking officials. Berhanu same day said National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) had foiled planned attacks in capital by suspected Al-Shabaab militants. PM Abiy 15 April received members of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council and praised it for respecting popular will. Eritrea 18-22 April closed two border crossings with Ethiopia. Former rebel group Gambela People’s Liberation Movement 21 April returned from Eritrea.
Suspected Al-Shabaab militants 12 April abducted two Cuban doctors in Mandera town in north east, shooting dead one of two police officers escorting them, and took them into Gedo region in Somalia; security forces launched operation to rescue them. After Kenya mid-Feb recalled its envoy to Somalia and expelled Somali ambassador over maritime border dispute, officials from both countries in Nairobi 3 April agreed to allow ambassadors to return to station.
Clashes between security forces and protesters in capital Mogadishu left five civilians dead, as Al-Shabaab kept up attacks in Mogadishu and rural areas and could escalate insurgency in month of Ramadan starting 5 May. In Mogadishu, after police shot dead young rickshaw driver at checkpoint in Howl-Wadag 13 April, residents same day protested against govt; protests led to clashes between protesters and security forces, that left five civilians dead. President Farmajo accused opposition of orchestrating protests. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab car bombing near police academy 4 April killed at least one person; car bombing near police station and hotel 17 April killed four; unclaimed car bombing 22 April injured at least two civilians. In Lower Shabelle region in south-centre, following heavy fighting between army and Al-Shabaab in Sabid 1 April, govt forces seized truck loaded with explosives. In Bosaso town, Bari region, Puntland, at least six soldiers injured in roadside bombing 11 April; also in Bosaso unclaimed land mine targeting governor of Bari region 24 April injured at least three security guards. In Lower Juba, Hiraan, Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions, suspected Al-Shabaab attacks 17-23 April killed a dozen Kenyan soldiers in African Union mission (AMISOM), seven Somali soldiers and one local official. Senior Al-Shabaab official Aden Abdi Mohamed “Aden Obe” 23 April surrendered near Bardhere in Gedo region in south. U.S. airstrikes continued, killing five Al-Shabaab militants four Islamic State (ISIS)-Somalia militants including deputy leader of ISIS-Somalia 9-26 April. Following late March allegations by NGO Amnesty International that U.S. airstrikes had caused civilian deaths, U.S. conducted internal review and 5 April for first time admitted that airstrikes in 2018 caused two civilian deaths. After Kenya mid-Feb recalled its envoy to Somalia and expelled Somali ambassador over maritime border dispute, officials from both countries in Nairobi 3 April agreed to allow ambassadors to return to station.
Sept 2018 peace agreement held, but could collapse triggering resumption of fighting if President Kiir forms transitional govt at scheduled end of pre-transitional period 12 May against wishes of main rebel leader Riek Machar. Machar 12 April called for six-month extension of pre-transitional period. Kiir and Machar alongside other political and church leaders from South Sudan attended “spiritual retreat” at Vatican in Rome 11-12 April; Pope Francis entreated leaders to keep disagreements behind closed doors. Following 11 April ouster of Sudanese President Bashir, guarantor of South Sudanese peace process, South Sudanese delegation 17 April travelled to Khartoum and stressed importance of continued free flow of oil from South Sudan into Sudan for export. Kiir 23 April travelled to United Arab Emirates to discuss improving bilateral relations.
Military’s ouster of then President Bashir 11 April after almost 30 years in power led to tense stalemate between military council and protest movement leaders over composition and leadership of joint civilian-military body to oversee transition. Thousands marched in capital Khartoum 6 April – anniversary of 1985 popular uprising – and began sit-in outside military headquarters, resisting security forces’ attempts to break up crowds. Army adopted policy of non-intervention and junior and mid-ranking military defied orders to disperse protesters; some soldiers reportedly clashed with members of National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Police 9 April also adopted non-intervention policy. First VP and Defence Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf 11 April announced ouster and arrest of Bashir, creation of Transitional Military Council (TMC) to rule for up to two years before elections, suspension of constitution, three-month state of emergency and curfew. Protesters rejected curfew and Ibn Auf as ruler, and demanded immediate transition to civilian rule. Next day Ibn Auf resigned and was replaced by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan. Burhan 13 April announced overhaul of military leadership, notably head of Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” appointed TMC deputy chair. Salah Gosh resigned as NISS head 13 April. Bashir reportedly transferred to prison 17 April and next day two of Bashir’s brothers arrested. African Union 15 April gave TMC fifteen days to hand over power to civilians to avoid Sudan’s suspension; summit of several African leaders chaired by Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo 23 April gave military leaders three months. Protest leaders led by Sudanese Professionals Association late April engaged TMC in talks on formation of joint transitional council, but said protests would continue until TMC accepted to form civilian-led transitional body.
Authorities re-arrested opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi and relations between Uganda and Rwanda remained tense. Police 22 April placed under house arrest singer-turned-opposition MP Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, after banning his concert in capital Kampala. Court 29 April charged Kyagulanyi for his involvement in illegal protest in 2018 and remanded him in prison. Protests in several areas of Kampala against his arrest 30 April led to clashes between police and protesters. Highest court 18 April endorsed constitutional changes removing age limit of 75 years for presidential candidates, enabling President Museveni to contest 2021 elections. In west, following 2 April kidnapping of U.S. citizen and Ugandan tour guide in Queen Elizabeth National Park on border with DR Congo, Ugandan authorities arrested eight people for involvement in kidnapping and 4 April arrested over 40 Rwandans near park for being in country without necessary immigration papers; unidentified kidnappers 7 April released American and Ugandan after safari company paid ransom. After Rwanda late Feb restricted travel across two of three principal border crossings with Uganda (Katuna and Cyanika), Rwanda relaxed restrictions at Gatuna, allowing Rwandans to enter Uganda during daytime, returning before end of day.
Court 24 April ordered release of 40 supporters of Cabinda Independence Movement (MIC), which seeks independence for Cabinda exclave in west, arrested in Feb; eleven supporters remained detained.
Opposition continued to reject President Assoumani’s win in March presidential elections and, alongside EU and African Union (AU), called for inclusive dialogue, but govt pursued repression of opposition and media. AU, regional bodies, EU and other international actors reported irregularities in polls, and opposition challenged results at Supreme Court, but latter confirmed results 2 April. Opposition body challenging Assoumani’s rule, National Transitional Council (NTC), welcomed EU and AU backing for inclusive dialogue, calling on international bodies to impose sanctions and nullify results. Govt continued repression; court 6 April said NTC chairperson Mohamed Soilihi, arrested in March, and eight others would be prosecuted for seeking to “destabilise state”. After govt released Soilihi 8 April, he withdrew accusations of election rigging and distanced himself from NTC. In protest at govt’s clampdown on media, private media outlets 2 April declared two-week boycott of govt press conferences and other events.
PM Thabane 6 April suspended parliament in apparent attempt to avoid vote of no confidence
President Rajoelina 21 April scheduled referendum on whether to change constitution, disband senate and give more powers to regions for 27 May, same day as legislative election, but in face of opposition from judiciary and opposition parties he 26 April postponed referendum without setting new date.
Security forces kept up operations against suspected Islamist militancy in Cabo Delgado province in far north. President Nyusi 12 April visited Mocimboa da Praia and Palma districts, Cabo Delgado province, promising to reinforce patrols and saying security forces had captured several militant bases, including one in Nangade district early April, killing seven militants. Court 23 April released on bail two journalists detained in Jan while reporting on insurgency. Attorney general 24 April said govt would intensify cooperation with northern neighbour Tanzania to halt “cross-border” attacks. Court 25 April sentenced 37 people to prison for involvement in attacks. Court in South Africa 8 April ruled that former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang could be extradited from South Africa to U.S. where he is wanted for alleged involvement in govt’s undisclosed $2bn loan that U.S. says was fraudulent.
Ahead of 8 May general elections, residents protested against lack of services early April in townships around Johannesburg and Tshwane, as well in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth; in several places protesters blocked roads and clashed with police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them.
Amid persistent economic crisis, govt continued efforts to implement political and economic reforms. Govt-led national dialogue that started in Feb continued, but main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and five smaller parties still refused to take part. Police 4 April said 375 protesters had been convicted on charges relating to Jan protests which security forces violently supressed. Govt mid-April published draft Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill to replace much criticised Public Order and Security Act (POSA); NGOs highlighted that new draft bill retained some controversial provisions and parliament 24 April opened public consultations on draft. Amid deteriorating economic situation, govt and International Monetary Fund (IMF) 10 April agreed on reforms designed to facilitate Zimbabwe’s reengagement with international community. UN human rights experts 4 April said economic reforms were hurting poorest in country most. Govt 8 April said it would begin to pay compensation to thousands of farmers who lost land under former President Mugabe. Tensions continued within opposition ahead of MDC congress in May; violent incidents reported at local MDC party offices since late March. MDC Sec Gen Douglas Mwonzora and VP Elias Mudzuri announced their intention to challenge incumbent President Nelson Chamisa, but in all provinces party nominated Chamisa as candidate for party leader.
Security forces cracked down on opposition protests before and after 28 April parliamentary elections which voters largely boycotted after authorities banned opposition parties from taking part; unrest could escalate in May. Electoral commission early March banned five opposition parties from participating in poll, with result that all candidates came from two parties, both allied to President Talon. NGOs documented violent repression of opposition protests 1 and 4 April. Former presidents Nicéphore Soglo and Thomas Boni Yayi 19 April called for election boycott and led protests against ban, prompting violent crackdown. Following internet blackout on election day 28 April, initial results 29 April showed two Talon-allied parties, Progressive Union and Republican Bloc, winning 47 and 36 seats respectively; voter turnout 23%. Opposition supporters protested results in economic capital Cotonou 1 May, setting up barricades; authorities dispersed crowds with tear gas and soldiers reportedly encircled home of Boni Yayi.
Political leaders continued efforts to strengthen their hands ahead of 2020 presidential elections. President Ouattara 3 April appointed 33 new senators, including some politicians who had defected from opposition party Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) of former President Bédié, notably former PDCI MP Allomo Paulin Kouassi and former president of Gbeké council Abonouan Jean Kouassi. PDCI disciplinary council 4 April expelled from party VP Duncan, Presidency Sec Gen Patrick Achi and four other officials for creating pro-Ouattara branch, PDCI-Renaissance, in Dec. Former President Gbagbo – in Belgium on conditional release from International Criminal Court (ICC) – made efforts to regain control of party he founded, Popular Ivorian Front (FPI), from legally-recognised president Pascal Affi N’Guessan; latter late March refused to step down, but three FPI executives resigned to side with Gbagbo. International Criminal Court 11 April said it would release Gbagbo if he was accepted by country that would cooperate in enforcing any future court decisions, thus including sending Gbagbo back to The Hague for retrial. Defence Minister Bakayoko 12 April met Burkina Faso President Kaboré in Ouagadougou to discuss regional security; spokesman of former parliament speaker and now opposition leader Guillaume Soro 14 April said meeting part of plan by Ouattara to deliver Soro to authorities of Burkina Faso, where Soro has been mentioned in trial of those held responsible for 2015 failed coup.
More intense confrontation loomed between camp of President Condé and opposition as 81-year-old leader looked intent on changing constitution so that he can run for third term in 2020 elections. Leading opposition and civil society figures 3 April launched coalition National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) to oppose constitutional reform; figures included Cellou Dalein Diallo leader of main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG). Diallo 4 April asked security forces not to follow Condé blindly. Three people who were arrested late March in Coyah for unveiling banner saying “No to a third term” were released 5 April. PM Fofana 6 April said “God gave health to our leader… to push Guinea to happiness”.
Following 10 March legislative elections, ruling party and opposition faced off over appointment of two vice presidents of parliament. Opposition parties Movement for a Democratic Alternative G-15 (MADEM G-15) and Party for Social Renewal (PRS) 24 April announced court action against ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) due to its attempts to block their nominees for first and second vice presidents. Mission from regional bloc Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) arrived in capital Bissau 30 April to help break impasse.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in north east, security forces ramped up operations against bandits in north west and herder-farmer violence flared in some north central and southern states. In north east, two BH factions kept up insurgency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states despite operations by military and troops from neighbouring countries in Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Notably, Islamic State West Africa Province 1 April claimed it had killed five soldiers and posted video of killing online; military said three of five killed in video were vigilantes. In Adamawa state, BH attacked village near Madagali 29 April, killing 26 people. In Yobe state, army 9 April repelled BH attack on Damaturu killing some twenty militants. Shekau faction continued suicide attacks in Borno state: two suicide bombers 6 April killed nine people in Jere near state capital Maiduguri; two suicide bombers 11 April killed themselves and two others in Monguno. Army early April reported MNJTF had killed sixteen BH in Borno state, including “high-ranking commander” Malloum Moussa. Army 13 April said joint Nigeria-Cameroon operation killed 27 insurgents in Borno state. In north west, security forces stepped up operations to counter banditry and other criminal violence; airstrikes and ground operations killed estimated 120 suspected bandits mainly in Zamfara state, but also some in Katsina and Kaduna states. Bandit attacks continued, particularly in Zamfara and Katsina states, killing over 50 people. Clashes between bandits and vigilantes 7 and 9 April in Katsina state left 44 people dead. Violence between herders and farming communities continued in north central zone – Nasarawa, Kaduna and Kogi states – leaving some 45 people dead; incidents also reported in Anambra and Delta states in south, leaving eleven people dead. Significant communal violence in Rivers, Taraba, Benue and Ebonyi states left at least 72 people dead, as kidnapping for ransom continued in several states. Buhari 25 April began 11-day “private visit” to UK, where he has spent several months since 2015 for medical treatment. Police 30 April reported over 1,000 people killed in crime-related violence and 685 kidnapped countrywide Jan-April 2019.
Opposition launched new protests calling for constitutional reforms to limit number of presidential terms. Clashes between security forces and protesters in Bafilo, Kara region in north, where govt had denied opposition authorisation to protest, left one protester dead 13 April. As part of Accra Initiative, aimed at fostering regional cooperation against common security threats, representatives of Burkina Faso, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Togo met in capital Lomé 18 April to plan deployment of joint forces along border of Burkina Faso to stem spread of suspected jihadist insurgency. Using intelligence from Burkina Faso authorities, Togolese security forces early April arrested over twenty suspected jihadists from Burkina Faso in northern Togo and transferred them to Burkina Faso.
Ahead of proposed visit of Chinese President Xi to Japan in June, Japan and China continued efforts to improve relations; at bilateral talks in Beijing 14-15 April, Chinese FM Wang urged his counterpart not to restrict Chinese technology companies such as Huawei, adding countries should turn “competition into coordination”. Chinese defence ministry 25 April said govt was willing to enhance defence exchanges with Japan. Military exercises and operations continued; Japan Air Force 1 April scrambled jets to intercept Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) electronic warfare and surveillance plane and two bombers passing through Miyako strait in East China Sea, second scrambling of jets against Chinese aircraft in 48 hours. Japanese defence ministry 9 April announced F-35A stealth jet disappeared during training drill over Pacific, later confirming plane had crashed; amid concerns China and Russia were searching for wreckage to test classified technology of F-35A jets, Japan and U.S. sent out coastguard vessels and military aircrafts to search for plane.
Diplomatic tensions persisted as North Korea responded angrily to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, while Chairman Kim Jong-un secured Russian diplomatic support during late-April summit with President Putin. U.S. and South Korea 22 April began combined military air exercise, prompting strong criticism from Pyongyang, which accused them of violating self-imposed 2018 freeze on joint military exercises, raising concerns that Pyongyang may respond militarily in coming weeks. Diplomatic manoeuvring continued; Kim 24-26 April travelled to Vladivostok, Russia to meet with President Putin, first joint summit since Putin and former leader Kim Jong-il met 2011. Kim secured unambiguous Russian support, with visit widely perceived as message to U.S. that govt can look to other sources of international back-up. Kim also ended visit early, implying possible dissatisfaction at outcome. Earlier, Pyongyang responded angrily after U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo agreed with characterisation of Kim Jong-un as a “tyrant” during Senate hearing; 18 April said it would not negotiate with U.S. if Pompeo was present and accused him of hypocrisy and incompetence for alleged failures at Hanoi summit; Pyongyang also commented on “fortunate… personal relationship” between Kim and President Trump. North Korean Vice FM Choe Son-hui 30 April said U.S. will face “undesired consequences” if it fails to revise its position by end 2019. South Korean lawmaker 24 April told media that North Korea had replaced hardline general Kim Yong-chol as chief negotiator and head of United Front Department (UFD, which manages relations with South Korea), installing in his place former head of civilian inter-Korean exchanges Jang Kum-chol, generally regarded as more diplomatic; Pyongyang also conducted “ideological audit” of UFD and according to some reports executed four officials over failed Hanoi summit. Japan 23 April abandoned its calls for “maximum pressure” on North Korea and removed description of “grave and imminent” threat from North Korea’s missile program in its annual foreign policy report, seen as attempt to encourage dialogue.
President Tsai 4 April promised “forceful expulsion” of Chinese jets from Taiwanese airspace after two Chinese J-11 fighter jets crossed median line of Taiwan Strait 31 March, reportedly China’s first breach of traditionally-agreed maritime border since 1999; Chinese govt 10 April defended flights as routine and dismissed Tsai’s comments. Beijing 15 April said Chinese warships, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft conducted day of drills around Taiwan; Tsai denounced manoeuvres as “coercion”. Taiwanese Defence Ministry 15 April announced ten-year budget, rising annually to over $13bn; U.S. State Department same day announced renewal of training of Taiwanese F-16 pilots and maintenance support ahead of July decision on Taiwan’s request to buy 66 F-16V fighter. American Institute in Taiwan 3 April announced U.S. Marines will guard Institute’s new compound in Taipei, due to be opened May. Tsai and U.S. officials 10 April commemorated 40th anniversary of Taiwan Relations Act in ceremony in Taipei. French warship passed through Taiwan Strait 6 April; China 25 April said it had lodged “stern representations” for “illegal” passage. U.S. 28 April sailed two warships through Taiwan strait, prompting China to express concern.
Intra-Afghan peace dialogue stalled and spring fighting season began, while political tensions grew amid competition for influence over nascent peace process, delayed presidential election and extension of President Ghani’s mandate. Planned intra-Afghan dialogue on peace between Taliban and Afghan representatives scheduled for 20-21 April was postponed indefinitely 18 April, with organisers citing “lack of agreement around participation and representation”. Taliban accused govt of breaching agreements that participants could join in personal (not official) capacity and sabotaging dialogue, while opposition figures said they were not sufficiently represented. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 24 April returned to Kabul, building support for anticipated U.S.-Taliban talks in Doha early May. Seven out of eighteen candidates registered to contest presidential election mid-April announced boycott of govt’s 29 April national consultative meeting (jirga) aimed at rallying support behind govt’s position in process. Taliban dismissed meeting as “fake”, but gathering of thousands bolstered Ghani ahead of expected challenges to his legitimacy after expiry of his five-year mandate. After announcing start of its annual spring offensive 12 April, Taliban advanced on Kunduz city before being repelled by govt forces 14 April. Taliban targeted several district centres, attacking Murghab in Badghis province 31 March-20 April, and Ab Kamari district centre 5-6 April; security forces claimed to have retaken both. Govt sources reported more than 1,000 security forces killed in single month at start of annual fighting season. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) continued attacks on urban centres, killing ten in Jalalabad 6 April, and attacking govt ministry in Kabul 20 April, killing at least seven. IS-KP clashes with Taliban in Kunar province late March-early April reportedly displaced more than 21,000. UN 24 April reported govt and international coalition attacks were responsible for majority of civilians killed in first three months of 2019. Political tensions remained high: Supreme Court 22 April announced Ghani could stay in office beyond 22 May end of mandate until 28 Sept presidential election; eleven of eighteen presidential candidates said mandate extension was illegitimate and called for interim govt.
Amid continuing political tensions, govt 1 April moved imprisoned opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) leader and former PM Khaleda Zia to hospital due to ill-health; Minister of Home Affairs 6 April told media that govt would release Zia on bail if application was filed. BNP 6 April said negotiations with govt on releasing Zia and sending her abroad for treatment were ongoing. Govt’s decision reportedly rests on six BNP members – successful candidates in Dec general elections who refused to join parliament in protest at alleged electoral rigging – joining parliament before 30 April; one took oath 25 April and another four 29 April. MP from Gano Forum party defied his party to take parliamentary oath 2 April. Following violence around March local elections, rival factions of ruling-Awami League (AL) continued to clash; clashes between supporters of former and newly-elected AL officials in Bhahmanbaria district (east) left one dead 1 April, while clashes between two AL factions in Boalmari sub-district, Faridpur district (centre) left 40 injured 16 April. AL candidate’s supporters reportedly attacked Hindu constituents of independent candidate in Sadar sub-district 24 March. Final phase of local elections anticipated for 18 June amid threat of opposition boycott and concerns over further outbreaks of violence. Police 29 April reported two suspected militants blew themselves up during security forces raid in Dhaka.
Maoists attacked officials around general election being held in phases 11 April-19 May. Suspected Maoist roadside bomb killed five people, including MP from ruling-Bharatiya Janata Party, in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh state (east) 9 April; suspected Maoists 18 April killed polling official in Kandhamal district, Odisha (east). Maoist attacks on security forces continued; in Chhattisgarh, suspected Maoist rebels 4 April killed four members of security forces in Kander district and next day killed soldier during gunfight in Dhamatri district. Maoists and security forces 15 April clashed in Giridih district, Jharkhand state (east), leaving three suspected rebels and one soldier dead.
Relations between Pakistan and India remained tense with continued clashes across Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir), while within Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Indian security forces continued repression of separatists. In cross-LoC clashes, Pakistan claimed Indian fire killed three soldiers and one civilian 2 April and one civilian 15 April, while claiming retaliatory Pakistani fire killed five Indian troops 5 April. India 18 April suspended cross-LoC trade claiming it was used by “Pakistan-based elements” to traffic weapons, drugs and money. Pakistan 27 March formally rejected India’s dossier holding militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed responsible for Feb attack on Indian security forces in J&K, saying it failed to prove involvement of Pakistan-based elements and asking for further evidence. Pakistan FM Qureshi 2 April asked U.S. to broker dialogue with India and 7 April said govt had informed UN Security Council that India intended to launch attack inside Pakistan later in month. Inside J&K, suppression continued with over 1,000 people reportedly arrested since deadly Feb attack; security forces 25 April claimed to have killed two militants in gunfight in Anantnag district (centre). J&K residents 18 April voted in general election amid calls from separatists for boycott and threats from militants, and reports of clashes between protesters and security forces; reported turnout 45.5% in J&K but under 10% in some constituencies including Srinagar. Ruling-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 8 April released election manifesto supporting abrogation of articles 35-A and 370 of Constitution that give J&K special status, while main opposition Indian National Congress committed to amending law that gives impunity to special forces in J&K.
Concerns about Nepal Communist Party (NCP) govt’s restrictions on civil liberties grew with new proposed legislation granting attorney general (AG) discretionary powers to decide on implementation of recommendations made by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC); legislation would empower AG to request further evidence before registering NHRC-recommended cases. NHRC officials rejected move and claimed it would curtail commission’s authority and undermine constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy. Rights activists also criticised govt demand that media houses share payroll and bank details of journalists as latest attempt to restrict press freedom; govt claim effort aimed at ensuring journalists being paid over minimum wage. Following widespread criticism of govt for previously ruling out negotiations with Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) led by hardline Maoist leader Netra Bikram Chand, reports claimed some ruling NCP leaders are reaching out to CPN leaders for informal talks. Second meeting of Inter-state Council (constitutionally mandated mechanism to resolve disputes between federal and provincial govts) 26 April dominated by tensions over lack of devolution of power to provinces, security arrangements and appointment of local administrators. Nepal Army 12 April denied reports of requesting to withdraw 231 troops guarding UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) HQ amid unrest in Tripoli and concerns about inadequate evacuation arrangements (see Libya).
Authorities opened corruption investigations into opposition leadership amid heightened political tensions, while militant attacks continued and tensions grew with Afghanistan and U.S. govts. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) launched new investigations into opposition figures, filing corruption cases against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif 8 April and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman and former President Asif Ali Zardari late March. Investigations come amid increased domestic criticism of govt: PPP strongly opposed govt’s 18 April appointment to interior minister of former Intelligence Bureau chief Ijaz Hussain Shah, accused by former PM Benazir Bhutto of conspiring to kill her. PM Khan 9 April announced push to seize 30,000 madrasas in compliance with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sanctions, reiterating govt stance against militant groups. Assurances coincide with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) govt’s attempts to garner opposition support for constitutional amendment to allow third two-year term to military anti-terrorism courts which expired 30 March. Karachi Union of Journalists 5 April expressed concern over criminal investigations by intelligence agencies into four journalists; Reporters Without Borders 16 April criticised intimidation of media by security agencies. Militant attacks continued. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, assailants 8 April killed World Health Organization polio worker, and unclaimed bomb attack 27 April killed three paramilitaries, while clashes between Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants and security forces in Peshawar 16 April killed six suspected militants and one police officer. In Balochistan province, explosive device killed nineteen in Quetta 12 April, including eight Shia Hazaras; TPP claimed collaboration with anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Islamic State (ISIS) also claimed responsibility; bomb blast targeted convoy in Chaman same day, killing one; gunmen 18 April shot dead fourteen bus passengers, eleven of them from security forces; three Baloch militant groups claimed responsibility. Afghan govt responded angrily to Khan’s 26 March call for “neutral interim govt” in Kabul to hold “free and fair elections”, recalling its ambassador, while U.S. Afghan envoy accused him of undermining negotiations with Taliban.
Series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels claimed by Islamic State (ISIS) killed at least 253 and injured hundreds 21 April in country’s deadliest terror attack. Three suicide bombers attacked Easter Sunday morning church services in Negombo (west), Batticaloa (east) and Colombo (west) while three others simultaneously targeted luxury hotels in Colombo. Later same day, two smaller explosions occurred in Colombo suburbs. Over 250 people killed in total, mostly Christians, some tourists, 500 injured. Govt shut down social media messaging services and declared national curfew; by end of month arrested more than 150 suspects linked to small Islamist militant group, National Towheed Jamaat (NTJ), which govt said carried out attacks with foreign support. Discovery of NTJ safe house in eastern town Sainthamaruthu 26 April led to gun battles and explosions that killed fifteen suspects. Govt 22 April declared state of emergency, giving police and military new broad powers of detention; president 29 April issued ban on face coverings, targeting niqab and burqas worn by some Sri Lankan Muslim women. ISIS 23 April claimed responsibility for attacks, releasing video of men it says were bombers. Govt’s failure to act on multiple intelligence reports warning of attacks, including 4 April report based on Indian intelligence, prompted widespread criticism and speculation that president’s ongoing battles with his prime minister contributed to failure to share information within govt. President Sirisena 25 April sacked Defence Secretary and took steps to remove Inspector General of police. Claiming govt had ignored threat of “Islamic extremism”, former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa 26 April reiterated his candidacy for president, promising to prioritise “national security” over “human rights”. Tensions ran high amid fears of intercommunal violence; Pakistani (Christian and Ahmadi Muslim) refugees living in Negombo forced to flee homes and live in makeshift camps after attacks by local Christians.
Violence continued in Papua province, where tensions increased around national elections 17 April. Both incumbent President Widodo and his challenger, retired general Prabowo Subianto, claimed victory in presidential election; official results due 22 May, with private polls suggesting decisive lead for Widodo; Subianto continued to claim widespread fraud, raising concerns over contested result. Tensions heightened around general election in Papua’s Nduga regency as military pursued West Papua Liberation Army (WPLA); WPLA claimed it had killed two Indonesian soldiers early April, denied by military; military reported gun attack on election organisers and security forces in Alama district 18 April. WPLA claimed to have prevented voting in 32 districts, but military said voting not affected despite some exchanges of gunfire in Timika district. Two soldiers reported injured in ambush 24 April. Nduga local administration 3 April investigation report concluded that military committed human rights violations during crackdown that started in Dec 2018, and urged govt to withdraw. Report claimed almost 20,000 displaced by fighting, while Front Line Defenders NGO reported over 32,000; military said just over 3,500 displaced by armed group and rejected the report’s findings. Group of Papuan lawyers 12 April submitted judicial review to Constitutional Court challenging legality of Indonesia’s 1969 incorporation of Papua, saying that “Act of Free Choice” referendum was conducted in a way that “grossly violated the human rights of Papuans”.
Regular, serious clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military continued, particularly in Mrauk-U, Buthidaung and Kyauktaw townships, Rakhine state. AA ambush in Buthidaung 5 April reportedly resulted in deaths of Myanmar army captain and some 20 soldiers he was leading; AA 9 April overran police compound and nearby artillery base in Mrauk-U, reportedly killing at least a dozen police and abducting family members. Military reportedly suffered heavy losses while retaking bases and called in airstrikes by fighter jets; civilian casualties reported. Rohingya villagers also caught in crossfire; at least seven and possibly many more killed when they came under helicopter fire in southern Buthidaung 3 April, believed to be case of mistaken identity. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group also ambushed police vehicle 22 April; no deaths reported. Rakhine State govt 1 April imposed overnight curfew in urban and rural areas across five townships (Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, and Minbya). Ahead of anticipated arrival of monsoon, small number of Rohingya continued efforts to cross Bay of Bengal to Malaysia before sea conditions deteriorate. UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 2 April appointed U.S. citizen Nicholas Koumjian to head UN-established Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which is expected to start work by end of 2019 to collect evidence and prepare prosecutorial files “on the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar since 2011”. President Win Myint issued amnesties for more than 17,000 prisoners to mark Myanmar new year; only four of estimated 364 political prisoners included. Supreme Court 23 April upheld sentence of two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed for breaking Official Secrets Act in case that has attracted widespread international condemnation and concern over free speech.
Clashes between Communist New People’s Army (NPA) and security forces continued in Mindanao and in central regions as govt continued efforts to initiate local level negotiations following termination of peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), while military operations continued against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao. Speaking at campaign rally for 13 May general (not presidential) elections 13 April, President Duterte said he would create new peace panel to manage local-level negotiations with NPA. National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, established by Executive Order in Dec 2018, met for first time 15 April; Duterte ordered that cabinet member be assigned to each region to oversee peace and development efforts. Jose Maria Sison, exiled founding chair of CPP which has long rejected idea of local-level talks, described peace panel as “war panel”. Several military and suspected NPA fighters killed in clashes during month, including two NPA killed in Davao del Sur 5 April; three suspected NPA in Negros Occidental 17 April; at least six soldiers in Samar 23 April. UN Humanitarian Agency reported almost 50,000 displaced by military operations against BIFF and remnants of Maute Group in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur during last week of April. Military continued offensives against Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; several police, soldiers and suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters killed in clashes; at least three Abu Sayyaf and two hostages killed following rescue attempt off Banguingui, Simisa Island 5 April. Security forces arrested two brothers in Cagayan, northern Luzon 28 March, first arrest of suspected ISIS sympathisers outside Mindanao. As part of “normalisation” annex of Bangsamoro peace agreement, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 29 March announced it had submitted names of 12,000 fighters to be decommissioned, representing 30% of total fighters to be decommissioned. Police 4 April killed four MILF in “misencounter” in Lanao del Sur; MILF said it would investigate. Tensions increased with China over maritime disputes (see South China Sea).
South China Sea
Amid Beijing’s reported deployment of hundreds of vessels in vicinity of Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in Spratly archipelago, confrontation between Philippines and China in South China Sea (SCS)/West Philippines Sea since late March evoked unusually stern rhetoric from President Duterte’s govt. Manila reportedly filed protest with Chinese embassy 29 March noting presence of Chinese vessels, many believed to be part of China’s maritime militia, near Pag-asa, where Philippines has been refurbishing facilities and repairing airstrip since late 2018; senior official 4 April called presence of Chinese vessels “illegal”, while Duterte same day said China should “lay off the Pag-asa”, and that he would tell soldiers to prepare for “suicide mission” if China were to attack or arrest Filipinos in area. Philippines govt spokesperson 12 April invoked Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague’s 2016 ruling that China has no legal basis to claim historical rights to area encompassed by “nine-dash line”; Duterte has previously preferred to set it aside in interests of stronger ties with China. In Beijing for Belt and Road Initiative Forum 25 April, Duterte and President Xi agreed to resolve issue bilaterally. Tensions coincided with 35th annual Balikatan joint military exercises 1-12 April, which saw U.S. deploy amphibious assault ship with twenty F-35B jets near disputed Scarborough Shoal which China seized from Philippines in 2012, marking new level of U.S. assertiveness in South China Sea. Philippines FM 16 April tweeted that country would take unspecified legal action against China for violating conventions on environmental protection. Two Vietnamese coastguard ships 27 April reportedly rammed Indonesian navy patrol vessel after it attempted to intercept illegal Vietnamese fishing boat off coast of Borneo; Indonesian navy detained twelve Vietnamese fishermen following clash.
Ahead of final results of 24 March election due 9 May, ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) initiated raft of legal challenges against Future Forward Party, which came in third place with almost seven million votes on anti-junta platform, in apparent attempt to prevent it forming govt with Pheu Thai Party and five smaller parties. NCPO 3 April charged Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with “sedition” in connection to role in 2015 anti-junta protest and violating regime orders prohibiting political gatherings of five or more people; Election Commission 23 April unanimously resolved to press charge against Thanathorn for alleged violation of media shareholding rules, which could disqualify him. Insurgent violence continued in southernmost provinces. In Pattani province, motorcycle-borne bomb wounded four policemen and villager in Khok Pho district 12 April; Muslim defence volunteer killed in drive-by shooting in Kapho district 16 April; two people killed in separate attacks 25 April. In Yala province, gunmen executed two Muslim border police in mosque in Than To district 5 April; gunmen killed assistant village headman in Muang district 17 April; gunmen shot dead rubber tapper in Bannang Sata 25 April.
Riots broke out in capital Honiara 24 April after parliament appointed three-time PM Manasseh Sogavare, previously removed from office in 2017 no-confidence vote, for another term as PM following elections 3 April. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters and reportedly detained some 50 people, many in connection with looting and destruction of property.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Amid ongoing failure to form state-level govt, tensions grew over draft legislation in majority Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) to establish its own reserve police force, and murder of prominent businessman and govt critic in entity. RS Parliament 18 April adopted Draft Law on Amendments to Law on Police and Internal Affairs which would establish new reserve police force; move came despite concerns from Bosniak-Croat Federation entity, which signalled possible response with similar step. Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement, criticised RS draft law and expressed concern over “negative spiral of mistrust” undermining stability, urging RS not to proceed with legislation. Amendments also ban photos of public servants including police performing their duties, prompting concerns from media and international partners. Three main political parties’ leaders continued efforts to form new state-level govt following Oct 2018 elections, reportedly agreeing on ministries, but disagreements continued over activation of NATO Membership Action Plan to help prepare for possible future membership of alliance, which party of Bosnian Serb member of presidency Milorad Dodik opposes. Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly 8 April announced it had suspended Bosnia due to its failure to appoint new delegation. Main political parties in RS 2 April signed declaration condemning 29 March constitutional court ruling that again banned annual RS “statehood day” celebrations. Prominent Bosnian Serb businessman and critic of ruling Bosnian Serb nationalist party Slaviša Krunić shot dead in his car near his home north of RS capital Banja Luka 22 April; bodyguard and suspected attacker also killed in subsequent shoot-out. Media watchdog NGO Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index noted hostile environment for press freedom in Bosnia.
Tensions increased around early elections in Serb-majority municipalities in May, while attempt to relaunch stalled normalisation dialogue with Serbia failed. President Thaçi 8 April announced early local elections 19 May in four Serb-majority municipalities in north, where mayors resigned Nov 2018 in protest at govt’s introduction of 100% tariff on Serbian imports. Despite calling early polls a “provocation”, main Serb party Srpska Lista 10 April said it would participate in polls. Opposition Vetëvendosje party 23-24 April tried to block Central Election Commission (CEC)’s certification of Srpska Lista candidates, saying that three of them had resigned as mayors in Nov in breach of constitution, and were now running again in same municipalities. PM Haradinaj 9 April announced he had dismissed Kosovo Serb Minister of Local Govt Administration for using hate speech after he described ethnic Albanians as terrorists and accused them of fabricating crimes against them in 1998-99 war; govt 11 April moved to criminalise denial of crimes committed by Serbian forces during war. Western Balkans Summit in Berlin 29 April, aimed at relaunching stalled EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia normalisation dialogue, ended without agreement on restarting negotiations; next meeting planned for early July in Paris; President Thaçi called for U.S. to be included in dialogue. Media watchdog NGO Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index noted improvement in media freedom in country. Court ordered arrest of four out of 110 citizens (including 32 women and 74 children) returning from Syria 19 April suspected of involvement in terrorism, and placed ten women under house arrest.
First round of presidential election 21 April saw virtual tie between two leading candidates, pro-Western Stevo Pendarovski who is backed by ruling Social Democrats, and conservative Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, backed by opposition VMRO-DPMNE party; second round scheduled for 5 May. Greek PM Tsipras visited Skopje 2 April, first official visit by a Greek leader to capital since North Macedonia’s 1991 independence, for talks on improving trade and defence ties. Media watchdog NGO Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index noted improvement in media freedom in country.
In ongoing govt efforts to reform state structures and reduce budget, National Assembly 18 April approved amendments reducing number of ministries from seventeen to twelve and deputy PMs from three to two. National Security Service 18 April brought corruption charges against senior official and leading figure in April 2018 “Velvet Revolution” Davit Sanasaryan, who strongly denied any wrongdoing; PM Pashinyan expressed support for investigation, calling it proof that no one in his govt was immune to prosecution. Portuguese parliament and Italy’s Lower House both passed resolutions during month recognising Armenian genocide in Ottoman Empire at start of twentieth century.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini 4 April expressed hope that EU and Azerbaijan would conclude new framework agreement soon, intensifying debate among Azerbaijani opposition groups and observers on content of new agreement, which reportedly does not explicitly mention Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, but will state support for territorial integrity of Azerbaijan (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Civil society groups mainly expressed concerns about human rights and role of civil society; Azerbaijan govt promised to EU authorities it will release all political prisoners aside from religious activists and members of Muslim Unity Movement.
Breakaway republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia criticised late-March NATO drills in Georgia. Moscow deployed squadron of attack and transport helicopters to Abkhazia 22 April to take part in joint drills with Abkhaz forces, reportedly along with some 3,000 servicemen and over 400 pieces of hardware, including tanks, self-propelled artillery and Russian Black Sea Fleet ships.
Meeting between Azerbaijani and Armenian FMs in Moscow 15 April resulted in agreement on further measures to de-escalate tensions, mitigating negative environment created by aggressive rhetoric by both sides’ military leaderships that followed late March commitments between Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders. At Moscow talks, Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs agreed to encourage people-to-people contacts including visits by journalists, and further stabilisation of situation in conflict zone, in particular during agricultural activities including through contact with military leaders. Azerbaijani foreign ministry stated support for mutual visits by journalists, despite opposition among Azerbaijani journalists and opposition groups, particularly hardline Karabakh Liberation Committee, which declared it will prepare list of Azerbaijanis who wish to visit Armenia.
Concerns continued to grow over tensions within Ingushetia and with its neighbouring republic Chechnya over controversial Sept 2018 border delineation deal between the two republics. After late March mass protests in Ingushetia against border deal, during which reports emerged of clashes with police and some police refusing to stop protests, security forces reportedly searched homes of five Ingush activists, members of NGO Ingush Congress of National Unity, 3 April, and detained two activists. Several activists also fined or jailed early April over March rallies; eight reportedly sent to Kabardino-Balkaria regional capital Nalchik for pre-trial detention; arrests continued throughout month. Protesters planned more demonstrations, but authorities denied permits. Chechnya and Dagestan 16 April announced they had suspended ongoing negotiations over border delineation in light of unrest in Ingushetia. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) 23 April detained five suspected members of Islamic State (ISIS) in Dagestan and Chechen capitals, alleged to have been planning terrorist attacks including one involving a drone, and seized arms, ammunition and bomb components. National Antiterrorism Committee 3 April reported that police had shot dead two suspected militants in Kabardino-Balkaria who refused order to stop their car and opened fire on police. Russian Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev 19 April reported that in 2018 security services had killed 64 alleged militants and detained and convicted 285 in North Caucasus, and disrupted 37 terrorist cells. U.S. imposed travel ban on Chechen PM Muslim Khuchiyev, citing “credible information” that he “was involved in torture”; Moscow said decision reflected “further deteriorating” bilateral relations and said it would “not be left unanswered”.
Tensions emerged again with Russia after Moscow announced ban on imports of apples and pears from Belarus; President Lukashenka subsequently suggested govt may need to start repairs on pipeline that delivers Russian oil to Europe, which would suspend its use. Amid ongoing concerns over restrictions on independent media, police 9 April raided office of independent television company Belsat TV, reportedly as part of investigations into libel case.
Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky’s decisive victory in presidential run-off election prompted speculation over implications for conflict with Russia and prospects for reintegration of Donbas conflict zone in east, while Russia’s announcement of simplified passport procedures for residents of separatist-controlled areas, and parliament’s passing of Ukrainian language law, signalled immediate challenges facing president-elect. Zelensky won 73% of vote in 21 April presidential election run-off, following campaign characterised by absence of information on his policies beyond desire to resolve Donbas conflict but continue to move country toward West; and allegations by incumbent President Poroshenko that Zelensky is Russia appeaser and tool of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Immediately ramping up pressure on president-elect, Moscow 24 April announced it would simplify Russian citizenship applications for residents of non govt-controlled areas, prompting condemnation from Kyiv and international partners including U.S., Canada and EU member states. Poroshenko called move preparation “to annex Ukrainian Donbas or create a Russian enclave” and said he had appealed to UN Security Council to discuss issue; Security and Defence Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia was preparing “legal conditions” to openly use force against Ukraine with pretext of protecting Russian citizens. Parliament 25 April passed controversial law on quotas for use of Ukrainian language in news, media and print publications, and stating that “attempts to establish multilingualism on an official level” will be considered unconstitutional. Move seen partially as response to election of Russian-speaker Zelensky, who previously voiced opposition to promoting Ukrainian using “the stick method”; Zelensky promised to “review” law. Violence continued in conflict zone; casualties in period 1-29 April included: ten Ukrainian Army soldiers, some twenty separatist fighters, and one civilian. Several civilians reported wounded by shelling and explosives; one state demining worker killed and two injured near Maiorsk 9 April. Amid continued concern over govt’s flagging battle against corruption, Poroshenko 11 April appointed 38 judges to newly-established High Anti-Corruption Court, including eight whom independent experts assessed as unqualified.
UN Sec-Gen Guterres continued to push for new round of reunification talks, including in his 16 April report to UN Security Council. UN Special Envoy Jane Holl Lute 8 April met with Greek Cypriot President and Turkish Cypriot leader; Turkish Cypriot side and Ankara remain sceptical of “federal solution” and call for “new formats”. Following significant late-Feb hydrocarbon discoveries in Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Turkish Cypriot leadership 21 April announced new seismic exploration within parts of EEZ, conducted by Turkish company.
Northern Ireland (UK)
Dissident republicans shot dead journalist during rioting in Londonderry, increasing concerns over escalation of dissident violence amid tensions surrounding UK’s departure from EU and implications for border, and longstanding deadlock over Northern Ireland power-sharing govt. Following police raids searching for weapons and ammunition, dissident republicans 18 April rioted in republican neighbourhood of Creggan, Londonderry, throwing over 50 petrol bombs at police and setting two vehicles on fire; gunman shot at police, killing journalist and LGBT activist Lyra McKee who was observing riots. Police next day blamed “New IRA” group for murder and said they were treating it as terrorist incident. Leaders of six biggest Northern Irish political parties 19 April issued joint statement rejecting murder and attack on “peace and democratic processes”. “New IRA” 22 April admitted it was responsible for murder.
Security forces continued operations against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in south east Turkey and northern Iraq, while contested results for Istanbul in 31 March local elections led to increased domestic tensions, and relations with U.S. remained strained over purchase of Russian air defence systems. In south east, operations against PKK continued: four Turkish soldiers were killed in PKK attack on military base in Hakkâri 19 April. Turkish military responded with ground operations in south east and air raids into northern Iraq targeting PKK. Tensions followed 31 March local elections as ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) contested opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s narrow victory in Istanbul, alleging election irregularities. High Election Board (YSK) partial recount resulted in narrowed margin of victory for CHP; AKP and MHP also demanded re-run of Istanbul vote. In majority-Kurdish south east, AKP increased its overall vote share especially in rural areas, while pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) largely maintained or increased its votes in urban areas. YSK 10 April refused to grant mandates to HDP mayors-elect in six district municipalities in Erzurum, Van and Diyarbakır, and two town municipalities in Kars and Siirt, allowing AKP runners-up to assume mandates. In Ankara, mob 21 April attacked CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during the funeral of a Turkish soldier; police briefly detained nine people, including an AKP member who was seen punching Kılıçdaroğlu. Meeting with Russian President Putin in Moscow 8 April, President Erdoğan announced imminent delivery of Russian S-400 air defence systems, also discussing situation in northern Syria’s Idlib province and Russia-Turkey Investment Fund. This followed U.S.’s 2 April pledge to suspend transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, amid U.S. warnings that S-400s are not compatible NATO systems.
Interim President Tokayev 9 April announced early presidential elections to be held 9 June (instead of April 2020), said he would “guarantee a free and fair election”. Nur Otan party 23 April nominated Tokayev as party’s presidential candidate; country’s only registered opposition party, Nationwide Social Democratic Party, 26 April announced it will boycott polls in protest at participation of “puppet” candidates from pro-govt parties. Police arrested activists calling for fair elections during Almaty marathon 21 April; two of them jailed for fifteen days for protesting without permit. Tokayev met with Russian President Putin in Moscow 3 April, discussed cooperation including on new nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan.
Amid ongoing tensions between President Jeenbekov and his predecessor former President Atambayev, parliament 4 April approved bill preserving former presidents’ immunity from prosecution, but also stating that former presidents can be stripped of ex-president status and prosecuted if suspected of “especially serious crimes”. Following March incident around disputed segment of border with Tajikistan, State Border Service reported that Tajik man had forcibly taken eight-year-old Kyrgyz boy into Tajik territory 22 April, inflaming tensions in area.
President Rahmon and Russian President Putin 17 April agreed to continue security cooperation and joint efforts to “fight against terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and the illegal trade in weapons”. Tensions around disputed area of border with Kyrgyzstan inflamed with further incident 22 April (see Kyrgyzstan).
Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom 15 April said it had resumed imports of natural gas from Turkmenistan following three-year gap.
Latin America & Caribbean
Congress rejected President Duque’s objections to transitional justice mechanism in show of support to 2016 peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while violence between armed groups continued to cause mass displacement. Lower House 8 April rejected Duque’s objections and call for changes to Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), transitional justice mechanism created under peace deal to handle cases deriving from govt-FARC conflict, with representatives voting 110-44 against. Ruling Democratic Centre party successfully delayed vote in Senate, which is also expected to reject objections. UN Security Council 16 April gave unanimous support to SJP and asked Congress to immediately pass law outlining its working systems; U.S. voiced support for SJP at meeting, despite U.S. ambassador early April pressing MPs to approve Duque’s objections. Conflicts between armed groups including FARC dissidents and drug traffickers displaced or confined over 5,000 during month. Fighting between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, country’s main drug trafficking group) and AGC splinter group “Caparrapos” that began 22 March reportedly led to over 2,250 people fleeing their homes in Córdoba (north). In Chocó (west), fighting between AGC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group moved toward town of Bojayá, trapping some 2,800 people. Clashes between FARC dissident group Oliver Sinisterra front and local drug trafficking group the “Accountants” in Tumaco (south west) 12 April displaced some 700, while 250 people were displaced by clashes between AGC and dissident Estiven González front in Nariño 16 April (south west). ELN 12 April announced unilateral ceasefire 14-21 April, leading to drop in violence, but bombed oil pipeline in Norte de Santander (north east) 13 April. ELN also clashed with dissident Carlos Patiño front throughout April in El Plateado, Cauca (south west), leading to deaths of six fighters. Army 16 April killed one FARC dissident in clash in Guaviare (south). Army also killed civilian and former FARC fighter in Norte de Santander (north east) 22 April, leading to widespread condemnation; army general 28 April apologised for killing.
Failed uprising by opposition leadership 30 April led to clashes and further polarised political standoff, increasing fears of violent domestic or international escalation in coming days and weeks amid worsening humanitarian crisis. Opposition leader and “interim President” Juan Guaidó 30 April appealed to security forces to join “final phase” to remove President Maduro, in move govt labelled “attempted coup”. Defecting soldiers and protesters clashed with pro-govt troops around military air base, leaving scores injured; pro- and anti-govt protests took place elsewhere in capital and other cities. Security forces subdued uprising, however Guaidó reiterated calls for mass nationwide demonstrations for 1 May; Maduro promised events would “not go unpunished”, leading to concerns over further outbreaks of violence. Earlier in month, International Federation of the Red Cross 16 April began first shipment of humanitarian aid intended to assist 650,000 Venezuelans, following late March agreement with govt and opposition, who both claimed credit for arrival of aid. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock 10 April told UN Security Council 7mn people needed assistance, while some local NGOs say figure is higher; Lowcock also said 1.3mn of total 1.9mn requiring food aid are children under five; further deterioration anticipated as full impact of sanctions hits. Organization of American States 9 April voted 18-9 to recognise representative of Guaidó as ambassador, unseating Maduro’s representative. Guaidó toured west of country 13-16 April, drawing large crowds despite alleged harassment by paramilitaries and authorities. Govt’s attempts to disrupt opposition continued; govt-controlled Constituent Assembly 2 April removed Guaidó’s parliamentary immunity following Supreme Court’s call for it to be lifted on grounds he defied ban on leaving country. Following Feb nationwide electricity blackouts, Information Minister 11 April alleged leading opposition members including Guaidó planned acts of sabotage against electrical grid and banking system. Govt’s international isolation continued with U.S. and Canada imposing additional sanctions against govt figures; U.S. also imposed sanctions on companies and vessels involved in shipment of oil to Cuba, and sanctioned Central Bank.
Political tensions and manoeuvring intensified ahead of June general elections, with Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) revoking presidential candidacy of former attorney general and candidate for Movimiento Semilla party Thelma Aldana over investigations into alleged fraud and cronyism, widely believed to be politically motivated. Judge from Femicide Tribunal forbade prosecutors from approaching second presidential contender Sandra Torres, candidate of Unidad Nacional de La Esperanza (UNE), who is under investigation for illicit electoral financing in 2015, despite Constitutional Court 1 April ruling that her immunity should be lifted – prompting speculation over institutional effort to block challenges against her. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) continued to face political hostility despite high public approval; Sec Gen of Organization of American States Luis Almagro 8 April met Torres and discussed need for transparent elections with TSE working without interference from bodies such as CICIG, drawing criticism from CICIG chief Iván Velásquez.
Political tensions continued amid protests over corruption allegations and unpopular reform program. Some 5,000 demonstrators participated in anti-govt protests in capital Tegucigalpa 5 April calling for President Hernández’s resignation over allegations of graft and links to drug trafficking. Protesters 26 and 29 April staged further rallies in response to govt approval of reforms to health and education systems that may lead to mass dismissals; 29 April burnt three buildings in centre of Tegucigalpa; Congress next day suspended reforms and invited protest leaders to dialogue. Govt continued moves to bolster public security and increase capacity of Honduran Military Police. At least 30,000 Hondurans reportedly deported from U.S. and Mexico since beginning of year, with ambassador to Mexico predicting total deportations could reach up to 80,000 in 2019.
Security situation remains critical with enduring high levels of killings and widespread gang violence. National Police 27 April reported 1,006 homicides since start of year, 228 less than same period in 2018, however homicide rate rose again during April. In anti-gang operations, police early April arrested MS-13 leader accused of extortion and 117 alleged members of group. Minister of Security and civil society 8 April called on Legislative Assembly to approve law recognising internal displacement, in line with 2018 Constitutional Chamber ruling; govt has previously refused to recognise phenomenon of internal displacement resulting from criminal violence. Anti-corruption drive focussing on high-level former officials continued with Supreme Court late March approving attorney general’s request for former President Funes’ extradition from Nicaragua on corruption charges, which Nicaragua rejected, saying Funes has political asylum; Funes and former President Saca among ten Salvadorans on U.S. blacklist of corrupt officials published 4 April.
Political situation remained volatile as second dialogue attempt between govt and opposition Civic Alliance ended 3 April without reaching agreements on issues including justice and electoral calendar. Talks broke down over justice mechanisms for victims of govt repression, govt’s opposition to return of international human rights monitoring bodies to oversee implementation of possible agreement, and opposition’s desire to hold early elections. Implementation of agreements reached 29 March on release of all political prisoners and strengthening of rights also stalled; govt recognised 230 of 700 prisoners on opposition list, failed to coordinate with International Committee of the Red Cross which is supposedly overseeing prisoners’ release, and continued repressive tactics including temporarily detaining 160 people 14-21 April. Civic Alliance 23 April met with representatives of church and Organization of American States (OAS), mediators of dialogue, to discuss govt’s failure to abide by agreements. Govt 24 April announced it would not hold early elections despite OAS and opposition pressure. International condemnation of govt continued; UN Human Rights Council 22 March approved resolution condemning human rights abuses and requesting UN High Commissioner to produce report on country. U.S. 5 April convened OAS Permanent Council to discuss situation and expressed threats of further action. Amid deteriorating economic situation, U.S. 17 April imposed sanctions on recently nationalised banking regulator Bancorp and President Ortega’s son.
Amid political tensions and worsening economic situation, President Moïse confirmed Jean-Michel Lapin as permanent PM 9 April, third PM since Moïse’s election in Feb 2017. Ayiti an Aksyon party 1 April joined other opposition parties in rejecting Moïse’s invitation to national dialogue, citing Moïse’s indifference to public demands and calling for meaningful change and advances in investigation of embezzled funds from PetroCaribe (alliance giving Caribbean states access to cheap Venezuelan oil) and case of seven mercenaries arrested in Port-au-Prince in Feb, who were reportedly hired by Moïse to secure PetroCaribe funds. Gang-related insecurity remained high: clashes between armed groups in Cité Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince left some seven dead 30-31 March; police 29 April announced they had killed gang leader alias “Tije”, suspected of killing five people and injuring seven in attack in Port-au-Prince 24 April. Ahead of end of UN security and police reform mission mandate in Oct 2019, UN Under-Sec-Gen for Peace Operations 3 April told UN Security Council that UN trusts national police to manage security without international support.
Amid widespread concerns over govt’s militarisation of public security and record levels of violence, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) 11 April presented “retiring” army general Luís Rodríguez Bucio as head of new National Guard (NG), controversial main instrument of security plan, and announced NG’s core personnel will come from active army and navy groups. Controversial move drew widespread criticism and appeared to undermine Feb deal between govt and opposition defining NG as having “civilian character”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 5-9 April visited Mexico, signed memorandum with govt establishing unspecified role of UN in human rights training for NG and promised UN would monitor NG’s human rights standards. AMLO 5 April reiterated govt’s priority would be tackling root causes of violence through economic and educational policies rather than fighting crime or drug trafficking groups. Over 11,000 murders officially recorded since AMLO took office in Dec 2018, higher rate than three preceding govts. Gang-related insecurity continued with criminal groups clashing with one another over control of territories. In Veracruz state (Gulf coast) – where fighting between at least six groups over control of extortion and kidnapping markets, trafficking routes and oil-siphoning has led to over 600 homicides since Dec – lawyer and activist Abiram Hernández was assassinated in Xalapa 30 March, while armed commando attack on party in Minatitlán killed thirteen people 19 April. Alliance of criminal groups led by Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) clashed with another alliance in Parácuaro, Michoacán (centre) first week of April, displacing some 100 people, while violence continued in Guanajuato state (centre), area of competition over oil siphoning between criminal groups including CJNG and Lima Cartel. Police 22 April detained some 400 migrants from Central America near Pijijiapan town, Chiapas (south), in operation targeting migrant caravans attempting to reach U.S. border.
Middle East & North Africa
Low-level violence continued between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, new Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet took office and Israeli PM Netanyahu, after resounding win in legislative polls, began negotiations to form right-wing coalition. In Gaza, after Israel and Hamas recommitted to ceasefire and previous agreements late March, Israeli army forcibly suppressed Palestinian protests at Gaza-Israel fence area 12 April killing one protester, and in response to Palestinian shots 20 April struck Hamas target in Gaza, no casualties reported. In West Bank, Palestinian Authority (PA) PM Shtayyeh’s new cabinet – composed predominantly of members of President Abbas’s Fatah – took office 13 April. During cabinet’s first session, Abbas 15 April announced new Fatah delegation for reconciliation talks with Hamas in Cairo; FM Malki same day declared PA’s readiness to engage in peace talks with Israel if under Russian and international auspices, rather than that of U.S. Israeli settlers 3 April killed Palestinian man, after attempted stabbing; Israeli security forces 16 April arrested five men for “hostile activities”; 24 April destroyed home of teenager suspected to have carried out deadly attack against Israeli soldier in March. Palestinian prisoners 8 April launched hunger strike over disruptive technology Israel installed to prevent prisoner usage of smuggled mobile phones in prison; Israeli authorities conceded usage of public phones 15 April on condition that they supervise calls. Following 9 April Israeli legislative election, PM Netanyahu’s Likud party increased parliamentary seats from 30 to 35, strengthening Netanyahu as he prepared to begin negotiations to form right-wing coalition. U.S. Senior Advisor to President Trump Jared Kushner 17 April announced U.S. would not release Israeli-Palestinian peace plan before end of Ramadan 5 June.
President Aoun 9 April criticised U.S.’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, Israeli-occupied Syrian territories. Govt 6 April rejected U.S. “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran and allies, pointing out that Hizbollah is legitimate political party in Lebanon.
Govt continued bombardment of Idlib in north west, Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks in east, while negotiations on fate of north east after U.S. withdrawal remained stalled. In north west, govt continued bombing in southern Idlib province and rebels continued to retaliate against pro-govt forces. In Idlib province, govt shelling 3-4 April killed around 29 civilians; 18 April killed ten, including three children. Jihadist coalition Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham killed at least twelve pro-govt fighters near Aleppo city 21 April. Russia and Turkey 9 April announced start of joint patrols across demilitarised strip around de-escalation zone. Iran, Russia and Turkey held new round of talks in Nursultan, renamed capital of Kazakhstan (formerly Astana) 25-26 April, no significant outcome. In east, ISIS stepped up low-level insurgency: in Raqqa, twin bombing killed at least eight people 9 April; militants 18-19 April launched separate attacks in Homs and Deir al-Zour provinces, killing at least 35 pro-govt fighters; ISIS killed around 60 local SDF fighters in attacks throughout April. In north east, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) sought to strengthen control while U.S. retained presence on ground. U.S. remained vague on timing and extent of troop withdrawal. U.S. Special Envoy James Jeffrey visited region mid-April to advance negotiations between U.S. and Turkey on one hand and YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on other toward creation of safe zone along Turkish border in which local Arab and Kurdish forces would replace YPG. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 3 April warned of “devastating” results if Turkey took unilateral action against SDF. Facing fuel shortages, govt 15 April reduced petrol rations; PM Imad Khamis held U.S. and Egypt responsible for blocking passage of Iranian oil tankers through Suez Canal. Israel continued attacks on pro-govt infrastructure: Syrian state media 13 April reported airstrikes and damage to buildings in Hama governorate.
In mass trial 139 defendants (of which 60 outside country) convicted of working to establish “Bahraini Hizbollah” 16 April, 138 defendants to be stripped of citizenship and 69 sentenced to death. King Al Khalifa 21 April issued order to restore citizenship to 551 people previously stripped of it, many in mass trials, without giving reason.
Tehran maintained focus on strengthening regional ties particularly with Iraq as U.S. stepped up “maximum pressure” campaign toward Iran. International Atomic Energy Agency 5 April reiterated assessment that Iran was complying with terms of 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Nevertheless, U.S. designated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian security force primarily responsible for Iran’s regional policies, as Foreign Terrorist Organisation, effective 15 April; Iran promptly blacklisted U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S.’s military command covering Middle East and Central Asia, and President Rouhani 9 April approved for now mostly symbolic installation of more advanced IR-6 centrifuges in Natanz. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 22 April said U.S. would not grant any more sanctions waivers allowing countries to import Iranian oil; current waivers due to expire 2 May. Iraqi PM Mahdi in Tehran 6 April met Supreme Leader Khamenei and Rouhani. Iranian FM Zarif 16 April met Syrian President Assad in Damascus, and visited Ankara 17 April. While in New York 23-28 April Zarif proposed swap of Iranians jailed in U.S. for U.S. detainees in Iran. Iran, Russia and Turkey held new round of talks on Syria in Nursultan, renamed capital of Kazakhstan (formerly Astana) 25-26 April, no significant outcome. In response to flooding that reportedly caused 80 deaths, foreign aid included donations from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates; Pompeo 2 April expressed condolences to victims while blaming Tehran for mismanagement in urban planning and emergency preparedness; govt blamed U.S. sanctions for impeding humanitarian relief.
Govt pursued efforts to expand relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, and continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS) remnants. PM Mahdi 6 April visited Iranian President Rouhani in Tehran to discuss expansion of energy imports from Iran and boost trade. In reaction to U.S. President Trump’s 8 April decision to designate Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organisation, Shiite paramilitary groups and members of al-Fatah parliamentary coalition same day visited Iranian consulate in Najaf in show of solidarity. After Saudi delegation visited Iraq 3 April reopening consulate in Baghdad and promising $1bn grant, Mahdi 17 April visited Saudi Arabia and met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; two leaders signed thirteen agreements on trade, energy and political cooperation. PM Mahdi 10 April appointed leader of Badr Organisation and al-Fatah member Hadi al-Ameri as his Special Representative in Basra province in south, tasked with improving services. Basra Council 3 April voted to hold autonomy referendum and residents of Basra staged mass protests against federal govt 13 April. Operations against ISIS continued: in Kirkuk and Diyala provinces, counter-terrorism forces 11 April began operations in Hamrin mountains against ISIS remnants, killing twelve militants and Abu Idris, ISIS head of “general security” in Diyala. In Anbar province, security forces arrested twelve suspected terrorists. ISIS 14 April published video of execution of seven Sunni militiamen and village chiefs accused of collaboration. In north, Turkish military conducted cross-border raids against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets: in Mount Qandil 1 April and in Gara region 5 April.
Govt 27 April said Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development agreed to loan Sudan $200mn for development projects.
Govt 16 April called for enforcement of arms embargo against Libyan Field Marshal Haftar leading offensive against capital Tripoli backed by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, and called for his troops to withdraw from areas they have occupied (see Libya). Intra-Afghan dialogue between Afghan representatives and Taliban planned to take place in Doha 20-21 April postponed indefinitely 18 April amid disagreement over participation and representation (see Afghanistan).
37 citizens, including many from Shia community, executed 23 April for terrorism-related crimes, largest number of executions in one day since Jan 2016. NGO Human Rights Watch 24 April reported convictions relied on confessions extracted through torture; UK 24 April condemned “repulsive” mass executions; U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 26 April said U.S. must stop giving Saudi govt “free pass”. Yemen-based al-Qaeda affiliate 26 April promised to retaliate for executions, indicating presence of some Sunni militants among convicted. U.S. Congress 5 April passed bipartisan War Powers Resolution that would withdraw U.S. support to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, U.S. President Trump vetoed bill 16 April. Five days after Sudanese President Bashir ousted 11 April, high-level joint delegation from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) 16 April met Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Sudan, TMC praised Sudan’s “distinguished ties” with both countries; Saudi Arabia and UAE 21 April said they would give Sudan aid worth $3bn ($500mn in central bank and $2.5bn worth of food, medicine and fuel).
Fighting escalated along multiple front lines as negotiations over military redeployments around Hodeida remained stalled, increasing risk that fighting resumes there, while tensions within anti-Huthi camp could spark further conflict in south. Govt and Huthi delegates to UN-led Redeployment Coordination Committee, body tasked with implementing Hodeida agreement, agreed plan for first phase of redeployments 13 April. But both govt and Huthis said phase one will not take place until they agree on phase two redeployments and on composition of local security forces due to control of city and ports after redeployments. Violence around Hodeida continued while clashes escalated along Red Sea coast, in particular in Tuhayta and Hays districts. UK FM Hunt 26 April held meeting in London with Saudi and Emirati counterparts and U.S. and UN representatives to discuss next steps in UN-led process. Fighting intensified across much of country, including in Hajja governorate in north west along border with Saudi Arabia, and in al-Jawf governorate in north. Coalition airstrikes on capital Sanaa 10 April reportedly killed thirteen, highest number of civilian casualties in capital in over a year. Clashes between Huthis and southern fighters also intensified in al-Dalia governorate in south. Secessionists allied to Southern Transitional Council (STC), organisation working for secession of south, accused army of withdrawing from key positions and ceding ground to Huthis, exacerbating tensions between rival factions in anti-Huthi bloc. President Hadi 13 April held parliamentary session in Seyoun in east; pro-STC activists organised protests against meeting, having said they would block proposed session in Aden. Huthis also opposed what they called “illegitimate” session on grounds that it did not meet quorum; Huthis responded with elections for 24 parliamentary seats in areas they controlled. U.S. President Trump 16 April vetoed War Powers Resolution that would have withdrawn U.S. support to Saudi-led coalition, despite U.S. Congress passing bipartisan bill 5 April.
United Arab Emirates
Five days after Sudanese President Bashir ousted 11 April, high-level joint delegation from United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia 16 April met Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Sudan, TMC praised Sudan’s “distinguished ties” with both countries; UAE and Saudi Arabia 21 April said they would give Sudan aid worth $3bn ($500mn in central bank and $2.5bn worth of food, medicine and fuel). In response to launch of military offensive led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to take Libyan capital Tripoli, UAE 4 April co-signed statement with France, Italy, UK and U.S. calling for de-escalation around Tripoli.
Following President Bouteflika’s resignation early April, nationwide weekly protests called for end of military’s control of transition and continued to grow, raising risk of more violent confrontation and political instability in coming weeks. After five weeks of protests, Bouteflika resigned 2 April; leader of upper house of parliament Abdelkader Bensalah was declared interim president for three months to prepare for presidential elections. Authorities 8-11 April suppressed protests in capital Algiers in bid to regain control, using tear gas and water cannon and arresting 108; having been forced out, protesters 12 April retook Grande Poste Square. Despite increased repression, hundreds of thousands took part in Friday demonstrations 5, 12, 19 and 26 April throughout country, many shouting slogans against army Chief of General Staff Gaïd Salah and security forces. Twelve autonomous unions 12 April joined demonstrations and went on strike. 100 magistrates 13 April announced they would boycott supervision of upcoming presidential election; in Bouira city, about 100km south east of Algiers, lawyers 17 April organised march demanding end of regime. In Hassi Messaoud and Hassi R’Mel, both in centre, oil and gas workers 14 April went on strike to support protest movement. Civil society organisations and activists 13 April called for citizen committees to work toward democratic transition. Several Islamist and centre-left opposition parties 16 April jointly called for election boycott in absence of reforms, including creation of independent election commission. Authorities removed some regime figures from power: Algerian media 1 April published list of businessmen under investigation for corruption; authorities 22 April arrested Algeria’s richest man Issad Rebrab and four brothers from influential Kouninef family; head of Constitutional Council Tayeb Belaiz resigned 16 April. Ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party 30 April named 50-year-old businessman Mohamed Djemai as new leader.
Entrenching President Sisi’s authoritarian rule, referendum endorsed constitutional changes that will enable Sisi, elected in 2014, to rule until 2030 and authorities intensified repression of civil society. Following referendum 20-22 April, National Election Authority (NEA) 23 April declared 88.8% voted in favour of constitutional changes that would enable Sisi to rule until 2030 by extending his current four-year mandate by two years to 2024 and allowing him to stand for third term of six years; NEA reported turnout of 44%. Vote came after 531 of 596 MPs voted in favour of constitutional changes 17 April. Opposition bloc Civil Democratic Movement 18 April called proposed changes “assault on democracy” and urged people to vote “no”. Referendum spurred new crackdown on civil society and opposition: NGOs 15 April reported authorities had blocked estimated 34,000 internet domains, including newly-launched opposition campaign site; in east Cairo, authorities 21 April arrested lone protester for holding sign against referendum. Amid reports of bribes and coerced voting, NGO Human Rights Watch 20 April said referendum lacked legitimacy. EU 24 April urged Egypt to maintain commitments on rule of law. ISIS-Sinai Province attacks continued in north Sinai: in Sheikh Zuweid marketplace, suicide bomber 9 April killed seven, including four soldiers and one six-year-old; near provincial capital Arish, twin bombs same day killed four people.
War broke out as Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced on capital Tripoli intent on taking city from UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA), but pro-GNA forces held LNA at bay; fighting could escalate if both sides continue to mobilise and external actors strengthen Libyan allies. LNA 3 April launched advance on Tripoli from east with apparent backing of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, France and Russia taking control of surrounding countryside. By making deals with local commanders, LNA took Garyan, 80km south of Tripoli, 3-5 April and set up base there; in same period LNA took Tarhunah and ‘Aziziya south east of Tripoli, Sabratah and Sorman east of Tripoli, and reached city’s outskirts. GNA’s PM Serraj mobilised loyalist militias under banner of Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) and armed groups from Misrata. TPF by 14 April had pushed LNA out of Zahra and Suwani on Tripoli’s western outskirts; same day shot down LNA warplane; 19 April expelled LNA from ‘Aziziya and Ain Zara in south-eastern outskirts, prompting LNA to withdraw to Qasr bin Gashir and Wadi al-Rabia south of city. Artillery fire killed six civilians in Tripoli residential area 16 April, LNA and GNA blamed each other. In southern Libya, pro-GNA Southern Protection Force 18 April attacked LNA air base at Tamanhint near Sebha and withdrew. Same day, LNA crushed uprising in Garyan. World Health Organization 23 April said 264 people killed around Tripoli since start of offensive, including 21 civilians. LNA reportedly used armed drones, provided and possibly controlled by foreign backer, for precision strikes on GNA military installations in Tripoli. GNA also received some military assistance. U.S. shifted from opposition to apparent support for Haftar: Sec State Pompeo 7 April condemned LNA offensive; U.S. 18 April objected to draft UNSC resolution calling for ceasefire; President Trump reportedly had phone conversation with Haftar 15 April, reportedly praising his efforts in counter-terrorism and to protect oil fields.
Govt 17 April said first round of presidential election will take place 22 June and possible run-off vote 6 July.
Casablanca appeals court 5 April upheld sentence of 42 activists of Hirak protest movement that formed in Rif region in north in late 2016 to demand jobs and denounce state corruption and repression; court confirmed 20-year prison sentences for Hirak leader Nasser Zefzafi and three other activists for threatening state security; also confirmed other sentences ranging from one to fifteen years. Thousands demonstrated 21 April in capital Rabat to demand release of Hirak activists. Police 25 April used water cannon to disperse some one thousand teachers protesting in capital. Authorities 23 April arrested seven suspected Islamic State members in Salé, near Rabat.
Political rivalry between Islamists and anti-Islamists continued ahead of legislative and presidential elections in Oct and Nov, as escalation in neighbouring Libya raised security concerns. Govt 5 April prolonged state of emergency citing persistent threat of terrorism and said it had reinforced military along Libyan border in south east to prevent “terrorist infiltration”. President Essebsi’s Nida Tounes sought to elect central committee and representatives for Nov 2019 legislative elections, but party leadership struggle between head of parliamentary bloc Sofian Toubel and president’s son Hafedh Caïd Essebsi saw each hold their own separate congress 6-7 April; both congresses elected separate central committees. President Essebsi 6 April said he would not stand for re-election in Nov vote. After arresting member of UN panel of experts on Libya 26 March, authorities 10 April charged him with “spying for foreign parties”.
Moroccan FM Bourita 17 April reiterated that Morocco would only accept Western Sahara to have autonomy, rejecting calls by Polisario Front for referendum on independence. UN Security Council 30 April renewed mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for additional six months until 31 Oct.