Global Overview MAY 2017
May saw a new escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while in Libya deadly fighting in the south and in Tripoli dimmed prospects for reconciliation and bodes ill for June. In Egypt, the Islamic State (ISIS) orchestrated another major attack on Christians. Insurgent violence took a high toll on civilians in the Philippines and Afghanistan, and a bombing in Thailand’s deep south injured scores. Attacks on Sri Lanka’s Muslim community were a sign of rising tensions. In Africa, violence involving armed groups surged in the Central African Republic, jihadist attacks rose in Kenya, and former rebels now soldiers mutinied for the second time this year in Côte d’Ivoire. Further fragmentation of criminal organisations in Mexico fuelled violence. In a positive turn, Macedonia finally got a new government, offering a way out of the longstanding political crisis.
Trends and Outlook
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated as both sides launched attacks, and there are signs that hostilities could worsen further in June. As we warn in a new report, a deadlocked diplomatic process, deep mutual distrust between the leaders and a renewed appetite for confrontation have brought Armenia and Azerbaijan closer to war than at any point since the 1994 ceasefire. Both have been increasing their military capabilities, raising the temptation to resort to force. International mediators need to apply concerted high-level pressure on the parties to tone down their rhetoric and unlock the current paralysis in the settlement process, to avoid a large-scale conflict with the potential for significant civilian casualties.
The 2 May meeting between the head of Libya’s internationally recognised government, Faiez al-Serraj, and his major military opponent, General Khalifa Haftar, the first in over a year, suggested new communication channels were opening up, even if talk of a deal was premature. But another round of deadly attacks in the south and in the capital Tripoli severely dimmed hopes for meaningful dialogue on Libya’s future and heightened the risk of worse conflict in June. In neighbouring Egypt, ISIS continued to kill Christians and launched its first major attack in Upper Egypt which left at least 29 dead.
In the Philippines, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern island of Mindanao on 23 May after some 100 militants took over large parts of Marawi City. ISIS claimed responsibility for the assault, which followed an attempted raid on the hideout of an Abu Sayyaf group leader. Authorities reported over 100 killed, including 89 militants, and over 170,000 residents were forced to flee as the military fought to retake the city. In Thailand’s deep south, a bomb at a department store in Pattani on 9 May injured some 80 civilians. The indiscriminate attack against Malay-Muslims, claimed by the main insurgent Barisan Revolusi Nasional, represents a worrying departure from the group’s normal tactics. In Bangkok, three bombings during the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the 2014 coup, including one in an army-run hospital, undermined the government’s claim to have restored order and security. In Afghanistan, a truck bomb exploded close to Kabul’s heavily guarded diplomatic area during the morning rush hour on 31 May, killing at least 90 people.
In Kenya, as potentially violent elections loom in August, Al-Shabaab increased attacks on security forces and civilians in the north east, mostly in Mandera and Garissa counties. Jihadists carried out nine attacks from 8 to 25 May killing eighteen people. Notably, a roadside bombing hit the convoy of Mandera’s governor on 24 May killing five bodyguards. Ethnically charged livestock raiding also escalated in the drought-hit north. In the Central African Republic, violence involving armed groups including factions of the former Seleka rebel alliance and anti-balaka and Fulani militias rose in the south, east and north west, leaving at least 300 dead and an estimated 100,000 displaced. Unidentified assailants also targeted UN peacekeepers. Former rebels integrated into Côte d’Ivoire’s army who mutinied in January again left their barracks. They blocked roads and fired shots in the air in Bouaké, the capital Abidjan and six other cities until the government agreed to pay them more money.
The number of reported homicides in Mexico, already at levels unseen since the peak of 2011, continued to cause alarm, as further fragmentation of organised criminal gangs fuelled intra-cartel violence in Tamaulipas state in the north east and the Pacific Coast states of Sinaloa, Guerrero and Michoacán. Among the more than 100 average monthly killings in Sinaloa state this year, the murder of three teachers, a respected lawyer and a well-known journalist generated widespread outrage and protests.
Sri Lanka saw a sharp increase in militant Buddhist violence and intimidation against Muslims. The spike comes amid a gradual collapse of momentum for reform, which, as Crisis Group argues in a new report, has resulted in a noticeable rise in tensions – evident around commemorations of the eighth anniversary of the end of the civil war (1983-2009). To reduce the risks of social and political conflict, the unity government must put aside short-term political calculations and return to its original good governance and reconciliation agenda
In a step forward, over five months after holding elections Macedonia got a new coalition government, after President Ivanov, under increasing international pressure, finally agreed to offer the mandate to form a government to the leader of the Social Democrat SDSM party Zoran Zaev
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East African Community (EAC) regional bloc at 20 May summit asked EU to lift sanctions on Burundi so EAC could sign Economic Partnership Agreement with EU; EU ambassador to EAC said sanctions would remain as long as crisis persists. Chinese VP Li Yuanchao during 10-11 May visit agreed to provide govt $30mn budgetary support. Presidency 12 May appointed constitutional review committee; committee’s president and VP aligned to ruling party. Grenade attack 17 May in Muha commune of Bujumbura killed three members of Imbonerakure, ruling party’s youth militia. Congolese intelligence agents 17 May arrested Deutsche Welle’s Burundi correspondent for spying as he prepared to report on conditions of Burundian refugees at Kavinvara camp in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 22 May handed him over to Burundian police who released him next day.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in Far North against civilians and security forces, in particular in Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava departments bordering Nigeria. BH fighters attacked Achigachia in Mayo Tsanaga department 3 May and same day looted and burnt houses in Ndaba-Blakoldji near Kolofata in Mayo Sava department. Security forces repelled BH attack on Kessa Marine base near Fotokol in Logone-and-Chari department 6 May. BH killed two vigilantes in Mayo Moskota area, Mayo Tsanaga department 8-9 May and kidnapped two students, later found dead. Suicide bombers attacked Limani, Mora, Doublé and Kolofata, all in Mayo Sava department, killing two civilians 12-26 May. BH kidnapped four girls in Vreket, Mayo Tsanaga department 15 May and four people in Gakara and Djoudé, Mayo Sava department 25 May. BH attacked Boungour military post near Makary, Logone-and-Chari department 25 May killing soldier. Over 11,000 Nigerian refugees returned to Nigeria during month, some reportedly forced to leave by Cameroonian security forces. Anglophone minority in North West and South West regions maintained protest against perceived govt marginalisation: several hard-line groups emerged encouraging violence to enforce general strikes; to appease protestors govt 16 May launched recruitment of 80 Anglophones into National School of Administration and Magistracy.
Central African Republic
Violence involving armed groups including ex-Seleka factions and anti-balaka and Fulani militias escalated in south, east and north west, targeting civilians and UN peacekeepers; fighting left at least 300 dead and 100,000 displaced. In south, ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) and anti-balaka militants clashed in Alindao 7-9 May, at least 37 civilians killed. Clashes between ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) and anti-balaka in Nzako 10 May left several dead. Unidentified assailants 8 May ambushed UN mission (MINUSCA) convoy on Rafai-Bangassou axis near Yogofongo in south; one peacekeeper and eight attackers killed, four abducted peacekeepers found dead in following days. Assailants attacked Muslim neighbourhood Tokoyo in Bangassou in south east 12-13 May, killed one UN peacekeeper and 108 civilians. In east, ex-Seleka and anti-balaka clashed in Bria 15 May, killing at least 30 people. In north west, so-called Fulani protection militia Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R) killed a dozen people in Niem-Yelewa 2 May and occupied town 4-15 May. UN 5 May said five major international aid organisations had recalled personnel to capital Bangui and partly suspended activities until security improves. UN 11 May released $9mn for relief in provinces most affected by recent violence, warned peace process could falter if additional funding not secured. President Touadéra 5 May appointed last five judges needed to establish special criminal court tasked with judging serious human rights violations committed in CAR from 2003.
Boko Haram (BH) militants 5 May attacked army post in Kaiga Kindjiria on Lake Chad in west; fighting left nine soldiers and 40 BH dead. Following arrest and, according to NGO coalition, torture of civil society leaders Nadjo Kaina and Bertrand Sollo in April, court sentenced both activists to six-month suspended prison terms 4 May. Civil society activist Maounde Decladore went missing 5 May in Moundou in south. Govt 4 May agreed with other G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso) to create joint military force by end of 2017 to counter jihadists and organised crime and 9 May signed agreement with Niger and Mali to strengthen judicial cooperation enabling three countries to arrest, prosecute and convict each other’s nationals. Chinese VP 9 May visited oil company, pledged $9mn for food aid and said China ready to finance water and infrastructure projects.
Democratic Republic of Congo
President Kabila 9 May appointed new govt under PM Tshibala; presidential majority kept most key ministries. Kabila 12 May invited parties signatory to 31 Dec agreement to submit names for national committee charged with overseeing agreement’s implementation (CNSA); main opposition coalition Rassemblement refused and rejected new govt. Southern African Development Community (SADC) and International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) 14-16 May assessed voter registration process; electoral commission (CENI) said political impasse over governing arrangements hindering process. EU 29 May placed sanctions on nine people including current and former interior ministers and security chiefs for obstructing electoral process and human rights violations. Kamuina Nsapu insurgency continued in Kasai Central province. Alleged Kamuina Nsapu militants beheaded two chiefs in Luiza territory 6 May and allegedly killed two boys in Demba territory 11 May. 47 Kamuina Nsapu killed in clash with soldiers in Kazumba territory 19 May. Army 15 May said 390 insurgents, 39 soldiers and 85 police killed in operations in Kasai Central since March. UN 12 May estimated 1.3mn people internally displaced in Kasai Central and neighbouring provinces since Aug 2016. UN Security Council 4 May urged govt to cooperate in investigation into March killing of two UN experts in Kasai Central; govt 25 May said it opposed international investigation having carried out its own. In N Kivu province, Mai Mai Nyatura and Rwandan Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) attacked soldiers in Masisi territory 8 May, killing two. Mai Mai Nyatura and FDLR splinter group National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD) clashed 15 May, 29 people killed. Army 12 May captured Mai Mai Nyatura leader David Komayombi in Rutshuru territory, N Kivu. In Kinshasa, over 3,000 prisoners, including leader of Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) politico-religious movement, escaped 18 May; BDK assault reportedly facilitated escape, at least five attackers, one policeman and two prison workers killed. In Kongo Central, 68 prisoners allegedly escaped in Kasangulu 20 May.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein during visit 2-4 May called for “open democratic space” and reiterated request for access to areas affected by anti-govt protests.
Al-Shabaab increased attacks on security forces and civilians including local govt officials in north east, mostly in Mandera and Garissa counties, and livestock raids escalated in north. Jihadists carried out nine attacks 8-25 May killing eighteen people, notably roadside blast which hit Mandera county governor’s convoy 24 May killing five bodyguards. Police vehicle detonated landmine in Lamu county on coast 31 May, four police and one civilian killed, two other police missing. Livestock raid in Isiolo county 26 May left seven Borana herders dead. Three livestock raids in Turkana county 21 May pitting ethnic Pokot against Turkana left two dead. Pokot bandits attacked Turkana residents in Kapedo, Baringo county on border with Turkana county 27 May, killing three. Intercommunal tensions rose along boundary between Tana River and Kitui counties in south east; following farmer-herder dispute police 27 May reportedly shot 120 camels belonging to residents and torched houses at Boka wells in Besan Hergeisa, Tana River county.
Al-Shabaab continued to attack civilian and military targets in capital Mogadishu and rural areas, especially in Lower Shabelle region in south east. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab claimed car bombings 8 and 24 May that killed at least thirteen people. In Lower Shabelle, Al-Shabaab ambushed Ethiopian troops in African Union mission (AMISOM) near Leego village 1 May, and attacked Qoryoley village 14 May wounding at least two Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers. Al-Shabaab 9 May seized control of Goof Gaduud town, Bay region, overrunning local SNA base and killing at least seven soldiers. U.S. soldier killed in operation against Al-Shabaab at Bari, Lower Shabelle 40km west of Mogadishu 4 May. Govt 8 May reported death of four Al-Shabaab militants, including Lower Shabelle regional leader Moalin Osman Abdi Badil, in SNA raid in Bariire village. Unclaimed blast at checkpoint in Lower Shabelle 8 May killed at least two SNA soldiers. Unidentified gunmen assassinated prominent elder in Mogadishu 11 May. Security forces 3 May killed minister Abas Abdullahi Sheikh near presidential palace in Mogadishu, allegedly mistaking him for insurgent. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed 23 May suicide bombing at police checkpoint in Bosaso that killed three people. Somali pirates hijacked Iranian fishing vessel off Hobyo in Puntland 23 May taking crew hostage. At 11 May London Somalia Conference, President Farmajo unsuccessfully called for lifting of arms embargo; EU and UK pledged new funds to avert famine and support security sector reform.
President Kiir 9 May replaced ethnic Dinka army chief Paul Malong with ethnic Luo James Ajonga Mawut and 23 May restructured army command. Govt offensive against ethnic Shilluk and Nuer rebels under Johnson Olony, part of Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), launched late April in former Upper Nile state, forced many rebels to flee to Sudan where authorities disarmed them and treated them as refugees; fighting also caused thousands of civilians to flee including into Sudan. Thousands of Bor Dinka from Jonglei state entered neighbouring Boma state in east early May to pressure ethnic Murle to return abducted children and stolen cattle; fighting lasted almost two weeks. Kiir 22 May declared unilateral ceasefire, launched national dialogue and said Machar, in exile, not welcome back. In accordance with Sudan-S Sudan deal, govt forces late May forced Sudanese rebel faction Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) from S Sudan into Sudan, where SLM-MM fought Sudanese troops (see Sudan).
PM and First VP Bakri 11 May announced new govt; several opposition parties and armed groups including Sudan Call coalition refused to join. Communal violence rose in South Darfur state: ethnic Salamat late April reportedly stole cattle from ethnic Habbaniya leading to clashes that killed nineteen; Habbaniya attacked Salamat in At-Tys area, Buram locality 9 May, thirteen killed. Rebel faction Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) clashed with govt militia Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Jebel Marra area of Central Darfur state late April, nineteen people reportedly killed. Representatives of rebel groups SLM faction led by Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) met govt delegation in Berlin 19 May to revive peace talks, SLM-AW declined invitation. In accordance with Sudan-S Sudan deal, S Sudan troops forced SLM-MM contingent from S Sudan into Darfur late May. Govt forces clashed with it and SLM-AW splinter, SLM-Transitional Council (SLM-TC), in Eshairaya area, East Darfur state, inflicting heavy losses. Simultaneously another SLM-MM contingent crossed from southern Libya into Darfur; govt forces defeated group in Kutum, North Darfur state. Sporadic clashes continued end-month.
Following series of unclaimed killings of police and officials of ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Pwani region at coast in recent months, unidentified attackers killed former CCM official in Nyambunda 14 May and former CCM village leader in Muyui 18 May. Opposition 16 May demanded govt deploy army in Mkuranga, Kibiti and Rufiji districts in Pwani region to improve security.
Suspects in March killing of former assistant inspector general of police appeared in court 5 May and complained they had been tortured, denied sufficient food and kept in handcuffs for long periods in Nalufenya prison, Jinja; govt acknowledged abuse and said investigations ongoing.
UN and govt end month said over 25,000 refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had crossed into Lunda Norte province fleeing violence in Kasai region (see DRC); troops 21 May deployed along border. As speculation grew over President Dos Santos’s health, govt 29 May confirmed he had been in Spain for treatment but had returned home.
Armed opposition Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama 4 May extended unilateral ceasefire indefinitely. President Nyusi 6 May said talks ongoing and called for patience.
Factional tensions grew within ruling party ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF supporters opposed to party chief Saviour Kasukuwere who favours VP Mnangagwa for president tried to disrupt meeting at party’s provincial HQ in Bulawayo, clashed with other party members and stabbed and beat local officials 21 May.
Security situation in Sahel region in north remained precarious. Security forces 12 May killed Gorane Dicko, alleged member of jihadist group Ansarul Islam, between Soboulé and Pétéga, Soum province. Unidentified gunmen 13 May attacked village of Djahoye, Oudalan province, killing one civilian. Assailants killed retired police officer in Djibo 27 May, one assailant also killed. Govt 4 May agreed with other G5 Sahel countries (Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania) to create joint military force by end of 2017 to counter jihadists and organised crime. Koglweogo community defence groups clashed with residents in Tialgo, Sanguie province in centre 18 May, four koglweogo and two civilians killed. Clashes over choice of new customary chief in Bittou in east 20 May killed two.
Former rebels, now soldiers, mutinied again in major cities forcing govt to pay them off. Spokesperson for soldiers (former rebels) who mutinied in Jan 11 May apologised and dropped all financial demands; govt had given each mutineer FCFA5mn of FCFA12mn it had promised (about $8,300 of $20,000). However spokesperson’s announcement triggered four more days of mutinies by dissenting soldiers: soldiers blocked roads and fired shots in air in Bouaké in centre, capital Abidjan in south and six other cities. Mutineers 14 May violently broke up demonstration against them in Bouaké, injuring six civilians. Mutineers and govt 15 May reached deal, reportedly that mutineers would each receive another FCFA5mn (about $8,300) immediately and FCFA2mn (about $3,400) end of June. Govt 17 May said four people died during mutinies. Weapons cache, to which mutineers had access, found in house of director of protocol of assembly speaker and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro late May. Security forces clashed with demobilised former rebels protesting in Bouaké 23 May to demand FCFA18mn each (about $30,000), four protestors killed. Govt early May said country will contribute 150 combat troops to UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for first time.
Justice minister 22 May said Jammeh stole at least $50mn from state. Court order same day froze 88 bank accounts in Jammeh’s or his associates’ names, seized 131 properties and placed temporary hold on fourteen companies linked to him.
President Vaz in Liberia 1 May asked ECOWAS chairperson and Liberian President Sirleaf for greater involvement of regional bloc in efforts to resolve political crisis. ECOWAS 9 May started withdrawing its 500-strong peacekeeping mission (ECOMIB), reportedly as part of sanctions it threatened in April if ruling coalition and opposition failed to make progress on implementation of Oct 2016 Conakry agreement. Vaz 19 May said he would only dissolve PM Embalo’s govt if parliament, which has not sat for one year, voted against its program. Seven political parties same day accused Vaz of breaking terms of Oct 2016 Conakry agreement. About 2,000 members of civil society organisations in capital Bissau demanded Vaz step down to resolve political crisis 27 May.
No progress made in implementation of peace agreement as intercommunal, jihadist and criminal violence persisted. Fulani Ganda Izo militia and Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA), both members of pro-national unity Platform coalition, clashed in Timbuktu region 2 May, reportedly over cattle rustling; five Ganda Izo and one GATIA fighter killed. Attacks continued against govt forces (FAMA) and UN peacekeepers (MINUSMA): gunmen 2 May ambushed FAMA convoy on Nampala-Dogoffri axis, Ségou region, killing nine soldiers; attack reportedly led by Ba Moussa of jihadist coalition Group to Defend Islam and Muslims (GSIM). Group 3 May fired rockets on MINUSMA camp in Timbuktu city, killing peacekeeper. Armed robberies reported in Timbuktu, Ansongo, Gao and Kidal cities and on main roads. Four members of Malian Red Cross kidnapped and released in Mopti region 15 May. In Mopti region in centre, suspected jihadists 24 May burned down school in Ndodjiga village and unidentified gunmen 28 May killed local official in Mondoro town. Govt 4 May agreed with other G5 Sahel countries (Niger, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso) to create joint military force by end of 2017 to counter jihadists and organised crime and 9 May agreed with Chad and Niger to strengthen judicial cooperation in fight against terrorism and cross-border crime enabling three countries to arrest, prosecute and convict each other’s nationals.
Jihadist violence emanating from Mali continued in west and armed violence continued in Diffa region in south east. Unidentified assailants 11 May attacked police station in Ayerou, Tillaberi region near Mali border, stole weapons and five vehicles, no casualties reported. Govt 4 May agreed with other G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso) to create joint military force by end of 2017 to counter jihadists and organised crime and 9 May signed agreement with Chad and Mali to strengthen judicial cooperation in fight against terrorism and cross-border crime enabling three countries to arrest, prosecute and convict each other’s nationals. Ethnic Kanuri trader abducted mid-May near Diffa and mediator in charge of negotiating surrender of BH members killed mid-May in Diffa region. Security forces 10 May in Niamey dispersed civil society protest which had been banned on grounds of public order. Unidentified assailants 27 May attacked police station in Tillaberi region in south west near border with Burkina Faso, killing two police and one Ivorian civilian. Civil society activist Abdourahmane Insar, who called for protests against alleged govt corruption, arrested in Agadez in north for “incitement to violence” 13 May. Opposition politician Amadou Djibo arrested 15 May for comments at opposition meeting critical of govt. Civil society representative Ali Idrissa briefly detained 20 and 22 May for involvement in alleged coup plot.
Boko Haram (BH) attacks and counter-insurgency continued in north east and violence involving herders left over 70 dead in four states. BH in Borno state killed eleven farmers in Amarwa village 13 May; killed four displaced people outside camp in Maiduguri 19 May; hijacked aid lorry going to Damboa 26 May; beheaded five people near Nguro 28 May. Also in Borno state suicide bombers 15 May killed two in Shuwari Buri community; 17 May wounded two soldiers at military checkpoint in Konduga area; killed themselves and, in second attack, soldier at University of Maiduguri 18-19 May. BH commander 12 May said group would continue bombings including in Abuja. UN 16 May warned that Abubakar Shekau’s BH faction was regrouping in Sambisa forest, Borno state; Taraba state governor 18 May said insurgents from Sambisa forest were resettling in Suntai Daaji forest, Taraba state. Air force said it destroyed BH logistics base on edge of Sambisa forest, Borno state 17 May. BH 6 May released 82 of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in Chibok, Borno state in April 2014 in return for govt’s release of five commanders. Violence involving herders continued including: 21 people killed 7-10 May in clashes between herders and villagers in three areas in Benue state; four policemen killed 9 May in herders’ ambush in Ethiope East area, Delta state; 32 killed 14-15 May in clashes between herders and villagers in Niger state; twelve killed and 15,000 forced to flee 14-15 May in Taraba state. Gunmen 25 May seized six students in Epe, Lagos state and demanded $2.6mn ransom; gunfight with police rescuers next day left twenty gunmen dead. President Buhari flew back to UK for further medical treatment 7 May without indicating return date. Army chief 17 May said some politicians had approached soldiers for “political reasons” sparking rumours of coup plot. Major cities in SE shut down 30 May as Biafra separatists ordered sit-at-home protest to mark 50 years after Biafra secessionist attempt.
Media reported ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang being forced to submit DNA samples during mandatory health checks, prompting concerns from human rights groups. Uighur students studying abroad reportedly forced by regional govt to return to hometowns by 20 May, or face threat of their families being detained. Amid concerns over ethnic Uighurs travelling to Syria via Turkey to fight alongside Islamist militants, Chinese President Xi mid-month told Turkish President Erdoğan they should deepen counter-terrorism cooperation. Media 4 May reported Communist Party’s United Front Work Department created new bureau to oversee Xinjiang, indicating increase in Party concern and control of restive region.
Head of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris 17 May paid first visit to new Japanese radar station on edge of East China Sea (ECS), 150km south of disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands; Beijing expressed strong concerns. U.S. Navy conducted two simultaneous bilateral exercises with Korean and Japanese naval forces 25-26 April in first such peacetime deployment under new expanded security legislation, Japan sent helicopter destroyer to escort U.S. supply ship transiting its waters. China sent four coast guard vessels through territorial waters around Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands 30 April-8 May; repeating visit 18 May, China deployed drone over islands for first time, prompting Japan to scramble F-15 fighter jets. Japan’s coast guard said this was thirteenth Chinese intrusion in contested waters in 2017, compared with 30 in total in 2016. Tokyo lodged protests, accused China of “escalating the situation unilaterally”. Two Chinese SU-30 fighter jets 17 May made what U.S. Air Force called “unprofessional” intercept of U.S. surveillance aircraft tasked with detecting radiation over seas between China and North Korea. U.S. said it was discussing incident via diplomatic and military channels under bilateral military maritime consultative agreement. China’s defence ministry denied encounter was problematic, blamed recurrent U.S. reconnaissance near its territory.
Tensions between U.S. and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remain high as DPRK conducted three further missile tests, including two developmental designs, one solid-fuel, ground-to-ground Pukguksong-2 21 May, and a short-range ballistic missile 14 May, which travelled over 700km before landing in international waters south of Vladivostok; and ageing Scud-C missile 29 May, likely launched for operational reasons. China 10 May made rare high-profile announcement of missile test of its own, which Chinese analysts said conveyed Beijing’s opposition to controversial U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system deployed in South Korea (ROK). U.S. 30 May conducted successful anti-inter-continental ballistic missile test. In South Korea, Moon Jae-in, who favours improving inter-Korean relations, won 9 May presidential election with 41% of vote; China immediately issued invitation to South Korea to attend Belt and Road summit, possibly indicating desire to improve relations. Forum also brought South and North Korean delegations together for impromptu meeting on sidelines; ROK delegation reportedly delivered criticism of DPRK missile launch but also said it sensed desire for talks from DPRK side. U.S. delegation issued objection to DPRK’s presence. U.S. 16 May said it believed it could persuade China to impose new UN sanctions on DPRK; country’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated discussions on new resolution underway, Washington would target and “call out” countries supporting DPRK. Moon 17 May warned there was “high possibility” of conflict with DPRK, his govt would pursue two-track policy of sanctions and dialogue. Also said he has selected special envoys to travel to ROK’s partners to improve relations; envoy in Beijing 18 May met with President Xi, who said China is ready to work with ROK to return bilateral ties to normal. Japanese PM Abe meeting with China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi 31 May said wants to work with China to resolve DPRK crisis peacefully.
President Tsai mid-month reportedly said she needs more give and take from Beijing to rein in pro-independence hardliners in Taiwan; China responded blaming Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party for strained ties. Taiwanese Coast Guard 6 May detained several Chinese fishermen and accused them of trespassing in Taiwanese waters off SE coast; China demanded their release. After backtracking on questioning “One-China” policy, new U.S. administration appears to have delayed plans to sell $1bn package of weapons to Taipei. Chinese authorities arrested Taiwanese human rights activist Li Ming-che and charged him with subversion in Hunan province 26 May.
Vehicle bomb attack close to German embassy in Kabul 31 May killed over 90, mostly civilians, and injured hundreds; Taliban said it was not responsible. Other attacks in Kabul during month included eight civilians killed in Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K)-claimed suicide bombing targeting U.S. military convoy 3 May. Taliban attacks included: 1 May attack on security forces in Ghormach district, Faryab province (north), killing five police; 21 May attack on police checkpoints in Zabul province (south), killing at least 25; 27 May suicide bombing in Khost province (east) killing over a dozen. Authorities in Badghis province (north west) reported 22 insurgents, six security forces and eight civilians killed in fighting in Qadis district 27 May. In Nangarhar province (east), IS-K 17 May stormed state TV offices in Jalalabad, killing at least six including two police; authorities reported fifteen IS-K militants and six civilians killed in clashes in Achin district 26 May; govt claimed 34 IS-K militants killed in air raids 7-8 May; officials 8 May confirmed IS-K head Sheikh Abdul Hasib killed during 27 April raid. Tensions with Pakistan escalated as twelve Afghan and Pakistani civilians were killed and scores wounded in 5 May clash with Pakistani forces along disputed stretch of border, after Pakistani military escorted census team into two villages claimed by both countries; accounts of military casualties on both sides unconfirmed and heavily disputed. Islamabad 27 May reopened Chaman border crossing on humanitarian grounds. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of insurgent group Hizb-e-Islami with whom govt signed peace deal in Sept 2016, resurfaced in public after late April return from exile, met President Ghani in Kabul 4 May accompanied by hundreds of heavily-armed guards; urged Taliban to join peace process and offered to mediate with govt. Opposition MPs criticised govt’s decision to vet 3,500 Hizbul-e-Islami fighters for inclusion in security forces. U.S. 24 May reported its warplanes had dropped more weapons on Afghanistan in April than any other month since 2012.
Counter-terrorism raids continued, including raid in Jhenaidah district in SW which ended 8 May with two militants dead, reportedly from faction of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh group (New JMB), which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS). In Rajshahi (north west), fireman hacked to death by suspected New JMB militants during 12 May raid in which five militants, including two women, detonated suicide devices. Police chief 13 May reported 65 militants killed in fifteen recent raids. Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) 26 April claimed their Bangladesh chief killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Police 2 May reported arrest of IT chief of Ansarullah Bangla Team, blamed for killings of secular bloggers and activists. Govt 25 April approved plan to establish 560 mosques around country with $1bn Saudi Arabian funding, provoking concerns among secular activists and minorities, who see project as another move to appease Islamist groups ahead of 2019 general elections; in another key concession to Islamist hardliners, govt 26 May removed Lady Justice statue outside Supreme Court, target of large protests by Hefazat-e-Islam coalition. Cleric of minority Ahmadi mosque hacked to death 8 May by several men, one detained by passers-by while trying to escape. Police 20 May raided office of opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia; BNP announced protests but authorities denied permission. BNP denounced instruction issued by foreign ministry 17 May for foreign missions to monitor and report on activities of Bangladeshi journalists abroad. Court 17 May sentenced 23 people including senior BNP figure to death for 2002 killing of four activists of ruling Awami League party.
Security forces 17 May reported they killed at least fifteen Maoist rebels in clashes in Bastar division, Chhattisgarh state mid-month; one member of security forces also reported killed in clashes. Police early month reported they had arrested nineteen suspected Maoists in Sukma district, nine of them allegedly involved in deadly 24 April attack on security forces. Home Minister Rajnath Singh 8 May said India must step up campaign against Maoists and continue development projects in affected areas.
Exchanges of fire along the Line of Control (LoC) left at least six civilians dead 11 and 13 May. India 1 May accused Pakistani soldiers of killing and mutilating two Indian soldiers as they patrolled LoC, Pakistan denied its forces responsible; Indian vice army chief next day said India would respond at “time and place of our choosing”. Tensions in Indian-administered Kashmir continued: security forces 2 May carried out large-scale anti-militancy operation; in villages of Sug and Tarkwangan, protesters threw stones at security forces. Anti-India protesters and security forces clashed in Srinagar 9 and 12 May, Shopian district 12 May and Pulwama town 15 May. In Kulgam district, militants 6 May killed policeman in ambush, three civilians also dead; suspected militants 7 May killed five police and two civilians as they ambushed bank van carrying cash. Authorities 1 May extended house arrest of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) leader and alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks Hafiz Saeed. Hizbul Mujahideen head Zakir Musa 13 May quit insurgent group and declared support for al-Qaeda. India 8 May initiated proceedings against Pakistan at International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing it of violating Vienna Convention by denying consular access to alleged spy Kulbhushan Yadav, currently sentenced to death. ICJ 18 May ordered Pakistan to delay execution until India’s case is examined. Islamabad repeated accusation that India sponsors militant attacks in Balochistan (see Pakistan).
Initial phase of first local elections in twenty years held successfully and paved way for PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s resignation; second phase remains uncertain with dissenting Madhesi parties’ grievances still unaddressed. First of two phase elections held 14 May across three provinces, encompassing 34 of 75 districts; opposition UML party won highest number of mayoral seats; ruling Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) came second and third in seat tally. PM Dahal resigned 24 May in keeping with agreement to hand over govt leadership to NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba; Dahal continuing as caretaker PM until new govt formed. Govt attempting to bring Madhesi parties on board; 18 May withdrew cases filed against Madhesi and Tharu individuals involved in 2015 protests against new constitution; 22 May proposed to increase number of local units in southern plains – Supreme Court later stayed decision; 29 May postponed second phase of polls – to be conducted across four remaining provinces and 41 districts – from 14 to 23 June. Postponement followed dissenting Madhesi parties’ 26 May announcement to boycott elections and launch fresh protests. Ruling coalition 27 May decided to withdraw 30 April impeachment motion filed against Chief Justice Sushila Karki.
In Balochistan, Islamic State (ISIS) claimed 12 May bomb that killed at least 25 and wounded 37 in Mastung town; attack targeted Senate Deputy Chairman and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur) leader Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, who was lightly injured. Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) gunmen 13 May opened fire on road construction workers in Gwadar district, killing at least ten, mostly migrants from Sindh province. Defence minister 14 May accused India and other “anti-Pakistan forces” of sponsoring Mastung and Gwadar attacks. Iran blamed Pakistani govt for 26 April killing of at least ten Iranian border guards in attack near border crossing in Balochistan, warned of cross-border action if Pakistan doesn’t crack down on militant groups responsible; Pakistan expressed concern over remarks. Interior ministry late April blocked conditions sought by Sindh provincial govt on extending paramilitary Rangers’ mandate in Karachi, arguing powers could not be restricted or modified from those in Anti-Terrorism Act; Rangers’ mandate extended 29 April. Security forces clashed with Afghan military as census team entered villages along disputed stretch of Pakistan-Afghanistan border near Balochistan, with at least twelve Pakistani and Afghan civilians dead and scores wounded. Govt launched fresh crackdown on social media and online activism: 12 May warned television channels against airing “unconfirmed news or analysis” related to military-govt relations; interior minister 14 may called for Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take “immediate action against all those dishonouring the Pakistani Army” on social media; FIA subsequently arrested six including ruling and opposition party activists.
New wave of militant Buddhist campaign of violence and intimidation against Muslims, which began in April, intensified, with at least a dozen violent arson attacks and vandalism against mosques and businesses; PM and president 23 May promised action to curb violence; law and order minister 24 May criticised police for failure to make arrests as leader of main militant group, Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) went into hiding. Spike in attacks comes amid gradual collapse of momentum for reform and slow rise in resulting tensions. Tensions also evident around eighth anniversary commemorations of end of civil war 18/19 May, which saw starkly divergent events in Tamil north and east and Sinhala-majority south. Speaking to military and political leaders at formal “remembrance day” ceremony, President Sirisena promised no reduction in size or strength of military; commemorations in north, some framed as memorials to genocide, closely watched by police and intelligence services; event in Mullaitivu district at location of final battles forced to relocate, with Catholic priest organiser questioned by police for possible violation of anti-terrorist law. European Commission 16 May announced Sri Lanka had regained GSP+ tariff preferences despite govt failing to finalise new rights-compliant counter-terrorism legislation; new trade regime, which EU estimates is worth €300mn per year, came into effect 19 May. Cabinet reshuffle 22 May saw pro-reform foreign minister take over finance and media ministries, with former finance minister moving to foreign ministry. Cabinet 2 May approved long-delayed national reconciliation policy, published 9 May, which endorsed principle of “power-sharing as the means of reaching a political settlement ... [to address] the grievances and aspirations of all communities”. Late May rains brought major flooding to south west of island, with half a million people affected, more than 200 killed; govt criticised for lack of preparedness and disjointed relief efforts.
Jakarta court 8 May found Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama guilty of blasphemy, sentenced him to two years’ prison; follows his April loss in re-election bid. Observers see developments as sign of ascendance of conservative Muslim groups and mainstream politicians’ willingness to use religion for political ends. President Widodo known as “Jokowi” 8 May ordered dissolution of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which advocates for reestablishment of Islamic caliphate and Sharia law; Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry said HTI’s activities contravene Indonesia’s constitution and Pancasila (pluralistic state ideology). Decision reportedly supported by mainstream Muslim organisations and some rights groups. HTI 23 May said group had employed legal expert and 1,000 advocates to counter move. Twin bomb attacks hit Jakarta bus terminal 24 May, killing three police officers and wounding at least ten; investigation into two suspected suicide bombers’ Islamic State (ISIS) links underway. Jokowi and Philippines President Duterte late April agreed to set up joint forum on counter-terrorism and expand intelligence sharing to curb movement of ISIS supporters in region. Jokowi late May attended Arab Islamic American Summit Saudi Arabia, where 55 leaders from Muslim-majority countries and U.S. President Trump agreed on new commitments to combat global terrorism.
Police 3 May announced arrests of four men and two women with Islamic State (ISIS) links in Kelantan, Pahang, Malacca, Johor and Penang; two other men also detained, suspected of smuggling arms from southern Thailand; six men suspected of ISIS links arrested in four states 23-26 May. Authorities 9 May confirmed Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jadi, Malaysia’s most-wanted ISIS member who claimed June 2016 bombing in Kuala Lumpur, killed in Syria in drone attack. Media 25 May reported two Malaysians were among thirteen ISIS militants killed in Marawi City in late May gunfights between Philippine military and ISIS-linked Maute Group (see Philippines).
Delayed Panglong-21 Peace Conference held 24-29 May, with broader participation than expected after China brokered last-minute deal to fly seven armed groups from NE to Naypyitaw; these groups attended opening segment, also met with Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials, but did not participate in conference discussions. Conference agreed 37 “principles” including some governing future federal arrangement, although with deep divisions over some points. Sporadic clashes ongoing between govt forces and Ta’ang National Liberation Army troops in N Shan state’s Namkhan township since late-April, as well as with Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in Kokang region. Tensions between govt forces and Kachin Independence Organisation troops also reportedly high in jade mining area Hpakant in Kachin state 19 May. Govt 13 May announced discovery of bodies of five men – two “foreigners” and three local Muslim residents, including two Islamic leaders – buried in Buthidaung township in N Rakhine state; bomb-making materials also found 7 May. Authorities claim they were killed, and several injured, in 4 May explosion during IED training session being taught by the foreigners, reportedly Pakistani. UN 30 May appointed three experts to fact-finding mission into human rights in Myanmar, including Rohingya crackdown, mandated by Human Rights Council in March; govt reiterated its rejection of move. Yangon court 28 April began hearings in case against seven nationalists including three monks for holding unauthorised anti-Rohingya demonstration outside U.S. embassy in 2016; after hearing, some 50 nationalists forced closure of four nearby madrassas; police negotiated padlocking of the schools in effort to calm protesters. Following 9 May court hearing on related case, group of some 50 nationalists and monks went to nearby township with large Muslim population demanding authorities search house accused of harbouring illegal Rohingya; none were found and police fired warning shots to restore control. Arrest warrants issued for seven nationalist demonstrators, including two monks, for inciting violence. Kofi Annan-led advisory commission for Rakhine state held further round of consultations 8-16 May, in Yangon, Sittwe and Naypyitaw.
President Duterte 23 May declared martial law in Mindanao after some 100 Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group militants took over large parts of Marawi City, capturing Christians, destroying buildings and freeing prisoners. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for attack, which followed attempted raid on hideout of ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon. Over 170,000 individuals forced to flee Marawi fighting as military fought to retake city using aerial strikes; authorities 30 May reported 89 militants, 21 govt forces and nineteen civilians killed in fighting. Duterte said martial law could be extended to entire country if needed. Earlier, air and ground assaults in Maguindanao’s Datu Salibo town 5-11 May reportedly killed 31 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) members and forced some 24,000 residents to flee. Twenty suspected militants killed in anti-Abu Sayyaf raid in Basilan 11 May. Military 9 May reported at least eight foreign terrorists operating in Lanao Del Sur, including from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Abu Sayyaf 25 May ambushed soldiers in Patikul, Sulu, killing one. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) 25 May ordered New People’s Army (NPA) carry out tactical offensives nationwide and recruit more fighters in response to Duterte’s proclamation of martial law, leading to breakdown of fifth round of peace talks between govt and CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front, scheduled for 27 May-1 June in the Netherlands. Bangsamoro Transition Commission 15-25 May conducted consultations across Mindanao to finalise draft basic law to submit to president’s office first week of June for review. Bangsamoro Coordination Forum including Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members met in Saudi Arabia 7-8 May, agreed that any attempt by Philippines Congress to draft a basic law not compliant with 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro would be unacceptable. Court 21 May granted MNLF leader Nur Misuari liberty from being served arrest warrants for six months, enabling his free movement and participation in negotiations. Misuari 30 May pledged 5,000 MNLF fighters to assist govt in Marawi; MILF agreed to set up humanitarian corridor for civilians.
South China Sea
China and ASEAN members 18 May finally agreed framework for Code of Conduct (CoC) to govern maritime relations in South China Sea (SCS); framework will form basis for foreign ministers’ discussions in July. In disputed Spratly Islands, American destroyer U.S.S. Dewey 24 May sailed within twelve nautical miles of China-controlled Mischief Reef; media described move as first freedom of navigation operation under President Trump; China condemned U.S. manoeuvers. U.S. said Chinese military jet 25 May made “unsafe” intercept of U.S. P-3 Orion surveillance plane SE of Hong Kong; China blamed U.S.. Philippines military 10 May reported increasing Chinese military and fishing vessels spotted near or within its waters. Chinese state media 16 May reported anti-frogman rocket launchers had been installed on disputed Fiery Cross Reef. Philippines President Duterte and Chinese President Xi met in Beijing 15 May, signed economic and technical cooperation agreements; Duterte 19 May said Xi threatened to “go to war” if Philippines drills for oil in disputed waters. China and Philippines 19 May held first meeting under new Bilateral Consultation Mechanism: agreed to identify confidence-building measures and “mutually acceptable approaches” to resolve SCS disputes. Chinese warships made first port call in Philippines since 2010 in Mindanao, where Duterte visited them 1 May. Philippines began construction on disputed island Thitu/Pag-Asa to repair airstrip and build infrastructure; China lodged protest. Month saw further indications of Philippines tilt away from West: defence minister 15 May said Philippines forced to turn to China and Russia for arms supplies due to U.S. conditions; Philippines 17 May announced it would no longer accept EU development assistance. Annual U.S.-Philippines military exercises ran 8-19 May. Chinese and Vietnamese presidents meeting in Beijing 11 May reached bilateral agreement on discussing competing maritime claims. Indonesian President Widodo 19 May observed military drill around resource-rich Natuna Islands, partly claimed by China’s nine-dash line.
Vehicle-borne IED exploded at shopping centre in Pattani 9 May, wounding around 80 civilians; smaller device exploded nearby minutes earlier; attack was first car bomb of 2017, and first to indiscriminately target Malay-Muslim civilians. Police 11 May found bound and beaten body of vehicle’s owner in Pattani’s Nong Chik district. Three bombings in Bangkok in weeks leading up to three-year anniversary of 2014 coup 22 May indicated continuing political discord: small device on Ratchadamneon Avenue injured two 5 April; 15 May bombing in front of National Theatre injured two; bomb exploded inside army-run Bangkok hospital 22 May, in room named after deputy PM and former army chief Pravit Wongsuwan, wounding 25; authorities said bombings were work of same group trying to discredit ruling National Council for Peace and Order. Large pipe bomb found near Bangkok subway station 30 May. Several arrests and prosecutions for lèse-majesté, including six arrests 29 April and five arrests 19 May in NE province Khon Kaen; UN regional human rights office expressed concern over “sharp increase” in use of law since 2014 coup. Govt continued efforts to censor online content deemed to violate lèse-majesté law, threatened Facebook with criminal charges over offending web pages.
Europe & Central Asia
President Thaci 10 May dissolved parliament and called for snap elections after coalition govt lost confidence vote, called by opposition NISMA party which accused govt of failing to meet campaign pledges and creating public mistrust; elections set for 11 June. Confidence vote and snap elections forced further postponement of parliamentary vote on controversial border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, which needs to be ratified to proceed with EU visa liberalisation, and which has been focal point of opposition criticism; also forces suspension of EU-backed normalisation talks with Serbia.
President Ivanov 17 May offered mandate to form new govt to leader of Social Democrat SDSM party Zoran Zaev, following five months without govt after Dec 2016 elections. Ivanov, who had previously withheld mandate from Zaev despite his majority in parliament, citing Zaev’s acceptance of conditions set by ethnic Albanian parties, said “obstacles” for awarding mandate for new govt had been removed; Zaev reiterated commitment to “guarantee protection of unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Followed increasing international pressure on Ivanov to offer mandate as route out of political crisis, particularly following protesters’ violent storming of parliament 27 April after it elected new ethnic Albanian speaker. PM-designate Zaev 28 May unveiled new cabinet, including seventeen ministers from SDSM, six from main ethnic Albanian party Democratic Union for Integration, and two from Alliance for Albanians; parliament approved new coalition govt 31 May. Special Prosecution 22 May launched investigations into new corruption probes, including two involving former PM Gruevski.
Opening first session of new parliament 18 May, President Sargsyan called for more reforms in economy and social policy. Govt formally reappointed 25 May, with PM Karapetyan and most of cabinet keeping positions; some ministerial positions went to representatives of Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun political party, which 11 May signed alliance agreement with ruling Republican party.
Opposition Popular Front Party (AXCP) 25 May said its deputy leader had been detained at border checkpoint while returning from Georgia. Qazax court 23 May jailed independent journalist Nicat Amiraslanov for 30 days for resisting police; Amiraslanov’s supporters said sentence was retaliation for his reporting, Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities to “cease harassing and jailing critical reporters”. EU criticised govt’s closure early May of five online media sites including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. U.S. called for investigation into late April death in custody of blogger Mehman Qalandarov.
De facto Abkhazia 18 May signed controversial agreement on police cooperation with Russia, establishing new body with around dozen Russian law-enforcement officials in de facto republic on permanent basis to cooperate with and in some cases supervise work of Abkhaz colleagues: head and deputy to be jointly appointed by Russia and de facto Abkhazia. Responding to widespread criticism of agreement in Abkhazia, police officials argued they would not have to delegate any responsibilities to Russia, deal would help fight organised crime and improve quality of investigations. Political party representatives attended sometimes heated meetings across country during month to debate constitutional amendments proposed by ruling Georgian Dream party, including abolishment of direct vote in election of president and changes to electoral system; changes strongly opposed by all opposition parties, president and most civil society. Turkish PM and seven ministers 24 May visited Tbilisi to discuss closer bilateral cooperation. Georgian, Azerbaijani and Turkish defence ministers met in Tbilisi 23 May to discuss joint military exercises and closer security cooperation. Amnesty International 28 May called on govt not to extradite former manager of Turkish school in Georgia aligned with Gülen movement.
New wave of escalation developed in conflict zone with both sides launching deliberate attacks mid-month. For first time ever, Azerbaijan 15 May used self-gilded missiles to destroy Armenian air-defence missile systems in southern section of LoC. Armenian side 16-17 May responded with attack on Azerbaijani military barracks in central section of the front line, most sensitive area of LoC due to close proximity to densely populated Azerbaijani villages. Both sides released detailed videos of attacks; no casualties reported. OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs responded swiftly with pacifying statement on developments; Armenian side interpreted statement as supporting its purpose for attack and blaming Azerbaijan for starting escalation, while Azerbaijani side said statement did not use right terminology and did not reflect Azerbaijan’s right to destroy enemy’s military equipment on its territory. Month saw overall increase in number of incidents with at least four Armenian soldiers reported killed 14, 17, 20 and 26 May, and car belonging to Armenian TV-channel attacked at LoC 10 May; both sides denied each other’s accusations of provocations. Armenia and Azerbaijan foreign ministers meeting in Moscow 28 May agreed to increase number of OSCE monitors observing conflict to seven; no agreement on monitors’ mandate and area of operation. Azerbaijan 4 May vetoed extension of mandate for OSCE mission to Armenia, saying one of its projects had helped increase Armenia’s ability to demine lands inside NK conflict zone; OSCE Yerevan office now scheduled to close 31 Aug. Addressing Armenian parliament 18 May, President Sargsyan reiterated that NK conflict could be resolved only if local Armenian population able to enjoy a level of sovereignty; also said Azerbaijan not the only party interested in settlement of conflict. Speaking on Republic Day 28 May, President Aliyev reiterated NK conflict could be resolved only if breakaway region returns to Baku’s direct control and all NK-based Armenian military are withdrawn from area.
Several killed in clashes between police and armed assailants during month: man killed after opening fire on police officers during traffic check in Dagestan 7 May; attack on traffic police post in Ingushetia’s Malgobek 12 May left one officer wounded, two gunmen killed, one identified as member of armed gang; unidentified shooter opened fire 21 May on two relatives of gunman from 12 May attack, both hospitalised with injuries. In Dagestan, routine vehicle inspection by police turned into shootout 14 May; suspected militant killed, later identified as member of “Makhachkala” insurgency group. Drive-by assassination attempt in Ingushetia 29 April reportedly targeted employee of Ministry of Emergency Services, who was injured, and brother of suspected shooter from 8 April attack on traffic police. Counter-terrorism operation in Dagestan’s Buynaksk region 18 May led to exchange of fire between militants and officers; four suspected militants killed including leader of “Kadar” insurgency group; weapons, ammunition and explosives found on premises. Suspected militant detained in Dagestan 10 May for helping to found militant group, part of Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Vilayat Kavkaz. Also in Dagestan, two suspected militants were taken into custody 11 May, suspected of training others in use of arms and explosives. Human Rights Watch 26 May issued report detailing “anti-gay purge” by Chechen police Feb-April 2017, which it said was ordered and conducted by Chechen officials. European Parliament 18 May called for “credible investigation”; UNSG Guterres called for end to abuse and release of suspected gay men. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov early May said he would cooperate with Kremlin investigation.
Several civilians killed and at least two dozen injured by fighting in conflict zone during month. Authorities reported four civilians killed, one seriously injured by shelling in govt-controlled town Avdiyivka 13 May, blamed on Russia-backed separatists; eight civilians injured by artillery fire in town of Krasnohorivka 28 May, also blamed on separatists. Several separatist fighters also reported killed during month. OSCE 25 May reported rate of violence so far in 2017 double that of same period in 2016. Leader of Crimean Tatars Mustafa Dzhemilev 20 May reported Russia had deployed six nuclear warheads on peninsula. Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov 10 May, U.S. President Trump reportedly stressed Russia’s responsibility to fully implement Minsk agreements; Trump also met with Ukrainian FM Klimkin. President Poroshenko met with German Chancellor Merkel 20 May, agreed on need to improve implementation of Minsk deal. European Council President Tusk 26 May called on G7 countries to maintain sanctions on Russia. New French President Macron met with Russian President Putin 29 May, agreed on need for new round of peace talks. Meeting of deputy FMs of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia for talks in Normandy Format to discuss Minsk peace process 30 May. President Poroshenko 16 May issued controversial decree banning several popular Russian social networks and websites; imposed sanctions on several Russian IT companies and TV channels; 29 May raided Russian internet search firm Yandex, accusing it of sharing Ukrainian user data with Moscow; Yandex denied. Parliament 23 May approved bill requiring national TV and radio stations to broadcast at least 75% of programming in Ukrainian language. Police 24 May arrested 23 former high-ranking tax officials in corruption probe involving allegations of fraud under former President Yanukovych. European Parliament and European Council 17 May signed EU visa liberalisation into law, to enter into force 11 June; Poroshenko described deal as marking Ukraine’s “divorce from the Russian Empire”.
UN Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide 26 May announced he was halting UN mediation efforts amid impasse on convening new Geneva conference, citing lack of prospect for common ground, but insisted reunification talks have not collapsed; 31 May said there is “dead end” in process, more diplomatic work needed, currently no new meetings expected between the two sides. Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı 17 May failed to reach agreement on procedure at last of four meetings which began in April to restart UN-backed negotiations, amid tensions over oil and gas exploration off Cyprus coast. Greek Cypriot govt 8 May said Turkish “threats” to prevent hydrocarbon extraction in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone scheduled for summer could be designed to scuttle negotiations, 11 May said it would not alter its plans. Eide 11 May warned resulting tensions could lead to “international crisis” and collapse of talks, but said “nervousness of last mile” was expected. Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades 7 May alleged Sept 2017 elections in Norway prompted haste and bias in Eide’s mediation.
Security forces continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgency in SE; 23 members of security forces killed in clashes in eastern provinces, however clashes generally remain at low intensity. Pressure continued on Kurdish movement with new arrests and detentions. Authorities 9 May stripped Democratic People’s Party (HDP)’s Nursel Aydoğan of her MP status. HDP extraordinary congress 20 May elected Serpil Kemalbay as party co-chair to replace imprisoned Figen Yüksekdağ, stripped of her parliamentary seat in Feb. Security forces 11 May arrested at least seventeen alleged members of PKK’s youth wing in eight provinces. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) elected President Erdoğan new party chairman at extraordinary congress 21 May. Govt continued crackdown on alleged members of state-christened FETÖ/PDY it blames for July 2016 coup attempt. Rhetoric on EU resumed positive tone: Erdoğan 9 May announced EU membership remained strategic goal for Turkey, wished to pursue accession process in “mutual respect”. Relations with Berlin remained strained; Turkey 15 May barred German MPs from visiting German troops stationed at Incirlik air base in south; Chancellor Merkel said Germany would seek alternatives to Incirlik air base such as Jordan. President Erdoğan met with EU officials 25 May during NATO summit in bid to revive strategic relations and accession negotiations. Ankara criticised U.S. announcement 9 May that it will arm Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG)-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ahead of offensive against Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa, warned PKK would benefit from deal. Deputy PM Veysi Kaynak 13 May announced Turkey would set up bases near Syrian town al-Bab to train and equip local forces (see Syria). Erdoğan and President Trump in Washington 16 May discussed strategy in Syria, fight against PKK, ISIS and extradition of Fethullah Gülen, alleged leader of state-christened FETÖ/PDY. Violence targeting Syrian refugee communities increased with incidents of mob violence reported in SE and western cities in April and May, highlighting social cohesion challenges. This follows April crackdown on several international NGOs working with refugees.
President Nazarbayev 21 May met U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson during summit of Muslim countries in Riyadh; Nazarbayev expressed hope that interaction between Kazakhstan and U.S. “will enter a qualitatively new level of development in many areas”, reported president’s office. Nazarbayev mid-month attended China’s high-level Belt and Road forum aimed at developing trade routes, specifically Silk Road Economic Belt initiative seeking to improve transport and energy infrastructure along two broad transport corridors in Central Asia.
Ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) 17 May selected PM Sooronbai Jeenbekov as its candidate for presidential election; Jeenbekov, who is from Jalalabad province, will compete against four other candidates. President Atambaev 29 May announced election to be held 15 Oct, one month earlier than expected. Previously unknown group Imam Shamil 25 April claimed responsibility for 3 April metro bomb in St. Petersburg; said suicide bomber Akbarjon Djalilov acted on instructions from al-Qaeda leader in act of revenge for Russian operations in Syria, Chechnya and Libya. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) investigating links between Djalilov and ethnic Uzbek from Osh Sirojiddin Mukhtarov, aka Abu Saloh. Atambaev mid-month attended China’s high-level Belt and Road forum aimed at developing trade routes, specifically Silk Road Economic Belt initiative seeking to improve transport and energy infrastructure along two broad transport corridors in Central Asia.
Amid mounting fears about worsening security situation in Afghanistan’s provinces bordering Tajikistan, Radio Free Europe 20 May reported ethnic Turkmens in Shordepe, Balkh, and Qala-e-Zal, Kunduz, are forming armed brigades to protect their villages from Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) militants. Senior officials mid-month attended China’s high-level Belt and Road forum aimed at developing trade routes, specifically Silk Road Economic Belt initiative seeking to improve transport and energy infrastructure along two broad transport corridors in Central Asia.
President Berdymukhamedov early May sacked or arrested several high-ranking officials for alleged corruption: 4 May fired general prosecutor for not addressing corruption; 50 high-level officials from prosecutor’s office detained and subjected to show trials broadcast on state media 12 May.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’as al-Hussein visited Tashkent 10-12 May, first time govt has allowed UN high commissioner visit to country; met President Mirziyoyev and interior and justice ministers as well as local human rights activists, gave press conference 11 May calling for govt to match rhetoric with genuine reform. President Mirziyoyev mid-month attended China’s high-level Belt and Road forum aimed at developing trade routes, specifically Silk Road Economic Belt initiative seeking to improve transport and energy infrastructure along two broad transport corridors in Central Asia.
Latin America & Caribbean
FARC dissident fronts increased violence throughout country, particularly south and east. First front kidnapped UN employee 3 May after meeting on coca crop substitution in Miraflores town, Guaviare. 7th front dissident group attacked army with IEDs 13-14 May near San José del Guaviare, no injuries reported. 14th front dissidents kidnapped two people in Cartagena del Chairá, south, 14 May. FARC peace process continued to move forward slowly. Constitutional Court 17 May struck down two parts of law enabling bills relating to peace accord to be approved by “fast track” procedures in Congress, raising concerns that FARC confidence in process could be undermined. With FARC disarmament behind schedule, President Santos 29 May announced govt, FARC and UN had agreed to twenty-day extension to original 31 May deadline for formal end of arms handover. UN Security Council ambassadors visited Colombia 3-5 May, reiterated support for peace process. Senate 11 May passed FARC political reintegration law, while Congress 2 May designated sixteen Special Constituencies created to give conflict-affected areas representation in Congress. Government and local community organisations 13 May signed first agreements for coca crop substitution, and process began in parts of Meta and Guaviare departments. ELN peace process continued slowly: top three commanders 9-11 May met with FARC leadership in Cuba, leading ELN to adopt more positive stance regarding FARC peace process but had little effect on group’s view of govt. ELN attacks continued, including kidnapping of eight people in Chocó 7 May, later released. Several members of armed forces killed and wounded in attacks in Arauca, Norte de Santander and Cauca. Neo-paramilitary group Clan del Golfo, or Gaitan Self-Defence Forces, continued isolated killings of police and armed forces throughout country.
Clashes continued across country between largely peaceful opposition protesters and security forces often backed by civilian gunmen; since they began early April, at least 57 people, including a dozen teenagers, reported killed, thousands injured and over 2,800 arrested, 338 of them arraigned before military tribunals in violation of constitution and international treaties; lawyers, family members and detainees alleged routine torture. Attorney General Luisa Ortega 24 May criticised excessive use of force and military tribunals, accused National Guard of killing one demonstrator with tear gas canister, contradicting govt claims. Severe looting reported in many places, particularly Barinas, Valencia and Los Teques/San Antonio de los Altos near Caracas, amid worsening shortages of food, medicines and other basic goods; food suppliers in country’s west refusing to supply centre-north and capital due to security concerns. Maduro 1 May announced he was convening assembly to reform constitution, but voting (set for July) will be partly “sectoral”, with unions, peasants’ and women’s organisations and others electing their own representatives, remaining members elected at municipal level. Opposition rejected invitation to discuss initiative, saying president was attempting to rig election; many constitutional experts argue that constituent assembly can only be convened by referendum, proposed voting system is unconstitutional; attorney general and two Supreme Court judges also criticised plan. If elected, constituent assembly is sovereign and can overrule or even abolish all other powers, including National Assembly, currently dominated by MUD, and state governors, whose delayed election is now set for Dec. Permanent Council of Organization of American States met to discuss crisis 31 May, no agreement reached. At U.S. request, UN Security Council held informal, closed-door meeting 17 May to discuss Venezuelan crisis; Uruguayan chair said no further action warranted. U.S. 18 May imposed sanctions on eight Venezuelan Supreme Court justices for their role in limiting powers of National Assembly.
Govt 11 May declared state of siege in Tajumulco and Ixchiguan municipalities in San Marcos department, bordering with Mexico, after year of trying to control intercommunal violence through dialogue; decades-old conflict over use of water and land has been compounded by introduction of poppy cultivation in recent years and links with criminal gangs engaged in turf war. Authorities 16 May announced 1,500 soldiers will participate in operations to end violence. Attorney General Thelma Aldana’s office presented annual report 16 May: 48 criminal structures dismantled and 720 people captured April 2016-March 2017, mainly over extortion or corruption rackets; records set in drug, contraband, and illegally-obtained asset seizures. Aldana 11 May revealed results of ongoing investigation into plan to assassinate her, involving “La Línea” fraud racket. Former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla named in new corruption case 8 May involving fraudulent procurement in police during his tenure under President Pérez Molina. Interior minister 11 May sacked director of prisons after series of blunders including escape of two prominent prisoners and revelations of unlawful negotiations with convicted leaders of Barrio-18 street gang to bring down violence levels in exchange for better jail conditions. Centre for Informative Reports on Guatemala (CERIGUA) 3 May declared eleven journalists murdered in country during previous nine months.
Fight against corruption suffered two setbacks. Supreme Court 4 May proposed Attorney General Oscar Chinchilla for Central America Justice Court, which would mean loss of strongest local ally of Support Mission Against Impunity and Corruption in Honduras (MACCIH). Opposition lawmakers 12 May questioned MACCIH’s independence after one of its international prosecutors was accused of approving changes requested by ruling National Party to rules on campaign funding in recently approved Law of Clean Politics.
Govt 4 May declared fall in homicides, though uneven across country. Media 25 April reported self-defence armed groups operating in some areas; President of Assembly Guillermo Gallegos 6 May admitted he had armed these groups himself, senior police officials expressed caution. National Security Council 5 May discussed potential reforms and monitoring systems to mitigate impact of possible increase in U.S. deportations of gang members. Media 27 April reported potential split of MS-13 gang into two groups, confirmed by police and govt, although respected gang experts denied rift, claiming it was govt attempt to brand groups as divided and weak. U.S. Congress 5 May approved more funding for Central America countries including $10mn for El Salvador’s attorney general’s office.
Moves by Trump administration to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for over 50,000 Haitians living in U.S., granted after 2010 earthquake and allowing them to work and live freely, sparked fears of deportation among activists and Haitians in U.S.. Acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reportedly said conditions in Haiti sufficiently improved for TPS status to be ended, a claim disputed by many; Haitian officials declared govt ill-equipped to receive tens of thousands of returning migrants. U.S. govt 22 May extended TPS status for six months. Haiti govt facing several strikes by state employees, including teachers striking over unpaid salaries since late April.
Number of reported homicides, already during first four months of 2017 at levels unseen since peak of 2011, continued to cause alarm as further fragmentation of organised criminal gangs fuelled violence in Tamaulipas state (north east) and Pacific Coast states of Sinaloa (north west), Guerrero and Michoacán (south west). Intra-cartel violence included 31 soldiers, marines and civilians killed in clashes 1-17 May following April murder of Juan Manuel Loza Salinas, leader of the Gulf Cartel in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Eight killed in confrontation between Tequileros and Familia Michoacana cartels 12 May in Tierra Caliente, Guerrero; army and police response led to social unrest and protests, blocking over 24 federal highways. After 18 May arrest of 22 alleged Knight Templar cartel members, criminal groups blocked five highways in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente region. Attacks on journalists escalated throughout country, with two murdered, seven detained and robbed, one kidnapped, one wounded during month. In Sinaloa, murder of three teachers, lawyer and journalist in first half May generated widespread outrage; killing of journalist Javier Valdez sparked protests and renewed govt commitment to protect journalists and rights activists, greeted by some with incredulity. Month also saw murders of human rights defender Miriam Rodríguez from San Fernando, Tamaulipas; two indigenous wixárika activists in Jalisco state (south west); and indigenous tzotzil leader in Puebla state (SE of Mexico City). Former partner of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who later became main competitor of El Chapo’s sons for leadership of Sinaloa Cartel, arrested in Mexico City 2 May. Ten people including four soldiers killed in clashes in Palmarito, Puebla 3 May, after military tried to stop illegal tapping of pipeline belonging to state-controlled Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Video emerged showing soldier shooting prisoner in apparent extrajudicial killing during clashes. Senators supporting Internal Security Law, which would extend legal powers of armed forces in public security matters, 10 May proposed extraordinary sessions to approve bill, arguing it would prevent illegal behaviour by military. Army 15 May detained 60 municipal police in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, over suspected membership of criminal organisation involved in April killing of Democratic Revolution Party leader. International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank 9 May reported Mexico second most lethal conflict after Syria in 2016, with 23,000 homicides related to criminal violence; govt disputed figures.
Middle East & North Africa
Palestinian prisoners in Israel continued hunger strike to demand improvements in conditions until 27 May, despite Israel’s attempt to undermine strike leader Marwan Barghouti by releasing video of him eating; at least 60 strikers taken to Israeli civilian hospitals in critical condition. Hundreds of Palestinians protesting in solidarity with prisoners 19 May clashed with Israeli security forces in West Bank and Gaza. Hamas 1 May released political document significantly moderating its positions in 1988 charter including referring to Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders as a formula for Palestinian national consensus and stressing that Hamas’s conflict was with Zionism and not with Jews because of their religion. However, 1988 charter not abrogated. President Abbas met U.S. President Trump 3 May at White House; Abbas said afterwards he had stressed importance of two-state solution. Israel 21 May said it would make economic concessions to Palestinians as part of confidence-building measures requested by Trump, including building two industrial zones in West Bank and ease restrictions on Palestinian construction in Area C. Visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem 22-23 May, Trump confirmed commitment to resolving Israel-Palestine conflict but did not say how. In Gaza, living conditions continued to worsen as electricity shortages and salary cuts persisted and Palestinian Authority (PA) delayed sending medicine and baby formula. Hamas 6 May said it had elected former PA PM and leader of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh as new leader. Missile reportedly fired at Israel from Sinai 23 May, no casualties reported. Israel 28 May announced ambitious plans for Jerusalem’s Old City Basin, including cable car to be unilaterally designed and implemented by Israel which would connect West Jerusalem with Old City.
Parliament failed to meet 15 May deadline set by President Aoun in April to reach agreement on new electoral law ahead of 20 June expiration of MPs’ mandate, raising prospect of legislative void. Following recent rise in tensions between Hizbollah and Israel, Hizbollah 11 May said any conflict with Israel could take place “inside Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Hizbollah 11 May said it had secured eastern border with Syria and begun dismantling its military positions in area so that Lebanese army would patrol it alone.
Fighting eased in areas included in new partial ceasefire but persisted elsewhere as U.S.-backed forces drew closer to offensive on Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold Raqqa in north east. Following talks in Kazakhstan capital Astana, Russia, Turkey and Iran 4 May agreed on partial ceasefire for at least six months in four zones: Idlib province and adjacent areas to west, south and east; pocket in north of Homs province; Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus; and parts of Daraa and Quneitra provinces in south. Pro-regime forces shifted military pressure to Damascus suburb Qaboun, where rebels surrendered and evacuated with families mid-May, and areas in south east where Western-backed rebels have advanced against ISIS. Rebels and families began evacuating Damascus suburb Barzeh 8 May under deal and finished evacuating al-Waer district of Homs 21 May under March surrender deal ceding complete control of city to regime forces. U.S. jets struck pro-regime forces 18 May as they advanced toward al-Tanf base on Syria-Iraq border where U.S. and other coalition partners are training anti-ISIS rebels; U.S. dropped flyers 28 May warning pro-regime forces not to come within 55km of base. Pro-regime forces prepared offensive against ISIS in Deir al-Zour city in east. Russia 31 May said its warships in Mediterranean fired several cruise missiles at ISIS targets near Palmyra in east and hit targets. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and junior allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition 10 May took full control of Tabqa dam and town from ISIS about 40km west of Raqqa, setting stage for push on city; U.S. 30 May said it had begun to arm YPG for offensive. Sixth round of UN-brokered talks in Geneva 16-19 May made no progress, due to resume in June.
Prominent Shiite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim sentenced to one-year suspended prison term including for money laundering 21 May. Security forces 23 May deployed to “enforce general order” in Qassim’s home village Diraz in north west where his supporters were holding sit-in protest; five protesters killed in clashes and over 280 arrested. In first application of constitutional amendment approved by King Khalifa in April that military courts can try civilians, govt 10 May said military court would try two civilians for “terrorism”. Court 31 May ordered dissolution of opposition group Waad for “supporting terrorism”.
President Rouhani won presidential election 19 May with 57% of votes; runner-up right-wing cleric Ebrahim Raisi gained 38.5%. Rouhani’s pragmatist allies won many local councils including municipal councils in Tehran and Mashhad. U.S. President Trump 17 May extended sanctions relief for Iran under 2015 nuclear deal while U.S. Treasury same day said it had sanctioned two senior Iranian defence officials, Iranian company, Chinese man and three Chinese companies for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program. U.S. Treasury 24 May said it is reviewing licenses for Boeing and Airbus to sell aircraft to Iran.
U.S.-backed govt forces and allied militias continued to make gains in campaign to retake western half of Mosul in north from Islamic State (ISIS). In north-western Mosul, govt forces 14 May took control of Ureibi and Rifaie districts and 27 May launched offensive on al-Shifaa, al-Zinjili and Al-Saha al-Oula neighbourhoods. ISIS mid-month had reportedly lost control of all but 9% of western half. ISIS early month claimed two suicide bombings and several more attempted suicide attacks against K1 military base hosting U.S. advisers in Kirkuk, 150km south east of Mosul. In north west Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) 14 May pushed west from Tal Afar airport, took control of road connecting Sinjar to Qairawan and leading to ISIS-held town Baadj near Syrian border, 29 May reportedly took control of several villages along border. Faced with PMUs’ expansion, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Barzani 15 May discussed military coordination with Iraqi national security adviser and PMU leader Faleh al-Fayyad; 30 May said peshmerga forces would not withdraw from areas outside Iraqi Kurdistan secured before start of Mosul offensive in Oct 2016. ISIS claimed multiple bombings in Baghdad: suicide bombings killed nineteen people in southern districts 19 May and at least sixteen people in Shiite district Karrada 30 May. Unclaimed bombing killed eleven people on al-Shahada bridge in Baghdad 30 May. Unidentified attackers 2 May killed at least ten soldiers near Rutba in Anbar province in west. Unclaimed bombings killed 33 people at checkpoints near oil fields in Basra province in south east 19 May.
U.S. President Trump during visit 20-21 May signed arms sale with govt worth $109.7bn. In Awamiya in east, after authorities began razing old town, gunmen fired grenade at military patrol killing soldier 16 May, and bombing wounded two policemen 29 May.
Tens of thousands protested in Aden 4 May against President Hadi’s sacking of Aden province Governor Aydaroos Zubaydi and Minister Hani bin Brek. Zubaydi 11 May announced creation of transitional political council including governors of five southern provinces and two ministers to represent interests of south; Hadi govt condemned move 12 May. Fighting between Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Huthi rebels continued, concentrated in Taiz governorate in south. Huthis continued to fire missiles into Saudi Arabia: 19 May claimed to have fired one at capital Riyadh. U.S. said its Special Forces carried out raid on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in central Marib governorate 23 May killing seven militants. Govt 30 May said FM in Oman to discuss UN plan to restart peace talks including confidence-building measures. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 15 May said cholera had killed at least 180 people since 27 April and 11,000 suspected cases reported.
President Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) and its coalition ally Rally for National Democracy (RND) won majority of seats in 4 May legislative elections, with FLN winning 164 and RND 97 of 462 seats. Turnout was reported at 38.25% and quarter of ballots cast were spoiled or blank. Bouteflika 24 May appointed former Housing Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune as new PM; govt formed 25 May including new energy, finance and foreign affairs ministers. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed 2 May IED attack on army vehicle in Tebessa province in east, no casualties reported; AQIM militants 8 May killed three soldiers in Mekournou Mountains in Ain Defla province in north. Military killed Islamist militant in Jijel province in north 10 May and six more 12-13 May in same region.
Islamic State (ISIS) continued to attack Christians, launching first major attack in Upper Egypt. ISIS 7 May claimed killing of Coptic Christian 6 May in al-Arish city, N Sinai. ISIS Sinai Province fought with tribes from 10 May for several days around al-Barth town, N Sinai and 11 May claimed it had killed fifteen men in area. ISIS militants 26 May attacked bus near Minya, some 220km south of Cairo, killing at least 29 Christians; in response military same day launched airstrikes against bases in eastern Libya where militants allegedly trained. Two civilians reportedly abducted and killed in N Sinai cities of Rafah and al-Arish 20 May; army shelling killed seven gunmen in Rafah same day. Unidentified gunmen shot dead policeman in al-Arish city and blast against armoured vehicle killed three soldiers in Sinai 25 May. All four MPs representing S Sinai governorate 7 May resigned from House of Representatives, citing irreconcilable differences with S Sinai governor. Missile reportedly fired at Israel from Sinai 23 May, no casualties reported. State Council court 9 May heard opening arguments against amendments to Judicial Appointments law ratified by President Sisi end-April granting himself power to nominate senior judges, including heads of State Council and Court of Cassation. Police 2 May raided offices of financial newspaper al-Borsa and English-language newspaper Daily News Egypt and briefly detained publications’ chairman. Journalist arrested during crackdown on protestors in Rabaa Square, Cairo in Aug 2013 sentenced to five years’ prison 5 May, following confirmation of life sentences and one death sentence for thirteen journalists in April. After parliament passed Emergency Law in April, which allows govt to monitor some publications and social media, parliament 2 May debated draft law that would facilitate state surveillance of social media.
Deadly attacks in south and Tripoli throughout month severely dimmed prospects of reconciliation and heightened risk of escalation in June. UN-backed Tripoli-based PM Serraj and major military opponent Gen Khalifa Haftar met for first time in over a year in UAE capital Abu Dhabi 2 May, reportedly agreed two-week ceasefire in south. Misratan-led unit Third Force with Benghazi Defence Brigade (BDB), coalition comprising mostly fighters from Benghazi, and local units, nominally loyal to Serraj, attacked military base in Brak al-Shati in south 18 May, killing 80 to 130 members of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and civilians; pictures online suggested most were shot at close range. Serraj claimed Govt of National Accord (GNA) did not know attack was planned. Under pressure from Misratan constituencies who condemned attack, Third Force withdrew from south (where it had been since 2014) and relocated to Jufra area in centre, where BDB also has presence. LNA moved into Temenhent air base near Sebha 25 May and carried out airstrikes on rival forces in Hun and Jufra. Retaliating against Islamic State (ISIS)-claimed killing of Coptic Christians near Minya, central Egypt 26 May, Egyptian air force bombed Derna in east same day and Hun in centre 28 May to limit terrorist groups’ ability to “threaten national security”. Anti-GNA forces attacked bases of pro-GNA units in Tripoli 26 May, 52 killed. Pro-GNA forces subsequently took back bases and reportedly reclaimed control of Tripoli international airport. Some Misratan forces reportedly withdrew from capital.
Authorities 8 May said they and Spanish counterparts dismantled three-man jihadist cell linked to Islamic State (ISIS) in Tangier in north and Badalona and Salou in Spain. Thousands marched to demand jobs and protest against injustice and corruption 18 May in northern town al-Hoceima where death of fishmonger crushed in rubbish compactor trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police sparked protests in several cities in Oct 2016. Interior minister and seven other cabinet members 22 May toured city to calm tensions. Protests escalated 26-27 May after govt ordered arrest of protest movement leader Nasser Zafzafi; at least 40 protesters arrested over next few days including Zafzafi. Solidarity protests and rallies began in other cities, including Casablanca, Tangier and Rabat 27 May.
Protestors in Tataouine governorate in south blocked lorries from entering El Kamour oil and gas pumping station throughout month to demand jobs and share of revenue from local gas and oil companies. Govt 16 May promised to create 3,000 jobs in oil companies through annual $25mn public investment fund. Security forces 22 May clashed with protesters and National Guard vehicle “accidentally” hit and killed protester; about 50 others injured, protestors burned down two police stations. Opposition, civil society and activists from ruling coalition member An-Nahda party led estimated 5,000-strong protest in Tunis 14 May against proposed economic reconciliation law that would grant amnesty to businessmen and senior civil servants accused of corruption under former regime. Electoral commission head and two other commission officials resigned 9 May, citing internal disputes on democratic values and principles. Report by govt oversight agency same week revealed corruption in commission. PM Youssef Chahed 23 May launched “operation clean hands” and, under state of emergency rule, military arrested eight businessmen suspected of corruption and financing social protests. National Guard 28 May killed suspected jihadist leader in Hassi Ferid in west, govt 30 May said six suspected militants linked to Islamic State (ISIS) arrested in clearing operation.
South African authorities early May seized Moroccan shipment of phosphate after self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic made legal challenge that Morocco had illegally exported cargo; Panama authorities mid-May seized another Moroccan phosphate shipment for same reasons, 22 May said shipment had been released.
(c) 2017 International Crisis Group