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 soc