Tracking Conflict Worldwide - May 2017

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.

South Sudan

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.

Burkina Faso

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.

Côte d’Ivoire

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.


China (internal)

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.

Korean Peninsula

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.

Taiwan Strait

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-u