Conflict Risks: Deteriorated Situations

Mali

Amid rising social discontent, military junta staged another coup; jihadist violence persisted in north and centre. Following series of strikes paralysing country, PM Ouane 14 May offered resignation to President N’Daw, who immediately reappointed him to form more inclusive cabinet. After interim govt 24 May appointed new cabinet ministers, military junta immediately arrested N’Daw and Ouane. Colonel Assimi Goïta, transition’s VP, next day announced that N’Daw and Ouane had violated transition’s charter by appointing new cabinet without consulting him and would be stripped of their powers; N’Daw and Ouane next day resigned. Goïta 27 May declared himself country’s transitional president and authorities released N’Daw and Ouane; Constitutional Court next day declared Goïta as interim president. Mali’s main international partners, including regional bloc ECOWAS, AU, EU, France and U.S., condemned junta’s action, while France and U.S. said they would consider sanctions; UN Security Council 26 May unanimously issued condemnation but stopped short of referring to “coup d’état” or including coercive measures; ECOWAS 30 May suspended Mali’s membership but did not impose new sanctions as it did after last year’s coup, instead called for civilian PM, respect of transition’s deadline and formation of inclusive govt. Meanwhile, in north, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 2 May amputated hands and feet of three alleged robbers in Ansongo district, Gao region, nearly first time jihadists used such punishment since 2012 to apply Sharia law; move apparently aimed at bolstering group’s legitimacy as effective security alternative to state authorities. Few days later, al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 5 May released video of French journalist kidnapped 8 April near Gao city, urging French authorities to secure his release. In Kidal region (north), truck carrying gold miners 8 May struck IED near Tessalit district, killing two; truck 19 May struck IED on road to Ntillit village, Gao district, killing 16. In Mopti region (centre), presumed JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina militants 4 May attacked Ndobougou and Kounti-Marka villages, Djenné district, killing three. Also in Mopti, Malian army vehicle 7 May struck IED, which JNIM reportedly planted, in Douentza district, killing three soldiers.

Nigeria

Overall security situation deteriorated further notably due to violent escalation in South East. In South East, suspected members of Eastern Security Network, armed wing of outlawed separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra 6-30 May killed at least 25 security personnel, mostly police officers, in Ebonyi, Anambra, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia states; 30 May allegedly assassinated prominent northern politician, Ahmed Gulak, in Imo state. Herder-farmer violence displaced thousands in several states and left about 60 people killed in Bali area of Taraba state 13-16 May; at least 14 killed in Jos South area of Plateau state 23 May; and about 55 killed in Katsina-Ala and Ado areas of Benue state 27 and 30 May. Attacks and abductions continued in North West. In Kaduna state, gunmen 19 May attacked two villages, killing 11. In Katsina state, gunmen 8 May killed 11 in Safana area, 10 May abducted 45 in Jibia area and 18 May abducted 21 in Batsari area. In Niger state, armed groups 5 May killed eight and abducted over 100 in Shadadi town; 30 May abducted about 200 children in Rafi area; and next day killed at least 15 in Mariga area. In Sokoto state, armed groups 21-23 May killed 25 in Sabon Birni, Isah and Rabah areas. In Zamfara state, armed groups 22 May killed 19 farmers and two police officers across Gusau, Maradun and Zurmi areas; 24-25 May, killed 20 in Bungudu area. Meanwhile, several media organisations 20 May reported Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram faction (JAS), had blown himself up or was seriously wounded in attempt to kill himself to escape capture by rival group Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Borno state (north east); move followed major ISWAP offensive on Shekau’s Sambisa forest stronghold and seizure of territories formerly under his control. ISWAP also attacked military base in Borno’s Ajiri town 2-3 May; fighting killed five soldiers, 15 members of Civilian Joint Task Force and at least six civilians. Military killed at least 59 insurgents throughout month, including at least 40 in Konduga area mid-month.

South Sudan

Renewed escalation of intercommunal violence in east left 150 dead, and holdout rebel group suspended participation in peace talks amid clashes in south; meanwhile, govt made some progress in implementing 2018 peace deal. In Greater Pibor Administrative Area in east, renewed intercommunal clashes between ethnic Lou Nuer and Dinka on one side and ethnic Murle on the other 10-17 May killed over 150 in Gumuruk area. UN Mission in South Sudan 16 May expressed “deep concern” over “fresh escalation of violence”. UN Security Council 11 May extended mandate of UN peacekeeping force in disputed Abyei region (north) between South Sudan and Sudan, until Nov; intercommunal violence 16 May killed at least 11 people in Abyei’s Dungoup village. Meanwhile, holdout rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS) 6 May suspended its participation in new round of peace talks with govt scheduled for 8-12 May, accusing govt of involvement in April alleged assassination of Gen Abraham Wana Yoane, military chief of rebel group allied to NAS. In Central Equatoria state in south, suspected NAS combatants reportedly killed five civilians in Payawa village 12 May and four security forces in Gabada village next day. In Western Equatoria state (also south), President Kiir-aligned South Sudan People’s Defence Forces 14-15 May repelled attack by suspected NAS on their barracks in Maridi county; five reportedly killed. Kiir 10 May signed long-delayed decree reconstituting Transitional National Legislative Assembly to include former rebel opposition groups, paving way for completion of key steps of peace process including constitutional review and preparation for elections; move came after Troika states, Canada, France, Germany and EU 5 May jointly urged Kiir and presidency’s five VPs to take steps to bolster transition. Implementation of transitional security arrangements however continued to lag behind schedule and official body monitoring peace deal implementation, including unification of armed groups into single army, 20 May warned former rebel fighters were abandoning cantonment and training sites due to lack of food and medicine, jeopardising goal to graduate first batch of unified army by month’s end. UN Security Council 28 May extended arms embargo on South Sudan for one year.

Afghanistan

Taliban intensified coordinated assaults on Afghan military positions, with govt forces losing more district centres; terror attacks killed over 100 civilians. Deadly Taliban attacks escalated in nature and intensity throughout month as part of annual Spring offensive, especially from 1 May – start of symbolic U.S./NATO troop withdrawal. Notably, Taliban 2 May attacked security post, killing 12 security forces in Badakhshan province (north east); 3 May seized positions around Helmand’s capital (south) with 18 security forces killed or wounded; 4 May killed nine security forces in Baghlan province (north), followed by the surrender of 100 more on 6 May; 4 May killed 20 soldiers in Farah province (south west); and 7-8 May killed 23 soldiers in Ghazni and Wardak provinces (centre). Taliban offensive led to militants gaining control of district centres in Laghman, Wardak and Baghlan by end of month. Month also saw heavy toll on civilians: triple bombing 8 May targeted school in Hazara neighbourhood in capital Kabul, killing at least 90 civilians, mostly women and girls, and wounding 240 more; govt blamed Taliban for attack but group denied responsibility. IEDs on bus 10 May killed 11 civilians in Zabul province (South); bomb 14 May exploded in mosque, killing 12 civilians in capital Kabul, Islamic State later claimed responsibility for attack. Roadside bomb 16 May also killed three civilians in Ghanzi province (East). Large Uzbek ethnic community in Faryab province (north) demonstrated angrily against govt’s attempt to appoint new governor with no ties to province or Uzbek community. U.S. and UK continued high-level diplomatic efforts to support peace process by engaging with senior Pakistani officials and Taliban representatives; moves resulted in resumption of Taliban-govt peace discussions in Qatar’s capital Doha 13 and 24 May and statement of willingness from Taliban to attend high-level peace conference in Turkey in future, with conditions. Australia withdrew embassy from Kabul amid increasing international concerns about security environment.

Armenia

In most significant escalation since Autumn 2020 war, border tensions with Azerbaijan turned deadly; meanwhile, preparations for 20 June snap elections proceeded. Border tensions rose throughout month. Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, between Azerbaijani-controlled Kelbajar region and Armenian-controlled southern provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik; Yerevan 27 May claimed up to 1,000 soldiers entered its territory, while Baku countered that new military positions were inside Azerbaijan. In most significant escalation and crisis since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war, Armenian defence ministry 25 May said fighting with Azerbaijani forces along border of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik district killed one Armenian soldier; Baku same day said death had “nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side”. Azerbaijani defence ministry 27 May reported detention of six Armenian soldiers after their alleged attempt to cross to Kelbajar district; Yerevan same day said detention took place in its controlled territory. Azerbaijan defence ministry 28 May reported one Azerbaijani soldier wounded in exchange of fire with Armenian military at central location of state border with Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhchivan; Yerevan denied involvement. After trip to border area, Armenian PM Pashinyan 27 May called on Azerbaijan to create demilitarised zone monitored by international observers or peacekeepers; Armenian FM Ara Ayvazyan same day announced his resignation over disagreements with PM. Prior to escalation, Armenia and Azerbaijan 12-18 May joined Russian-mediated talks aimed at demarcating border. Moscow 18 May proposed establishment of joint demarcation commission to look into border issues. Meanwhile, with political campaigning already under way in recent months, President Sarkissian 10 May signed official decree enabling snap parliamentary elections, scheduled for 20 June. After announcing candidacy, former president Robert Kocharyan (also former leader of de facto Nagorno-Karabakh) 9 May held mass rally in capital Yerevan, during which he claimed to be sole candidate able to guarantee Nagorno-Karabakh’s future. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 19 May officially opened observation mission in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan

In most significant escalation since Autumn 2020 war, border tensions with Armenia turned deadly. Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, between Azerbaijani-controlled Kelbajar region and Armenian-controlled southern provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik; Yerevan 27 May claimed up to 1,000 soldiers entered its territory while Baku countered that new military positions were inside Azerbaijan. In most significant escalation and crisis since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war, Armenian defence ministry 25 May said fighting with Azerbaijani forces along border of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik district killed one Armenian soldier; Baku same day said death had “nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side”. Azerbaijani defence ministry 27 May reported detention of six Armenian soldiers after their alleged attempt to cross to Kelbajar district; Yerevan same day said detention took place in its controlled territory. Azerbaijan defence ministry 28 May reported one Azerbaijani soldier wounded in exchange of fire with Armenian military at central location of state border with Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhchivan; Yerevan denied involvement. After trip to border area, Pashinyan 27 May called on Azerbaijan to create demilitarised zone monitored by international observers or peacekeepers. Prior to escalation, Armenia and Azerbaijan 12-18 May joined Russian-mediated talks aimed at demarcating border. Moscow 18 May proposed establishment of joint demarcation commission to look into border issues. Separately, President Ilham Aliyev 7 May signed decree declaring recently controlled city of Shusha inside Nagorno-Karabakh territory as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital.

Algeria

Authorities stepped up repression against Hirak protest movement ahead of 12 June legislative elections, quashing demonstrations and arresting scores. In joint statement, 300 public figures, civil society activists and NGOs 1 May said authorities had declared “war against the Algerian people”, citing recent wave of arrests of Hirak protesters demanding wholesale political change. Interior ministry 9 May said all protests would now be subject to administrative authorisation; Algerian Human Rights League’s President Noureddine Benissad 11 May said move aimed to “undermine all forms of peaceful expression”. Police 14 May arrested several journalists covering Hirak protest in capital Algiers, and for first time prevented leaders of opposition parties from joining march; dozens of detentions reported nationwide. NGO Amnesty International 17 May said 15 Hirak activists faced death penalty or lengthy prison sentences for alleged “participation in a terrorist organisation” and “conspiracy against the state”, and called on authorities to drop charges. High Security Council under supervision of President Tebboune 18 May added Rachad movement, which gathers former Islamic Salvation Front party officials, and Movement for the Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK) to list of domestic terrorist organisations; move came after defence ministry late April announced dismantling of cell allegedly planning terrorist attacks during Hirak marches and composed of MAK activists. Security forces 21 May suppressed Hirak protest in Algiers, and NGO National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees 31 May recorded around 200 “prisoners of conscience” across country, up from 66 mid-April. Meanwhile, labour strikes and social movements continued. Notably, education sector 9 May went on three-day strike to protest plummeting purchasing power.

Iraq

Iran-linked armed groups vowed to increase attacks on U.S. forces and targeted killings increased ahead of October election, fuelling climate of fear; Islamic State (ISIS) launched annual Ramadan offensive. Unknown groups 2-4, 24 May fired rockets at U.S.-led coalition troops in Baghdad airport as well as Balad and Ain al-Asad airbases. Coalition of Iran-aligned armed groups 24 May declared end of unofficial truce with U.S. forces and vowed further attacks, citing “lack of seriousness” of U.S. troop withdrawal. Meanwhile, targeted killings increased, sending chilling message ahead of Oct polls. Unidentified gunmen 9 May killed prominent activist Ihab al-Wazni in Karbala city; protesters same day rallied in Karbala to condemn killing, resulting in roadblocks and torching of vehicles outside Iranian consulate over accusations of pro-Iranian militia involvement. Unknown assailants 10 May shot and seriously injured journalist Ahmed Hassan in Diwaniya city (south). Unknown assailants 22 May injured activist Mohammed Khayat in Nasiriyah city; protesters same day stormed Dhi Qar governorate building. Head of Sunni political bloc Azm Coalition 22 May announced unknown assailants killed electoral candidate. Amid violence, several new parties linked to Oct 2019 protest movement throughout month announced withdrawal from poll citing fear of persecution. In attempt to regain public confidence, PM Kadhimi ordered security forces to raid group affiliated to paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), allegedly responsible for killing activist Reham Yacoub in August 2020; in retaliation, suspected PMF-affiliated groups 13 May reportedly attacked security forces’ headquarters in Basra city (south). Kadhimi then ordered arrest of high profile PMF member Qassim Mahmoud Musleh on terrorism charges, prompting PMF factions 26 May to stage large armed rally surrounding Baghdad’s Green Zone. Protesters in capital Baghdad 25 May demanded accountability for some 600 people killed since Oct 2019 protest movement began, and clashed with security forces who responded with live ammunition, killing two. Meanwhile, ISIS conducted dozens of attacks in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces as part of annual Ramadan offensive. Notably in Kirkuk, ISIS fighters 1 May killed three peshmerga officers and 5 May killed at least eight members of federal security forces.

Israle-Palestine

Israel’s forced evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and restrictions on worshippers sparked widespread unrest and 11-day war with Gaza’s armed factions that killed hundreds. Israeli police 7 May clashed with young Palestinians protesting planned expulsions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and worshippers observing Ramadan at Al-Aqsa mosque inside Old City, injuring over 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers; Israel’s restrictions and attacks on worshippers as well as police raids in compound continued over following days, injuring 1,000 Palestinians by 10 May. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem 10 May protested Jewish ultra-nationalist plans to march through Old City toward al-Aqsa to mark Jerusalem Day, leading to police raids that injured some 300 Palestinians even as Israeli authorities same day redirected march. Responding to events, Hamas’ military wing admonished Israel to halt violence. Joint Chamber of Palestinian Resistance Factions in the Gaza Strip 10 May issued ultimatum for Israel to withdraw forces from al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah and release detainees by 6pm; shortly after deadline expired, Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem. Israeli forces 10-21 May heavily bombarded Gaza as Palestinian factions fired thousands of rockets into Israel; fighting killed at least 248 Palestinians in Gaza, including some 66 children, and 12 people in Israel, including two children, before ceasefire went into effect 21 May. Amid Gaza hostilities, unprecedented wave of violence erupted throughout Israel’s mixed cities and neighbourhoods. Notably, govt 12 May declared state of emergency in Lod city for first time since 1966 to contain widespread violence, including Jewish gunman 10 May killing Palestinian and Palestinian same day setting fire to synagogue; Israeli ultranationalists 12 May attacked Lod’s Al-Omari mosque, prompting mayor same day to declare “civil war”; Israeli police late month made 1,550 arrests, 70% of them Palestinians. Palestinians held protests throughout West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza; Israeli forces 14 May responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition and 16 May killed 13 Palestinians and injured 1600 others. Palestinians in West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Israel 18 May held strike for first time in decades.

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