Conflict Trends Update


NATO peacekeepers stepped up patrols along the Kosovo-Serbia border amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Belgrade, which does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, is angered at Pristina’s new requirement that Serbian drivers travelling into Kosovo buy temporary licence plates. Pristina calls the regulation “reciprocity”, as cars with Kosovo registrations have long had to affix Serbian plates when passing into Serbian territory. Northern Kosovo Serbs, many of whom have Serbian plates, have blocked roads in protest, and both Belgrade and Pristina have deployed heavily armed police to the border. Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec says the disturbances show how quickly minor disputes can escalate between Kosovo and Serbia, particularly with elections coming up in both countries, though both sides appear eager to avoid bloodshed.


UN ceasefire monitors sounded the alarm last week about intensified intercommunal fighting in Tambura, a county in Western Equatoria, in which more than 100 civilians were killed. Nearly 80,000 people have been displaced by the gun battles since June. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says the violence started as a split in the area’s ex-rebel faction but has spiralled into ethnic strife, primarily pitting fighters from the Azande group against others from the neighbouring Balanda. The combatants are now also aligned with opposing camps in the power-sharing arrangement in national government. The clashes could get worse absent stronger action from authorities in Juba to settle the underlying disputes.


The Russian and Turkish presidents met in the Black Sea town of Sochi Wednesday to discuss de-escalation of the recently renewed fighting in Syria’s north-western province of Idlib. Moscow backs Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its effort to reconquer this last rebel-held area; Ankara has deployed some 10,000 troops near the front lines along Idlib’s periphery to help deter an all-out offensive. Turkey is pushing for the Kremlin’s recommitment to the March 2020 ceasefire that has come under strain as regime artillery and Russian jets bombard rebel positions. Ankara is unlikely to acquiesce to a violent takeover of Idlib by the regime, says Crisis Group expert Dareen Khalifa, as it would exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation there and send many more Syrian refugees fleeing toward Turkey.


Opposition is growing to President Kais Saïed’s 22 September decree concentrating legislative and executive power, with four major parties announcing an alliance against him Tuesday. Last week, the country’s influential labour federation warned that the president’s actions posed “dangers to democracy” and thousands demonstrated against Saïed in the capital. More than 100 members of the Islamist Ennahda party resigned from the movement, disappointed with Rached Ghannouchi’s leadership in trying to challenge Saïed. Polarisation is increasing between the political class, civil society, business circles and trade unions, on one hand, and Saïed’s partisans, mostly the poor and disenfranchised, on the other. On Wednesday, Saïed appointed a prime minister, Najla Romdhane, but it is unclear how much authority she will have. With the economy worsening, says Crisis Group expert Michaël Ayari, greater turmoil is possible in the weeks to come.

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