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CrisisWatch January 2020

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In January, the security situation in the Sahel deteriorated, especially in central Mali, western Niger and northern Burkina Faso, where suspected jihadists inflicted a heavy toll on civilians. In Nigeria, Boko Haram stepped up attacks and jihadist group Ansaru claimed its first attack since 2013. Al-Shabaab intensified deadly raids in Kenya, and violence rose in Cameroon’s Anglophone areas and eastern DR Congo. Political tensions increased in Somalia’s Galmudug state and Guinea-Bissau, and security forces hardened a crackdown in neighbouring Guinea. February could see fighting erupt in Somalia’s Gedo region, escalate in the Central African Republic, and resurge in South Sudan where leaders face a new deadline to form a unity government. The U.S.’s killing of Soleimani caused U.S.-Iran tensions to soar, and Iraq felt the brunt of the fallout. Fighting intensified in northern Yemen and across the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border raising the risk that violence spread. Fighting looks set to escalate in north west Syria as Turkish forces strike back against government troops. The U.S.’s release of its peace plan for Israel-Palestine triggered an angry backlash and in Lebanon clashes between protesters and security forces intensified. Venezuela’s political crisis deepened, but on the up side, the security situation in El Salvador improved, a key insurgent group in Thailand joined formal peace talks, Kosovo’s three-month political deadlock ended, and February could see a deal between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to resolve their dispute over the Nile waters.

In Africa, security in the Sahel continued to deteriorate as suspected jihadists upped attacks on civilians in northern Burkina Faso, intercommunal and jihadist violence intensified in central Mali, and in Niger jihadists carried out the deadliest assault yet on security forces, killing at least 89. In Kenya’s north east and east, Somali militant group Al-Shabaab stepped up the frequency and ambition of its attacks, while in neighbouring Somalia, tensions mounted in Galmudug state as rival camps appointed parallel parliaments and state presidents, and in coming weeks clan militias could clash in Gedo region. In South Sudan, new violence could break out this month as President Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar may not have reached an agreement on core issues before the 22 February deadline to form a unity government. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan made progress in talks to resolve their dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile, creating an opportunity to strike a comprehensive deal in February.

Ahead of Cameroon’s parliamentary and local elections in February, Anglophone separatist militants determined to block the poll stepped up their attacks including against electoral staff and the military intensified deadly raids. In eastern DR Congo, militia violence rose in Ituri and North Kivu provinces and, as we feared, fighting escalated between armed groups and among ethnic groups in the Central African Republic’s east and north east, which could lead to larger scale violence in coming weeks.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram factions stepped up their attacks in the north east, and the jihadist group Ansaru claimed an attack in the north west for the first time since 2013. In Guinea, security forces hardened their crackdown on protests against President Condé’s alleged plan to run for a third term leaving at least six dead, while in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, a standoff emerged amid allegations of electoral fraud.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S.’s killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad caused U.S.-Iran tensions to soar, triggered Iranian strikes on the U.S. military in Iraq and reinvigorated Iraqi efforts to evict U.S. and coalition forces from the country. The White House’s long-awaited plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, published on 28 January, provoked an angry rejection by the Palestinian leadership, further dimming prospects for peace. As Lebanon’s dire economic situation worsened, the anti-government protest movement swelled and clashes between protesters and security forces intensified.

Battle picked up tempo on several fronts in northern Yemen and across the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border between Huthi forces and the Saudi-led coalition, raising the risk that fighting intensify and spread further in February. Troop movements also suggested a looming escalation further south between the Sunni Islah party and forces backed by the United Arab Emirates. In north west Syria, fighting could intensify yet further as the Turkish military engages Russian-backed government forces in Idlib.

In Asia, in a major step forward in efforts to resolve the conflict in Thailand’s deep south, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, the main insurgent group, and government officials met for the first time in a formal peace dialogue. Though overall levels of violence have declined in recent years, ongoing attacks show that the conflict remains a threat.

In Latin America, Venezuela’s political crisis deepened as the government of President Maduro seized control of parliament. Both opposition leader Juan Guaidó and a member of parliament backed by Maduro, Luis Parra, now claim leadership of the National Assembly. In El Salvador, the security situation continued to improve with President Bukele reporting that January was the least deadly month since the end of the civil war in 1992.

In Europe and Central Asia, in a positive development, Kosovo’s President Thaçi on 20 January nominated Vetëvendosje party leader Albin Kurti as the next prime minister, ending three months of political deadlock.