The month saw violent extremist movements, including the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda-linked groups, carry out major deadly attacks in Turkey, Pakistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Belgium. In Libya, the arrival of Prime Minister Serraj in Tripoli despite warnings from multiple factions could lead to further destabilisation. Meanwhile in Central Africa, political violence rose in Burundi and could break out in Chad around the 10 April presidential election. Yemen, South Sudan and even Syria saw progress, of varying degrees, toward peace talks or implementation of agreements, and in Colombia the start of talks between the state and the National Liberation Army (ELN) could lead to the end of the 52-year-old conflict.
In Libya, international recognition of the new UN-backed Government of National Accord without support from military factions or the Tobruk-based House of Representatives worsened tensions in an already fragmented security landscape, and Prime Minister Serraj’s arrival in Tripoli on 30 March could trigger worse violence in April. Meanwhile, an IS branch is reportedly gaining strength. To prevent further splintering of Libya’s armed groups and ensure that political and security developments support a negotiated peace, Crisis Group has called for a nationwide security track dialogue in parallel with the UN-guided political track. In Tunisia, at least 50 IS militants stormed Ben Guerdane, 30km from the Libyan border on 7 March, attempting to overwhelm key security installations.
In Turkey, a car bomb attack on 13 March in Ankara saw 38 killed including two assailants. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), an ultra-radical Kurdish nationalist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), claimed responsibility, saying it was an act of revenge for ongoing security operations against the PKK in south-eastern urban centres. As Crisis Group has long argued, the only way toward a durable solution is peace talks with the PKK alongside ensuring further democratic rights for Turkey’s Kurdish population.
Elsewhere, violent extremist movements carried out major deadly attacks. In Pakistan, over 70 people were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by the Pakistani Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) in Lahore on 27 March. In Belgium 32 people were killed by two IS-linked suicide bomb attacks at the main airport and on the Brussels metro on 22 March, while in Côte d’Ivoire on 13 March gunmen shot dead sixteen civilians in Grand-Bassam, 40km east of Abidjan, in an unprecedented terrorist attack claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Crisis Group’s Special Report Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State examines how such extremist movements benefit from today’s deadliest crises and complicate efforts to end them.
In Burundi, political violence worsened while international pressure on President Nkurunziza failed to stop government repression. There were deadly attacks on three officials including two from the ruling party and the assassination of two high-ranking army officers on the same day, pointing to dangerous divisions in the military. According to the UN, 474 people have been killed in political violence since April 2015, and over 250,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring states. In Chad, mounting protests against President Déby’s regime and government repression could lead to serious political violence around the presidential election, scheduled for 10 April. Meanwhile, tensions between Morocco and the UN spiked after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to the “occupation” of Western Sahara during a visit to the region in early March.
In Syria, Russia’s announcement that it would withdraw the “main part” of its assets that have conducted operations in the country since September 2015 strengthened the ongoing UN-brokered talks, which resumed on 14 March in Geneva. Since the “cessation of hostilities” that began on 27 February violence has decreased considerably, according to local sources, with the lowest monthly civilian death toll in four years. Meanwhile, in Yemen, the agreement between Saudi Arabia and the Huthis to halt hostilities along the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border in early March paved the way for commitments to a wider ceasefire and peace talks to start in April. Fighting continued, nevertheless, including between government forces and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Aden and IS-linked attacks in the south.
In South Sudan, amid a decline in fighting, April could see significant progress toward the formation of a transitional government of national unity, bringing the country a step closer toward implementation of the August 2015 peace deal. In Colombia, in a welcome step, the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) announced on 30 March the opening of formal peace talks which, together with those nearing completion with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, are the greatest opportunity to end 52 years of armed conflict.