Ethiopia: violence ebbs in Tigray, flares in Oromia
The war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has cooled down since the signing of a peace deal in November. But a separate conflict is intensifying further south, in Oromia, where civilians are suffering as anti-government rebels step up attacks. Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) guerillas were previously confined to the fringes of western and southern Oromia, Ethiopia's largest region. But analysts say the Tigray war created a security vacuum that has helped the OLA expand its long-running insurgency. The security situation is now "fast deteriorating," the UN's aid coordination agency, OCHA, warned in a report last month. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted and essential services are not functioning in some conflict-affected areas.
Political archaeology amid Jerusalem tensions
Israel's new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made a brief visit to al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Jan. 3, flanked by a heavy security detail and a fellow Orthodox Jewish worshipper—eliciting immediate outrage from both the Palestinian leadership and the Jewish state's own allies. The Palestinian Authority called the move "an unprecedented provocation," with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accusing Ben-Gvir of staging the visit as part of an agenda to turn the site "into a Jewish temple." He called on Palestinians to "confront the raids into al-Aqsa mosque." Hamas warned that Israel is approaching a "red line."
De-escalation on Kosovo-Serbia border —for now
Kosovo on Dec. 29 reopened its main border crossing with Serbia following calls from the international community to de-escalate rapidly rising tensions between the two countries. Serb protesters removed barricades along the border crossing following a meeting the previous night with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. An order issued by Vučić days earlier to increase the Serbian army's combat readiness was also revoked. However, Vučić insisted that Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is still a part of Serbia.
India: peace accord with Naga rebels in Manipur
The government of India on Dec. 27 announced that it had signed a peace agreement with the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), an insurgent group in the northeastern state of Manipur. Senior officials of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Manipur government and representatives of ZUF signed the "Cessation of Operation" agreement in the presence of the Chief Minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh.
Thousands flee worsening South Sudan clashes
Among the long list of ostensibly local conflicts that have broken out in South Sudan since a national peace deal was inked in 2018, analysts say the current violence involving Nuer and Shilluk militias in Upper Nile state ranks with the deadliest. Thousands of people have been uprooted since mid-November and there are concerns of an imminent attack on Kodok—a town hosting more than 10,000 displaced Shilluk. The UN's peacekeeping mission has been encouraged to step up protection duties, but Nuer forces have reportedly encircled Kodok and cut off escape routes, including to the nearby UN protection camp in Malakal. Though clashes are occurring along communal lines, they were triggered by internal tensions within a splinter group of the country's main opposition movement, the SPLA-IO. Simon Gatwech (a Lou Nuer) and Johnson Olony (a prominent Shilluk) defected from the group last year before turning on each other. President Salva Kiir has said he "cannot stop" the fighting, though observers say his regime benefits from pitting the feuding factions against each other.
Sudan: regime spurring Kordofan violence?
At least 30 people were killed and dozens injured in armed clashes between members of the Hamar and Misseriya pastoralist groups in Sudan's West Kordofan state, local leaders reported Dec. 12. A Hamar militia that had been organized to protect against cattle rustlers was apparently ambushed by Misseriya gunmen in the locality of Abu Zabad, setting off the violence. Hamar leaders charge that state authorities and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are protecting Misseriya bands that raid their lands with impunity. (Sudan Tribune, Dabanga) Six were also killed in a clash in September between the two groups in a dispute over the demarcation line between their territories. (Dabanga)
Massacre claim overshadows DRC peace talks
A third round of peace talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo government and rebel movements opened Nov. 30. But the M23 armed group—which has seized large chunks of territory in recent months—was not invited. A government spokesperson said the insurgents must vacate occupied areas before they can join the talks. More than 50 armed and civil society groups are present at the dialogue, being held in Kenya under the auspices of the East African Community. Those attending have been told to cease hostilities and join a new program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate combatants into society. Rwanda, accused of backing the M23, has also been invited to this round of talks.
Burkina Faso coup a France-Russia pivot?
Army captain Ibrahim Traoré has been officially appointed president of Burkina Faso after ousting Paul-Henri Damiba, who had himself taken power in a January coup. A two-day standoff in Ouagadougou came to an end on Oct. 2 as religious and community leaders mediated Damiba's resignation. Damiba had promised to stem rising attacks by jihadist groups when he took charge, but violence only worsened under his watch and frustration mounted within the army. A militant attack in the north that left dozens dead last month—both soldiers and civilians—is thought to have exacerbated military schisms ahead of the coup. Tensions also built around Damiba's perceived closeness to France—the country's former colonial ruler—and reluctance to pivot towards Russia (as the junta in neighboring Mali has). Supporters of 34-year-old Traoré initially claimed Damiba was plotting a counter-coup to return to power from a French military base in the country. France denied the accusation, but the charge appeared to galvanize support for the new leader and led to protests outside the French embassy. Traoré has said he won't stay in power for long, but much remains uncertain—including whether there will be peace talks with the jihadists.
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