The Conflict around the world in June 2017 Report reveals that the insurgent group Boko Haram stepped up deadly attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon, and communal violence spike in central Mali. In Egypt, the authorities hardened against opposition voices while Syrian regime forces and their allies are likely to come into more direct confrontation with the U.S.-led coalition in July as the two sides compete to seize territory from the Islamic State (ISIS).
A Saudi Arabia-led bloc severed diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it, inter alia, of supporting Islamist groups. While in East Asia, relations between China and Japan, locked in a dispute over islands in the East China Sea, took a positive turn, particularly when they agreed to launch an air and maritime contact mechanism.
In Colombia, in a significant step forward in implementing the peace agreement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) completed the handover of their weapons.
Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon
In northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, Boko Haram orchestrated a series of attacks, including on army vehicles and villages, leaving at least 80 civilians dead. In one attack on 18 June, five female suicide bombers killed twelve people in Kofa village near Maiduguri. Meanwhile, north-south tensions deepened over Biafran separatist agitation, and new legislation on cattle grazing in Benue and Taraba states aggravated farmer-herder tensions.
As Crisis Group recently observed, unless the government pursues nationwide comprehensive reforms, including on citizens’ rights, corruption, transparency and accountability, its gains in subduing Boko Haram will be short-lived and Nigeria risks even more deadly violence.
Boko Haram attacks against civilians and security forces also rose in Cameroon’s Far North. Eighteen suicide bombings left at least twenty civilians and two soldiers dead. It is becoming obvious that the government must accompany its security-based approach with efforts to spur socio-economic development and counter religious radicalism.
Communal Violence in Mali
Violence in Mali’s north continued to hinder implementation of the June 2015 peace agreement and communal fighting flared again in the centre. Dogon and Fulani communities clashed in several villages in Mopti region, reportedly leaving 30 dead. As Crisis Group has highlighted, conflicts in central Mali, long neglected by the state, risk becoming a source of protracted instability, absent appropriate action to restore the state’s authority and legitimacy among local communities.
Syria Civil War Continues
The partial ceasefire in Syria’s west allowed the Assad regime to shift resources to the east, where it is racing against the U.S. and allied forces to capture strategic territory from ISIS. June saw U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces begin their assault on ISIS’s stronghold in Raqqa. But as Crisis Group has warned, the U.S. and partner forces could come into more direct confrontation with pro-regime forces in July: the U.S. shot down a regime jet on 18 June south-west of Raqqa and carried out several strikes on advancing pro-regime forces. Meanwhile, Turkey deployed troops to the Syrian border amid rumours it may be preparing an offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin in the north west.
Egypt intensify repression
In Egypt, President Sisi exploited protests across the country to intensify repression of the opposition and critical media, arresting seven journalists in Cairo and up to 60 activists nationwide.
Saudi Arabia-led bloc severed diplomatic ties with Qatar
In the wider region, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Yemen broke off diplomatic ties and closed transport links with Qatar on 5 June, accusing it of destabilising the region including by supporting Islamist groups and cosying up to Iran. While the crisis may soon prove to have been little more than “a tempest in a teapot”, it is now up to the other small Gulf states like Kuwait or Oman to play a mediating role and help find a face-saving formula for both sides.
China and Japan working to improve relations
June saw a number of indications that China and Japan are working to improve relations and downplay frictions over their East China Sea dispute. At their seventh round of High-Level Consultations on Maritime Affairs in Japan on 29-30 June, the two countries agreed inter alia to launch an air and maritime contact mechanism as soon as possible – as was recommended in Crisis Group’s June 2016 report on preventing clashes in the area.
FARC rebels hand over weapons to the UN
In Colombia, UN monitors reported that FARC rebels had completed the handover of their weapons to the UN mission a day ahead of the 27 June deadline, a vital step in implementing the 2016 peace agreement that ended five decades of conflict. However, FARC dissident groups continue to expand at a local or sub-regional level, mainly in the south and east, and the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second guerrilla group, continued to carry out attacks, as its peace negotiations with the government move forward slowly.