Written by Jacob Dickinson, Iris de Boer, Alessia Cappelletti
Sudan: power struggle between military factions broke into open conflict.
Russia-Ukraine: heavy fighting on the Ukrainian frontline, particularly in Donetsk.
Myanmar: military junta targeted civilian camps and committed human rights abuses.
Ethiopia: Amhara region on the border with Tigray has seen extensive protests.
Armenia-Azerbaijan: increased tensions after the establishment of Azerbaijani checkpoint.
Democratic Republic of Congo: continuation of the conflict on the border with Uganda.
Israel: judicial reforms in Israel postponed and worsening security situation in Israel-Palestine.
Burkina Faso: over 150 civilians killed in attack in Northern Yatenga province.
Mali: unrest continues as multiple attacks take place within the country.
Yemen: progress in peace talks by opposing sides.
Colombia: reshuffle of cabinet to reinvigorate reform plan and planned negotiations between the government and guerilla’s
Chile: Chile nationalized its lithium industry amidst growing competition for critical minerals used in green technologies.
Conflicts April 2023
On April 15, 2023, a crisis emerged in Sudan as violent clashes erupted between competing military factions. The conflict is primarily between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their respective leading generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti. The immediate cause of the conflict is the disagreement over the absorption of RSF forces in the SAF and the supposed disagreement on a timetable for a transition to democratic government after the coup in 2021.
The fighting and airstrikes have intensified in the capital’s international airport and in the gold-rich region Darfur in the southwest of the country. The outbreak of conflict has so far killed 512 people and wounded nearly 4,200, though the death toll is thought to be far higher. Humanitarian aid has struggled to keep up as airstrikes and artillery have destroyed hospitals and cut off critical infrastructure. The United Nations has predicted up to 100,000 people have fled Sudan to neighboring countries, Ethiopia, Chad and towards the Port of Sudan.
Outside actors also have significant interests in the outcome of the conflict. Egypt is a supporter of the SAF as they have supported Egypt’s opposition to Ethiopia’s plans for the GERD dam construction. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have cultivated close relationships with the both militaries due to the extensive trade in illegally mined gold in the country. The Russian Wagner Group has cooperated with the RSF to secure gold mines and transport gold back to Russia. For now, most actors seem to be supporting a ceasefire and refusing to openly back one side or the other.
The scale of the violence and need for humanitarian aid have fueled concerns of broader instability in the region. Sudan’s geographical position, the ongoing conflict, and the refugee movements fleeing violence, are also likely to put pressure on humanitarian aid delivery. The close ties between Chad and the RSF suggest that there is a chance of the former becoming involved to some degree. Sudan’s conflict risks spilling over to other countries due to the arms trade and rebel groups moving between borders. With ceasefires failing to hold, the conflict is likely to continue in May.
Heavy fighting on the Ukrainian frontline, and particularly in Donetsk, is taking place in flashpoints around Bakhmut, and also Kreminna and Marinka. Bakhmut has seen the fiercest fighting along the frontline. Ukrainian forces have managed to maintain logistical lines for the city and retain limited control. The Russian forces and Russian mercenary Wagner Group have fought together against the Ukrainian military and faced significant losses, though the strategic value of the city is questionable. Without gains on either side, analysts have predicted that the war could become a hot frozen conflict.
While Russia and the Wagner group remain focused on Bakhmut, Ukraine’s much-discussed counter-offensive against Russia’s hold has not started yet, though it was expected for the last weeks April. Analysts have argued that Ukraine's objective could be to push toward the Sea of Azov and sever the land bridge between Crimea and Russia. The information channels remain extremely limited on the objectives and scope of the counteroffensive. Russian forces are preparing defensive positions against the advance, laying mines and digging defensive positions.
On April 11, a US intelligence leak emerged with classified documents, suggesting that Kyiv is not likely to meet its objectives in the spring counteroffensive and its air defenses are weak. The intelligence leak was not intentional and the leak suspect was quickly arrested. However, while the intelligence leak represents what the US intelligence community thinks about the issue, the assessments are not foolproof. The US intelligence extensive reporting on detailed Russian military operations nevertheless demonstrates the weakness of Russia’s counter-intelligence operations and it is also witness to the fact that the US spies on its allies. This is not likely to alter diplomatic relations between the US and Ukraine given Washington’s military support for Kyiv.
Behind the frontlines, Russian airstrikes have continued to hit Ukrainian cities and the Ukrainian military. Russian missiles have also targeted critical civilian infrastructure. On April 30, Russia launched missile attacks against Pavlohrad, a logistically important transportation link, wounding 34 people. Another Russian attack killed 23 Ukrainian civilians in the city of Uman.
With the arrival of Western arms to Ukraine, the first Ukrainian tanks crews trained in the Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 are expected to be used in the counteroffensive. However, the Ukrainian foreign minister has noted that the coming counteroffensive is likely to be one of many. For now, the timing and scope of the planned counteroffensive could be as late as summer without an improvement in terrain conditions in Ukraine.
The conflict between the Myanmar military and different opposing factions continued in April, with the military targeting civilian camps and committing multiple human rights abuses. On April 11, the Myanmar military carried out airstrikes on a local village inhabited by opponents of the military in Kanbalu township, killing 168 people. According to analysts, this signals the desperation of the military junta in fighting against the armed resistance. Since the military coup on 1 February 2021, the military has been unable to defeat resistance groups and fighting has moved to previously peaceful big urban centers in the country.
Outside diplomatic efforts to act as peace providers or prevent further escalation remains difficult. Indonesia, the new chair for the regional bloc for Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), condemned the attack in a short announcement and is attempting to construct a more robust regional response to the Myanmar military’s atrocities against civilians. Given the organization’s principle of supposed non-interference in member’s internal affairs, Myanmar remains a member of ASEAN and governments have struggled to come to a consensus on solutions to the crisis. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand are unlikely to agree on a common response given their accommodating position on Myanmar’s military. The military's considerable capacity for self-reliance, as well as its cultivation of relationships with Russia and China, suggest that outside actors retain little capacity to exert pressure over the Myanmar military.
The Amhara region in Ethiopia, on the border of Tigray, has seen political instability during April. On April 6, the Ethiopian government said that it plans to integrate all 11 regional military units into a single centralized army. This provoked a series of protests in the Amhara region against the centralization of military power, in a country with highly decentralized military forces. Protests and gun battles were consistent throughout the month. In a further escalation of tensions, on 27 April, Amhara nationalists assassinated a member of the ruling Prosperity Party, Girma Yeshitila, criticizing his close relationship to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. This is likely to cause further instability.
At the same time, Ethiopia’s government has made progress in other peace talks. On April 23, the Ethiopian government accepted the terms of the peace negotiations with the rebel group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Both parties blame each other for attacks in the Oromiya region, in which air strikes were used against civilians. This rebel group is formally separate from the brutal conflict in Tigray, but the OLA did forge an alliance with the Tigray People’s Liberation (TPLF) in 2021.
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have increased after Azerbaijan established a checkpoint on the only land route to the Nagorno-Karabakh region on April 23. After the establishment of the checkpoint, border shootings by soldiers from Armenia as well as soldiers from Azerbaijan were reported. Azerbaijan stated that it had taken “appropriate measures to establish control at the starting point of the road.” Armenia claims the checkpoint is a violation of the Russian brokered ceasefire agreement in 2020 in which Azerbaijan agreed to “guarantee safe movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions along the Lachin corridor.” As part of this ceasefire agreement, the Lachin corridor has come under the jurisdiction of Russian peacekeeping forces that are present in the region.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a region that was claimed by Azerbaijan and Armenia after the Russian Empire fell in 1917 and has been contested ever since.
The two sides have gone to war in 1990 and 2020, and clashes continue on a regular basis. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is located within Azerbaijan, but is mostly populated by Armenian citizens. The region has its own government that works closely together with the Government of Armenia but is not officially recognized by UN member states. During the first week of May, the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia visited the US and met with the US Secretary of State to halt long-standing tensions over the region. On May 2, Russia stated that there is “no alternative” to the Russian-brokered peace agreement signed in 2020.
Alerts and developing situations, April 2023
On April 26, President Petro replaced seven ministers in his cabinet, in response to the coalition partner’s refusal to approve a healthcare reform that is pending in Congress. Petro hopes that the reshuffle will reinvigorate his reform plan. Healthcare reform has been a contested key issue by the opposition. In the same month, a group of FARC dissidents who rejected the 2016 agreement announced that their delegates are ready to start negotiations with the government in May 2023. Similarly, peace talks with another guerrilla, the ELN, entered their third round in the first week of May, with both parties advocating for a temporary ceasefire. Despite this, trust between the parties is still very low, as in March a previous ceasefire was broken and 9 Colombian soldiers died.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric announced on April 20 his plan to nationalize the country’s lithium industry to increase state revenues. Lithium is essential to produce electric vehicle batteries and Chile is the world’s second largest producer of the metal (behind Australia) but hosts the largest reserve. The plan announced would transfer the operations to a separate state-owned company and away from giants such as SQM and Albemarle – but not immediately as the companies’ current contracts run until 2030 and 2043, respectively. Since the announcements, the two companies lost a collective $8.5 billion. In Boric’s plan, future contracts would be issued as a public-private partnership with at least 51% state stakes. Criticisms from mining executives and industry analysts highlight that Boric’s strategy might have the opposite effect and shift investment towards Australia, Argentina, and several African countries – though Chinese firms may try to fill the gap. In the transition to climate-friendly technologies, mining and procurement of specific natural resources are climbing on the agendas of public as well as private entities and may become the next stage for geopolitical competition.
Follow-ups on previous conflict monitoring reports
1. Democratic Republic of Congo
The conflict in DRC has continued on the border with Uganda in the province of Ituri. On 15 April, dozens of civilians were killed by an armed militia called the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO). The competition is based on ethnic tensions and control over the Ituri region’s oil and gas deposits. Throughout April, massacres have occurred in the area as different groups, some with links to Islamic State, have vied for control. The ongoing humanitarian crisis is likely to continue as violence escalates throughout the country.
Israel's PM Netanyahu's plans for a controversial judicial reform have been halted to avoid an immediate escalation of protests. On April 16, Netanyahu said he would not immediately resume the reforms after months of protests. Critics of the proposal argue that limiting the court review will lead to authoritarianism in the country. At the same time, tens of thousands of protests supportive of the measure have also marched through Jerusalem. The proposed reforms seem to be temporarily postponed, given the scale of the division over the issue.
The security situation has also worsened in Israel-Palestine throughout April. There have been rockets fired from Gaza, the West Bank, the south of Lebanon, and the west of Syria. On April 8, the Israeli Defense Forces retaliated with airstrikes in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian villages and left several Palestinian citizens wounded. On April 8, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a crowded bar in Tel Aviv, killing three people. Palestinian terrorist organizations have also been more active. The intensity of violence between Israel and Palestine has become severe, and the plans to implement judicial reforms are likely to create more political instability in the short term.
Burkina Faso: Killings of civilians in Burkina Faso by Islamist armed groups and Burkina Faso Armed Forces has increased since 2022. On April 20, 156 civilians were killed during an attack on the village of Karma in Northern Yatenga province. The government of Burkina Faso has condemned the killings and stated that it will start an investigation. Islamist armed groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State are known to control territory in the area where Karma is located. According to villagers, the killings in Karma have been a retaliation against people in the village who are suspected of cooperating with Islamist armed groups. It is estimated that over 5.5 million people in Burkina Faso are in need of assistance and nearly 2 million people have been displaced.
Mali: The March’s Conflict Monitoring Report focused on the growing influence of the Russia-affiliated Wagner group in the Sahel. On April 20, there was an attack near a military camp that hosts Malian forces, UN peacekeepers, and Wagner fighters. According to Lassane Ouedraogo Wedraogo, a researcher from the Centre for Democracy and Development who focuses on the Sahel, the attack likely targeted the Wagner fighters in the camp. The attack killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens. On the same day, the Malian army stated that it “destroyed a terrorist sanctuary in Mourdiah and neutralized some 60 terrorists in Boni.” The actions by the Malian army followed an attack on April 18, during which the chief of staff for Mali’s interim president and three others were killed in an ambush in the rural area of Nara, a region in which rebels linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State control territory.
Following an outbreak of fighting in March, Yemen has seen progress in peace talks by opposing sides backed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Following the thaw in relations between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, on April 10, Saudi and Iran-backed Houthi leaders met and discussed a peace plan which is scheduled to take place over a period of 8 months. The ceasefire may be the first step to ending Yemen’s deadly civil war, which has lasted for 8 years and killed over 377,000 people.
Hopes for holding the ceasefire are likely to continue following the Yemen government’s and Houthi rebels' exchange of over 900 prisoners of war on 15 April. The exchange of prisoners is intended to build on the ceasefire in the diplomatic push to end the war. However, the UN has suggested that prospects for peace remain fragile. The Iran and Saudi Arabia thaw is new for historical arch-rivals, while Yemen’s internal situation remains deeply divided. While April saw progress in peace negotiations, the restart of conflict remains a concern.
About the authors
Alessia is Intelligence Analyst and Project Coordinator at Dyami. She has field experience in South America, Colombia especially, and has experience in researching organized crime and conflicts. Her academic background includes conflict analysis, international humanitarian law, and criminology.
Iris de Boer
Iris has a background in Human Geography and has developed a broad interest in geopolitics and armed conflict during her academic career. She is currently enrolled in the Master’s degree Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University, during which she developed conflict mapping and conflict analyzing skills. Her previous research focused on the polarized display of the United States presidential elections in 2020 within Dutch media.
Jacob studied Global Political Economy at Leiden University. He is passionate about international development and is looking to expand his expertise in geopolitics and crisis management. Curious about other cultures, he has traveled in Europe and Asia for both academic study and professional purposes. His expertise includes the geopolitics of oil and industrial upgrading in the electronics global value chain. He is particularly interested in the evolving political and economic relationships between China and ASEAN, and the consequences for regional development and security.