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Conflict Monitoring Report: April 2024

Written by Elena De Mitri, Arianna Lucà, Mickey Beckmann, Iris de Boer, Jacob Dickinson, Kevin Heller, Sara Frisan


 

  • Russia-Ukraine: As fighting between Russia and Ukraine continues, Ukraine is waiting for the arrival of the pledged US aid package to prevent further Russian advances. 

  • Israel-Hamas: With peace negotiations stalling, Israel is ramping up its military campaign in Gaza with a Rafah offensive likely coming next month.

  • Myanmar: Fighting intensifies as the military junta and resistance seek control of a key trading hub on the border with Thailand. 

  • Sudan: One year into the conflict, clashes between RSF and SAF have intensified on the outskirts of El-Fasher in North Darfur, a key humanitarian hub. 

  • Georgia: Protests erupted across the country in opposition to the foreign agent bill, which the opposition say could endanger civil society and free press. 

  • Niger: The junta strengthens military cooperation with Russia as protestors demand immediate withdrawal of US troops from the country.  

  • Somalia: Amid a dispute between the Somali government and the Puntland administration over constitutional reforms, al-Shabaab attacks against security forces persist. 

  • Serbia-Kosovo: Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo are soaring, as Kosovo prepares to enter the Council of Europe and diplomatic talks falter.

  • Haiti: With the new transitional government officially in power, gangs demand a seat at the table, threatening more violence.

  • Mexico: As June general elections approach, Mexico experiences extreme levels of political violence and widespread protests. 

  • Ecuador: As gang-related violence continues, Ecuador declares a state of emergency due to internal armed conflict in five provinces. 

  • China-Philippines: Tensions in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines rise, as further maritime incidents occur and countries conduct naval military exercises. 

  • North Korea-South Korea: While North Korea is shifting towards a more confrontational policy, both countries are deepening ties with allies and internationally aligned countries.



Conflict Monitoring Map April


Conflicts, April 2024


Russia-Ukraine

The delivery of Western aid to Ukraine slowed down in recent months. As Ukraine waited for the approval of a 61 billion dollar aid package from the United States, the situation on the frontline has deteriorated and Russia has mainly taken advantage of the current Ukrainian weapon and equipment shortages in Donetsk Oblast. Throughout April, Russia gained territory northwest of Avdiivka, forcing Ukraine to withdraw from multiple tactical positions. Heavy fighting is currently taking place in the Chasiv Yar area, an operationally significant location for the Russian forces from which they could launch an additional offensive if captured. Ukraine's top commander, Oleksandr Syrksii, warned of a possible future Russian offensive against the city of Kharkiv as an increasing number of Russian forces are regrouping in the area. Russia has continued its airstrikes on Ukrainian cities, changing its usual tactics and complementing its nighttime attacks with daytime attacks. In addition, both Russia and Ukraine continued attacks on each other's energy sectors, leading to damaged oil refineries in Russia and damaged power plants in Ukraine. Ukrainian drones managed to hit an oil refinery and factory almost 1300 kilometers away from the border.


As fighting between Russia and Ukraine continued, the US aid bill for Ukraine was eventually passed on April 24, 2024, after which US President Biden promised that weapons and equipment would be sent to Ukraine "right away." However, Ukrainian President Zelensky stated on April 27 that the aid delivery needs to happen faster to prevent further Russian territory gains. The arrival of the US aid package is expected to enable the Ukrainian Armed Forces to stop additional Russian advances. Minor Russian advances along the frontline will likely happen in May, but Western aid is expected to arrive on time to prevent a significant Russian breakthrough.


Israel-Hamas  

The Israel-Hamas conflict reached a new phase in March 2024. Israel ramped up its campaigns in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. The IDF and IAF neutralized dozens of Hamas, Hezbollah, and IRGC (Islamic Republican Guards Corps from Iran) commanders. According to Israeli numbers, Hamas has been reduced to 80% less capacity than before October 7, 2023, Hezbollah military leadership has been halved due to airstrikes, and the IRGC is relocating its command staff back to Iran after successful targeting campaigns by Israel. On April 13, 2024, Iran and Hezbollah retaliated against Israel with a massive barrage of at least 300 drones, dozens of cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. Most of the projectiles were intercepted by US, UK, Jordanian, Saudi Arabian, French, and Israeli aircraft and missiles before they reached the Israeli border. Those that did get through the protective umbrella landed in deserted regions, severely wounding a young Bedouin herder. Israel, in reaction, launched missiles at an Iranian air base in Isfahan, which houses drone battalions and is close to the Iranian nuclear program facilities. Meanwhile, as Hezbollah increased its attacks on the north of Israel, the IDF and IAF continued to target Hezbollah installations and commanders. 


In Gaza, the humanitarian situation is somewhat improving after international pressure on Israel forced it to open more border crossings to enable the provision of food and medicine. Still, the situation is very dire for Gaza civilians and foreign aid workers, several of whom were killed by Israeli forces. Peace negotiations between Israel and Hamas have failed as neither side seems to be able to present terms that are acceptable to the other. 


In the coming month, the IDF and IAF will intensify their campaigns against Hamas in the border town of Rafah, Gaza, and will seek to rid southern Lebanon of Hezbollah forces to allow Israeli civilians to return to northern Israel. It is unclear what Iran will do in the coming month since it has to evaluate its military capabilities, which seem not to be as effective as propagated in Iranian media.


Myanmar 

Myanmar’s civil war intensified in April 2024, building on the assault from the combined forces of ethnic armed groups and the military opposition, which began in October 2023. At the beginning of the month, a resistance group loyal to the National Unity Government launched drone attacks against the airport in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw. While there were no casualties, it demonstrates the weakness of the military’s capabilities. In the east of the country, the military junta and the ethnic group Karen State battle for a key trading town for the junta, Myawaddy. Fighting intensified due to its strategic significance for the junta; losing the town would mean the loss of the second key source of income after losing the Laukauing, another key trading post between China and Myanmar. The change in control would be another blow to the junta, which is on the backfoot across the country. The humanitarian situation has worsened considerably for people fleeing the conflict internally and to neighboring countries. Refugees who have fled the fighting into India and Thailand have been sent back to Myanmar, with authorities claiming that the fighting has calmed down. 


Sudan 

April 15, 2024, marked one year since the beginning of the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Over the past 12 months, the conflict caused over 15,000 casualties, including many civilians, and approximately 8 million internally displaced people. Most of the civilian casualties occurred in the states of Khartoum and Darfur. Sudan is currently experiencing one of the world's worst hunger crisis, with nearly 18 million people facing severe food insecurity and in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. Warring factions continue to clash in several regions, especially in Darfur. In the past few weeks, deadly clashes between the RSF, supported by allied Arabs nomadic militias, and the Sudanese army and its aligned tribal armed groups - known as “non-Arabs” - raised concerns of ethnically motivated and intercommunal massacres in North Darfur. 


Also, in recent weeks, fighting between SAF and RSF has resumed, after nearly a year of truce, in the proximity of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur State, the only major town in the Darfur region not yet under RSF control. On April 28, the UN Security Council urged the RSF to end the violence and the siege in El Fasher and called on all parties to take urgent steps to de-escalate. The UN began raising the alarm of an "imminent large-scale massacre" in El Fasher earlier this month after the RSF and SAF had been reinforcing their military presence in the region for weeks. According to North Darfur State, since early April, at least 11 villages on al-Fashir's outskirts have been destroyed, causing numerous civilian casualties, and more than 7,000 people have been displaced. Moreover, the escalation of violence in the area could have severe consequences for civilians and humanitarian assistance, as El-Fasher is a long-standing humanitarian hub, and increased fighting in the region could severely undermine aid delivery throughout the country. 



Alerts, April 2024


Georgia  

Since mid-April 2024, widespread protests have erupted across the country as the Georgian Dream party, the pro-Russia ruling party, has been trying to introduce the so-called Foreign Agent Law for the second time. The party attempted to pass a similar law in 2023 to combat foreign-imposed values but eventually dropped due to protests. The proposed bill would require organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as organizations pursuing the interests of a foreign power. According to the opposition, this is a strategy to target and silence pro-democracy organizations. Opposition parties also compared the bill to a Russian law currently used to curb dissent. The bill, resubmitted on April 3, 2024, is expected to be passed in May. Massive protests began as soon as the bill was formally registered in Parliament. Police clashed repeatedly with protesters in an attempt to clear them from outside Parliament. The EU openly stated that this law would be incompatible with European values and would likely hinder Georgia's accession to the EU, which is strongly desired by the majority of the population. Media organizations in the country condemned the bill in a joint statement, fearing it would be used to prosecute journalists. The president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, immediately condemned the bill as unconstitutional and promised to veto it. However, the ruling party has enough votes to overrule the presidential veto. During Parliament discussions on April 29, seven opposition lawmakers were expelled, and others were cut short during their speeches. The final reading is scheduled for May 17, 2024, and the bill is expected to pass without being affected by the presidential veto. Protests will likely continue throughout May. 


Serbia-Kosovo

Progress in the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo has been stalling as European mediators lament that the two sides are unwilling to compromise and comply with the 2023 Ohrid Agreement. Tensions between the two countries have been growing in the last months and will likely continue on this path. On April 16, 2024, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe recommended that Kosovo become a member of the Council of Europe, with the final decision set for May. This ignited protests by Serbian authorities, as the country does not recognize Kosovo's independence. Serbia expressed the intention of leaving the Council of Europe if Kosovo is accepted. On April 22, 2024, EU foreign affairs ministers decided to make Serbia's accession to the EU reliant on the country's normalization of its relationship with Kosovo to quell Serbian opposition to Kosovo's accession to international organizations. As tensions soar, Serbia has conducted an extensive military drill near the southern border with Kosovo, which prompted Kosovo to double the military budget and triple the armament budget to enhance the country's defense forces.


Local elections were held in Kosovo in late April as part of the normalization process. Still, the polls were boycotted by the main Serb-Kosovar party, which is affiliated with the governing party of Serbia and is generally opposed to Kosovo's independence. The elections aimed at fixing the result of a previous election held in 2023, which was also boycotted by the Serbian minority in the country. In addition, Kosovar Serbs are boycotting the new population census to be held in April and May 2024 and the recent introduction of the euro as the only official currency. 


Niger

In support of Niger's junta termination of the military agreement that allows US troops to operate in the country, massive anti-US protests are taking place in the country. On April 13, 2024, hundreds took to the streets of Niger's capital, pushing for the departure of US troops. Their withdrawal is still under negotiation and the US sent a delegation to Niger on April 25 to discuss the withdrawal of some 1000 troops. Niger has been a crucial security ally for France and the US in combating Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region. However, following the military coup in July 2023 and Niger's exit from the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS in January 2024, Niger's military junta joined neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in ending military ties with Western allies, favoring closer cooperation with Moscow. In January 2024, Niger signed an agreement to step up security cooperation with Russia. On April 10, it was reported the arrival of Russian military instructors and equipment to reinforce Niger's air defenses and to train local security forces. The US has expressed concern about Russia's growing economic and military influence in the area, which could allow the Kremlin to strategically threaten Europe and the US through energy coercion, migrant influx, and military pressure. International observers are concerned that the withdrawal of Western forces and the increased influence of an authoritarian government such as Russia may lead to greater instability and a rise in security threats, including an increase in extremist violence following the breakdown of international counterterrorism, and a deterioration of human rights and civil liberties in Niger. 


Somalia

The constitutional reform process is exacerbating tensions between the Somali central government and the semi-autonomous Puntland administration. On March 30, 2024, the Somali Parliament approved a controversial series of new amendments to the Constitution, aimed at strengthening the role of the President, abolishing the prime minister, and replacing the current clan-based indirect voting system with universal suffrage. On March 31, the Puntland administration rejected the amendments and announced its withdrawal from the federal system, declaring itself independent from Somalia until the Constitution is approved by referendum. The dispute deepened following a meeting on April 3 between representatives of Puntland and Ethiopia to discuss trade cooperation. The Somali government, whose relations with Addis Ababa are currently strained over the separatist region of Somaliland, responded by expelling the Ethiopian ambassador from Mogadishu and declaring the closure of Ethiopian consulates in Puntland and Somaliland – a decision rejected by local governments. 


On top of the current dispute with Puntland and widespread dissatisfaction with constitutional amendments that risk weakening the federal system, the Somali government also has to deal with ongoing violence by the militant group al-Shabaab. In April 2024, there were several co-ordinated attacks in the Lower Shabelle region, where al-Shabaab targeted government security forces. 



Updates, April 2024


Haiti

In the wake of the extreme escalation of violence in Haiti, a transitional council was officially installed on April 25, 2024 to address the widespread insecurity until the next elections.  Moreover, the appointment of the new transitional government might speed up the deployment of the delayed Kenya-led multinational security mission. The council, which took power following the official resignation of former PM Ariel Henry, has a non-renewable mandate until 2026 and consists of seven voting members and two observers. On April 30, the council appointed former Senate President Edgard Leblanc as head of the body and named Fritz Belizaire, who served as interim PM since Henry's resignation, as the new Haitian Prime Minister. Beliziare's nomination has yet to be confirmed by a declaration in Haiti's official gazette. 


Since February 2024, over 2,500 people have been killed or wounded due to the escalation of gang violence carried out by an alliance of Haitian gangs, led by Jimmy Chérizier, which took control of the capital and urged for Henry's resignation. In the last few months, gangs have prevented humanitarian aid from getting to Haiti. While Henry's resignation marks a victory for the Haitian gangs, they voiced anger over their exclusion from the transitional negotiations, threatening further violence unless they get a seat at the table and their demands are met by the council. Their demands include the grant of amnesty for their crimes and the creation of reintegration programs for young gang members. 


Mexico 

Mexico's general elections are scheduled for June 2, 2024. Recent polls indicate that Claudia Sheinbau, a candidate from the ruling Morena party, is the frontrunner in the election. She is followed by Xóchitl Gálvez, but her lead raises the likelihood that Mexico will have a woman president for the first time. As the June 2 elections approach, Mexico is experiencing a significant wave of election-related and political violence. Since the beginning of the electoral campaign, electoral violence claimed over 400 victims, including 30 political candidates. Over 170 attacks and 11 kidnappings against politicians have been reported, with the highest levels of political violence being recorded in Michoacán, Guerrero, and Chiapas. International observers are concerned that the widespread violence and the infiltration of organized crime into polling stations could decrease voter turnout in the elections.


As well as the upcoming elections, Mexico is experiencing alarming rates of murders, cartel and drug trafficking-related violence, kidnappings, and human trafficking in April. Mexico is experiencing protests over the disappearance of 43 students at Ayotzinapa College. The protests escalated to the torching of a government building and vehicles in Guerrero. Other protests are also taking place in Mexico City over unexplained water contamination. 


On top of the escalation of violence,  in April 2024, diplomatic relations between Mexico and Ecuador broke down after the raid by Ecuadorian security forces on the Mexican Embassy in Quito, to arrest the former Ecuadorian vice president Glas seeking refuge in the embassy. The incident sparked regional outrage; Mexico filed a request to suspend Ecuador's UN membership and the International Court of Justice is set to hear the case on April 30 and May 1. 


Ecuador 

Ecuador has been experiencing an unprecedented wave of gang-related violence. Due to the deteriorating security situation, President Noboa, who took office in November 2023, declared a 60-day state of emergency and the deployment of armed forces to combat gangs in five coastal provinces on April 30, 2024. Last January, due to escalating violence and a series of violent gang attacks, the government declared Ecuador to be in a "state of internal conflict''. On April 21, the citizens approved tighter security measures through a referendum. These measures, aimed at curbing gang violence, are part of a trend of militarization and hard-line policies implemented by the Ecuadorian government. Besides the internal security crisis, Ecuador is facing a diplomatic dispute with Mexico, which has resulted in the withdrawal of diplomats from Quito by some countries in the region, including Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. 


At the same time, the country is experiencing an energy crisis due to power shortages caused by a drought. The energy crisis has been aggravated by the decision of Colombia, which is also struggling with power cuts and droughts caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, to halt energy exports to Ecuador to prioritize its domestic energy needs. On April 16, President Noboa declared a state of emergency and implemented electricity rationing measures. The government also deployed security forces to guard energy infrastructure and launched an investigation into possible sabotage, accusing some officials of being corrupt and attempting to sabotage power plants to prevent the April 21 referendum from taking place.


China-Philippines

The maritime dispute over the Scarborough Shoal escalated in April 2024, indicating the heating up of a major flashpoint in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard began construction of a 380 meter floating barrier to prevent the Philippines Coast Guard resupply missions to Sierra Madre, a WW2 ship grounded on the reef in 1999, in an attempt to control access to the disputed islands. The Philippines Coast Guard claimed that two vessels were harassed by Chinese coast guard ships, using water cannons and their ships to intimidate ram Philippine vessels. The Philippines repeatedly called out China’s actions in the reef, highlighting the UNCLOS arbitration which ruled in favor of the Philippines’ control of the Scarborough Shoal in 2016. In response to the heightened tensions, the US and the Philippines conducted extensive military drills, which, for the first time, rehearsed taking specific islands within Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China has stepped up combat patrols around the Scarborough Shoal. China’s foreign ministry has hit out at Ferdinand Marcos Jr., President of the Philippines for performing “illegal actions” in the South China Sea. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has not yet invoked the 1951 US mutual defense treaty, but US President Joe Biden has reaffirmed that its support for the Philippines is “Ironclad” in the event of an armed attack in the South China Sea.


North Korea-South Korea

After the country's policy shift regarding reunification with South Korea, North Korea is starting to strengthen its relationships with internationally aligned countries. As Russia is more openly supporting North Korea, the two countries have vowed to cooperate in the agriculture sector, which could help North Korea avoid the recurring food shortages exacerbated by the UN sanctions. Moreover, North Korea has pledged to expand diplomatic exchanges and ties with Russia and China. Deeper cooperation was also discussed with Belarus and Iran, especially in terms of bilateral trade. As North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the military to be prepared for an occupation of its southern neighbor, military drills have been ramped up throughout the month. Towards the end of April, North Korea conducted drills related to its nuclear trigger management system along with ballistic missile tests. 


On the other side, South Korea has shifted towards a more hard-line policy towards North Korea. The country is seeking to strengthen its security cooperation with its allies, especially the US and Japan. The three countries held a two week long joint military drill in the country, focused on air capacity. As Russia's March 2024 veto stopped the renewal of the group of experts monitoring enforcement of UN sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear weapons programme, the US and its allies are seeking new ways of ensuring and monitoring the sanctions enforcement, with a solution expected by next month. 



 

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About the authors 


Elena de Mitri 

Elena is a highly motivated person with a strong interest in international security. She holds a Master's degree in International Studies from the University of Turin, where she focused on regime changes and human rights. Her academic journey also includes a Bachelor's degree in Foreign Languages and Cultures, with a focus on the MENA region and muslim societies. Additionally she pursued a Minor in Gender Studies, enhancing her understanding of the intersectionality of various issues in international contexts. During her previous traineeship at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission she conducted research on terrorist groups, especially on jihadist groups and right-wing extremists.


Arianna Lucà

Arianna is a new intern at Dyami, covering the role of Research Intelligence Analyst to enrich her background knowledge in International Relations with topics involving security and conflict. She holds an MA in International Relations from Leiden University and an LLM in European Criminal Justice from Utrecht University. During her academic career, she has volunteered for different NGOs, mainly Amnesty International, and Emergency and ActionAid, embracing humanitarian and conflict security causes, and addressing issues like famine and lack of security in different regions of the world. With Dyami, she is contributing to joint publications, writing articles, and keeping up to date with key regional developments.


Mickey Beckmann

Mickey is currently enrolled in the master’s program Conflict Studies & Human Rights at the University of Utrecht. As of a young age she felt the need to help people in dire circumstances, which evolved into a deep interest and drive to address sociocultural and political issues related to conflict. Motivated to make the world a safer and more accessible place, she completed a bachelor in ‘International Relations in Historical Perspective’ at Utrecht University. Eager to broaden her knowledge of geopolitical conflict and security, during her internship at Dyami she will actively participate in writing collaborative publications and authoring articles, with a main focus on the region North and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Iris de Boer

Iris works as a Global Intelligence Analyst at Dyami, leveraging her background in Human Geography. Additionally, Iris holds an MA degree in Conflict Studies and Human Rights from Utrecht University, specializing in conflict analysis, peace processes, and geopolitics. Her MA thesis delved into the securitization of the war in Ukraine by the Heads of State, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and Ministers of Defense of the Netherlands and Poland. Within Dyami, Iris is actively involved in security risk management, travel security, and geopolitical analysis. Her enthusiasm for addressing topics in international security extends across a diverse spectrum of countries and regions.


Jacob Dickinson 

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. 


Kevin Heller 

Kevin has over a decade of experience in the world of counter-terrorism as a consultant, trainer, and analyst. His background is in military Close Quarter Battle/Combat and Krav Maga for Military and Law Enforcement agencies. As a Global Intelligence Analyst, he writes Intel Briefs on conflict zones and terrorism. He has extensive knowledge of conflicts, politics, and other events happening in the Middle East. Kevin also has a background in Journalism and International Affairs/Conflict Studies.


Sara Frisan 

Sara joined Dyami as a Junior Intelligence/Research Analyst post-graduate intern to deepen her passionate interest in conflict analysis and security. Sara recently completed her MA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University and held an MA degree in International Sciences and Peace Studies. During her academic career, she conducted research in South America, primarily Colombia, on the dynamics of collaboration and resistance between civilians and non-state armed groups in violent settings. In her previous internship at the investigative think-tank InSight Crime, Sara developed some expertise on transnational organized crime and political-criminal alliances.  


 


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