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Conflict Monitoring Report - October 2023

Written by Roos Nijmeijers, Sara Frisan, Mark Bruno, Alessia Cappelletti, Jacob Dickinson


 
  • Israel-Hamas: - Outbreak of conflict as Hamas attacked the south of Israel from Gaza, prompting a bombing campaign and ground offensive of the Strip three weeks later

  • Russia-Ukraine: Russia attempts a costly offensive against Avdiivka, Ukrainian movement threatens to slow, with an exception towards Robotyne

  • Mali: Hostilities between separatist rebels and government forces intensify in northern Mali, as UN peacekeeping mission begins withdrawal

  • DRC: Clashes intensified in the eastern regions of the DRC causing a record number of internally displaced people and concerns of an impending humanitarian crisis

  • Colombia: Despite advances in the Petro government's “total peace”, levels of violence in Colombia remain high

  • Chile: Tensions with Mapuche indigenous people lead to a state of emergency in the Araucanía region and Arauco and Biobío provinces

  • Russia: Putin announces a withdrawal of Russia’s ratification from the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

  • Guatemala: Post-election protests and civil unrest, following the suspension of President-elect Arévalo, results in an escalation of violence

  • Venezuela-Guyana: Venezuela called for a referendum to determine sovereignty over the oil-rich Esequiba region, a long-standing source of dispute with Guyana

  • China- Philippines: Maritime tensions rising as the Philippines fishing vessels and China Coast Guard ships collide

  • Armenia-Azerbaijan: Tensions are still high in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, peace talks are taking place but so far without results

  • Haiti: Gang-related violence is steadily increasing, and the UN-approved Multinational Security Support has been suspended

  • Serbia-Kosovo: Increase in the number of Serbian troops with military equipment on the Serbia-Kosovo border and little progress in normalizing relations

  • Pakistan: Clashes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are rising, announcement of all undocumented immigrants need to leave the country by November 1

  • Myanmar: Multiple military junta attacks targeting ethnic minorities were reported, including airstrikes on IDP camps


Conflicts, October 2023


Israel-Hamas

On October 7, 2023, 2500 members from the terrorist group Hamas attacked the south of Israel from Gaza and killed over 1400 Israeli citizens. In response, Israel started a bombing campaign in Gaza trying to eliminate the Hamas leadership and infrastructure. Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, started a rocket-firing campaign aimed at Israeli villages and cities. Since October 7 hundreds of rockets have been fired by the terrorist groups and the Israeli Air Force has dropped hundreds of bombs on Gaza. According to various sources, hundreds of Gaza civilians have died due to the Israeli bombing campaign.


The Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, which operates from Lebanon and Syria, has threatened to get involved in the conflict and thus opening a front in the north of Israel. Hezbollah soldiers have fired rockets and missiles at Israeli Defense Force targets but there is no sign of a full-scale attack. Hezbollah leaders have said they will engage Israel as soon as the IDF starts a ground war in Gaza. Leaders of Iran have made similar statements. The United States have warned Iran and Hezbollah to stay out of the fight or they might be targeted by the US military, which has bolstered its presence in the region by bringing in various aircraft carrier groups and by deploying fighter and bomber aircraft in Jordan.


The weekend of October 27-29 saw the beginning of Israel’s invasion into northern Gaza. According to the IDF, air assets bombed 600 targets in the area on Saturday, alone.


Russia-Ukraine

October has seen an attempt by Russia to split Ukraine’s attention as weather and road conditions threaten to halt momentum for both armies. The city of Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast has become the site of an extremely violent and costly attempt by Russia to conduct a counteroffensive of their own. Estimates of at least 5000 Russian casualties and documented massive losses of armor and artillery are being published. Despite this, Russia has made small gains around the city, and continues to push.


The first documented use by Ukrainian forces of US-supplied ATACMS missiles was on an October 17, 2023, raid of two Russian airfields. The targets were a squadron of Ka-52 helicopters, with Russian losses estimated between 14 and 21 aircraft.


Attacks utilizing unmanned weapons and irregular ground forces in Crimea continue. Ukraine did manage to break through Russian blockades of Ukrainian ports meaning Ukraine can transport ships with grain through the Black Sea again. Russian ships were also moved following attacks by Ukraine on Russian-occupied Crimea. Zelensky has announced continued military pressure on occupied Crimea. The eastern front is also slowly moving in a direction that is favorable for the Ukrainian forces. The continuation of the conflict means that there are more and more casualties on both sides, including civilian casualties, without it creating a positive outcome for either party.


Berlin has informed Ukraine that it will experience no change in terms of arms supply and economic support despite Berlin's support for the Israel-Hamas conflict. Ukraine is also getting support from a new Siberian Battalion consisting of Russian citizens who have come to Ukraine via third countries and are being readied to help in the war, on Ukraine's side. They disagree with the “terrible crimes” committed by Russia and want to fight against “Russian imperialism”.


Mali

Throughout October, hostilities resumed in northern Mali between government forces and separatist armed groups united in a coalition, the Permanent Strategic Framework or CSP, which includes groups signatories of the 2015 Algiers accord and groups of former Tuareg. Since October 2, 2023, the government has been deploying significant military personnel and military equipment to the region. It has been reported that on October 7 the Malian Army (FAMa), allegedly supported by the Wagner Group, took control of a stopover town in Kidal.


Besides postponing the presidential elections scheduled for September 2023, the Malian government called for the withdrawal of the 10-year MINUSMA UN peacekeeping forces by December 2023. While security concerns have been raised about the termination of the mission, withdrawal operations began in October. On October 22 MINUSMA completed the accelerated withdrawal from the base in Tessalit, in the Kidal region. On October 27 it was reported that four civilians were wounded in an attack on a withdrawing MINUSMA convoy in the Gao region.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

In October, violence continued in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led to a record number of internally displaced people. On October 30, 2023, the United Nations reported 6.9 million people are currently displaced in the DRC, as the fighting intensified. Together with this record number of IDP, the World Food Program also reported that in the Eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, 5.5 people are in crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. Kinshasa will have to face a dire humanitarian crisis in the upcoming months.


Despite a ceasefire agreement between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group, clashes between the M23 and militias loyal to the government intensified in the eastern province of North Kivu this month. The East African Community forces declared on October 25 that the M23 breached the ceasefire as it attacked and killed a Kenyan Peacekeeper in Goma. Fights focused especially on the city of Kitshanga, which was re-captured by loyalist militias in mid-October from the M23. However, violent clashes broke out shortly after as the rebels tried to retake the town and managed to regain control for less than 24 hours before handing it over to the army.


In October, the conflict also spilled over to Ugandan territory. ADF (Allied Democratic Forces, an IS-affiliated armed group) incursions in Uganda resulted in two attacks, involving a tourist vehicle and a commercial truck and resulting in at least five dead, including two foreigners. Bomb threats and attacks have been thwarted by authorities in Kampala. Officials have increased patrols and increased the checks at the border with DRC. A Ugandan soldier was also killed in an attack in eastern DRC by the ADF.


Lastly, on October 23 the DRC authorities reported an incursion of Rwandan forces into the region of North Kivu, reportedly in support of the M23. The international community and the UN expressed a concern about ‘direct confrontation’ between the two countries and a general regional security deterioration as the conflict spills over to neighboring countries. The President of the DRC, Felix Tshisekedi, reiterated his determination to ‘put an end’ to M23 and its allies.


Alerts, October 2023


Colombia

Despite advances in the Petro government's “total peace” plan through peace talks and ceasefires with armed and criminal groups, including the ELN, the Gulf Clan (AGC), and FARC dissidents (EMC-FARC), levels of violence in Colombia remain extremely high. In conjunction with the election campaigns for local elections on October, 29, 2023, armed groups have increased control and violence in some areas, mainly rural areas, resulting in a sharp increase in kidnapping, extortion, recruitment, and electoral manipulation. The main targets affected by the incidents of violence are ethnic minorities and women. On October 1 Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace announced that since 2016, there have been more than 35 thousand cases of gender, sexual, and reproductive violence related to the conflict.


Following President Petro's statements on the Israel-Hamas conflict and in support of Palestine, diplomatic tensions arose between Colombia and Israel. In response, the Israeli government suspended defense and security equipment exports to Colombia. Besides bilateral relations deterioration, this could potentially undermine Colombia's security sector, which relies largely on Israeli supplies.


Chile

On October 3, 2023, the Chilean Senate approved a 15-day extension of the state of emergency in the Araucanía region and Arauco and Biobío provinces. The exceptional state has already been in force for a year in this area due to unrest and clashes related to the territorial conflict between radicalized groups of the indigenous Mapuche population and the Chilean state. The most critical areas for the conflict are historically Auracania and BioBio. Increasing violent incidents and tensions have recently been reported in the Los Rios region. International observers and representatives of the Mapuche people denounce repression and state violations against Mapuche activists. In October, clashes with security forces were reported, including the alleged arrest of activists who were arrested for minor crimes. The number of incarcerated activists consider themself political prisoners.


The first weeks of October were marked by protests opposing the conservative far-right's attempt to revise the constitution and further tighten already restrictive laws on abortion and other freedoms that primarily affect women and the LGBTQ+ community. The country is also experiencing an upsurge in political violence, corruption, and infiltration of criminal groups from the Latin American region from Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.


Russia

On October 25, 2023, Russia enacted a law to revoke the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). On October 5, Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of Russia's ratification for the CTBT, as the US has not yet ratified the treaty either. Membership of the treaty has been possible since 1996 and is meant to stop nuclear testing and, with it, further nuclear weapons development. The treaty is not legally in force because it has not been ratified by 44 named countries. The treaty is however having an effect; no country has conducted nuclear tests since the treaty was in place, with the exception of North Korea.


The withdrawal of ratification is a step that was followed by Moscow's interruption of Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), the nuclear arms treaty with the US which created nuclear restrictions on both sides. Withdrawing ratification can have several meanings. It could be a tactic by Putin to intimidate the EU and the US from further supporting Ukraine. The withdrawal could also indicate that Russia actually wants to conduct tests as Putin has said Russia is working on new nuclear weapons, but the question then is why they did not leave the treaty instead of not ratifying it.


Guatemala

In October, Guatemala experienced increased civil unrest. The situation is related to post-election tensions following the suspension of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, the anti-corruption candidate of the center-left Movimiento Semilla party, which won the election last August 20, 2023. The new president is expected to take office in January 2024, yet the presidential transition remains uncertain. On October 2, peaceful protests began with the resumption of the democratic transition process and the resignation of Attorney General María Consuelo Porras. In recent weeks, protests have been causing roadblocks and disruption of transportation and services. On October 16, an escalation of violence led to the death of a protester. President-in-Office Giammattei has declared the ongoing protests illegal, while President-elect Arévalo has expressed his intention to suspend the presidential transition until Attorney General Porras is removed.


The US, the EU, and the UN denounced the attempt to overturn and manipulate the electoral process. There are concerns about the humanitarian consequences of a potential escalation of violence from the protests, which are likely to continue in the coming weeks.


Venezuela-Guyana

New tensions arose in the long territorial dispute on the border between Venezuela and Guyana. The oil-rich Esequiba region has been the source of conflict between the two countries for decades. In 2018, Guyana requested the intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to confirm the ownership of the territory under the 1899 arbitration between Venezuela and the then-Colony of British Guiana. On April 6, the ICJ voted in favor of Guyana, although the Venezuelan state did not recognize the ruling.


After discovering new oil and gas reserves near the maritime border, Venezuela resumed its claims on the area. While Guyana claims sovereignty over the territory and has called for international and U.S. support in the dispute, Venezuela considers that the neighboring state has no rights over the region's resources and that the Venezuelan authorities should authorize all oil activities. After pressing for negotiations to resolve the dispute, the Venezuelan government called a referendum, scheduled for December 3, 2023, to defend its claims on the territories of Guyana Esequiba. On October 25 CARICOM stated that the referendum proposed by Venezuela and its annexion claims have no bearing under international law.


China-Philippines

Maritime tensions have risen in October between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The Philippines Coast Guard cut a Chinese-made rope to prevent Philippines fishing boats from legally using the Scarborough Shoal, a cluster of ring-shaped islands in the South China Sea. China called the Philippine actions “provocations” and has deployed China Coast Guard to the waters, with rival boats attempting to collide with each other. The Chinese Coast Guard has regularly intimidated Philippine fisher vessels. With US commitments in a 1951 mutual defense treaty, the rise in tensions is an acute issue of regional security in one of the world’s busiest seas.



Updates, October 2023


Azerbaijan-Armenia

After the short-lived conflict in September between Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the tensions are still high in the region. The conflict ended with Nagorno-Karabakh ceasing to exist as of January 1, 2024, and becoming an official part of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has been discussing opening a corridor to West-Azerbaijan through Armenia. Such a move could easily lead to all out war between the two countries. There are peace talks taking place but they have not shown any results as of yet.


Haiti

Gang-related violence is steadily increasing in Haiti, recording alarming numbers of murders, kidnappings, and sexual violence. Moreover, the surge in gang-related violence, especially in the capital, forced the population to flee urban areas, resulting in more than 200,000 displaced people. On October 2, 2023, the U.N. Security Council voted to send a Kenyan-led multinational force, the Multinational Security Support, to assist the Haitian government and security forces in countering armed gang violence. The approval of international assistance comes more than a year after Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry repeatedly called for "robust support" to re-establish order and tackle the humanitarian crisis that started in 2022 in Haiti. This generated a reaction from the G9 leader, a coalition of major gangs in Port-au-Prince, who announced that gangs would resist international forces if they supported Henry's illegitimate government.


Despite the approval of the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan-led troops to Haiti, the mission was suspended by the Kenyan government, which will issue a decision on the multinational force in November. In recent weeks, conditions in the country have deteriorated, and gangs have further expanded their control over urban areas where the state is largely absent. On October 18 the secretary general of the High Transitional Council was kidnapped by gang members disguised as policemen.


Kosovo-Serbia

Milan Radoicic has come forward as responsible for the attack on two policemen in northern Kosovo on September 23 2023 in which a policeman and three Serbs were killed. Subsequently, an increase in the number of Serbian troops with military equipment on the Serbia-Kosovo border was noted. However, Vucic said that it was not something extraordinary and it did not result in an escalation, as Serbia reduced the number of troops on October 2. Increasing troops on the border was probably to provoke a reaction from the international community. Warnings from the US eventually convinced the serb military to withdraw.


The EU is facing calls to impose sanctions on Serbia, but whether the attack was coordinated by Vucic is disputed. There are elections in Serbia at the end of the year, Vucic could use the problem with Kosovo to distract people from his unpopularity in Serbia that is seen through weekly protests against mass shootings and growing criticism about authoritarian leadership. On October 27 the leaders of Germany, Italy and France called on Vucic to recognise Kosovo as an independent state and that Kurti should form an association of municipalities where Serbs are in the majority so that they get some self-government in the north. This agreement is necessary for EU membership, the EU reports that if they do not do so, they will miss out on great opportunities. However, they refused to sign this agreement earlier in September. Serbia and Kosovo's position with the EU remains to be seen, as an agreement is not yet in sight and they both blame each other for the incident on September 24.


Pakistan

Outbreaks of violence are rising on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Clashes between insurgents and security forces occur daily. On September 29 2023, two separate bomb attacks left at least 60 people dead in Balochistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. Although the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan group is allegedly involved in most of the attacks, Pakistani authorities report a significant presence of Islamic groups, including the Islamic State-Khorasan. The escalation of violence is instigating an increase in an anti-Afghan narrative. On October 3 2023, the Pakistani Interior Minister announced that all undocumented immigrants will have to leave the country voluntarily by November 1 2023, or they will face deportation. Of the undocumented citizens, 1.7 million are Afghan nationals.


Pakistan is experiencing numerous protests in October. Besides pro-Palestinian rallies, the first weeks of October saw demonstrations in favor of former PM Imran Khan and his PTI party. On October 23, Pakistan indicted former PM Khan for leaking state secrets. The coming general election, initially scheduled for October 2023, is postponed until at least February 2024.


Myanmar

The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is deteriorating. Ongoing conflict and floods are causing a spike in displaced people. Violent and deadly clashes between military junta forces and resistance fighters persist in several areas of the country, especially in Karen and Mon states and Magwe, Sagaing, Bago, and Tanintharyi regions. Air raids by the military junta were reported in October. On October 9, 2023, an airstrike on an IDP camp in Kachin state killed at least 29 civilians. On October 27, at least 20 security officers were killed during a coordinated attack by rebel groups on 12 towns in Shan state.


On October 24, in the wake of the escalating violence and limited access to humanitarian assistance the UN called for joint action to counter violence, bombings, and violations against civilians by the military junta and recalled the Rohingya minority crisis. On October 29, Myanmar's former information minister was arrested and charged with encouraging dissent against the military junta.


 
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