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International Crisis Group Watch Global Overview JANUARY 2019 & Outlook for This Month February 2019

By International Crisis Group
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Conflict Risk Alerts
Cameroon, South Sudan, Nigeria. Myanmar, Colombia, Venezuela, Yemen, Libya

Resolution Opportunities
Afghanistan, Yemen

Trends for Last MonthJanuary 2019
Deteriorated Situations
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Côted’Ivoire, Nigeria, Myanmar, Thailand, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Syria, Libya

Improved Situations
Philippines, Macedonia, Lebanon, Yemen

In January, Venezuela’s crisis took a dangerous new turn, while peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN guerrilla group fell apart. In Yemen, fighting eased off in Hodeida but the situation remains fragile, while violence between rival armed groups rocked Libya’s capital Tripoli and jihadists took Syria’s Idlib. Al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack in Kenya’s capital, and looming offensives threatened South Sudan’s peace process. Burkina Faso saw another rise in attacks by ethnic armed groups and suspected jihadists. Tensions ran high in several other African countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, and Côte d’Ivoire, while repression in Cameroon could stir more unrest. Election-related violence rose ahead of Nigeria’s polls, and Guatemala’s government stepped up attacks on anti-corruption institutions. In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a deadly attack by ethnic insurgents provoked a military counteroffensive, and militant attacks rose in Thailand’s deep south. In good news, voters in southern Philippines approved a new governing entity intended to end decades of conflict, Macedonia and Greece took final steps to end their long-standing dispute, Lebanon formed a new national unity government, and tentative progress in U.S.-Taliban talks opened the possibility of a breakthrough in Afghanistan.

Trends and Outlook
The Promise and Pitfalls of High-stakes Elections

In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley sees uncertainities in Democratic Republic of Congo an

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A dangerous new phase opened in Venezuela’s crisis as new opposition leader Juan Guaidó claimed the role of interim president in a head-on confrontation with President Maduro, backed by mass anti-government protests and support from the U.S. and most major regional players, with China and Russia among those backing Maduro. Much rides on whether or not the opposition succeeds in provoking splits in the military and government; failure could unleash greater repression and violence, and even outside military intervention. Whether or not Maduro is toppled, the least dangerous path out of the crisis is a negotiated solution leading to free elections, but it will require firm international support to create conditions for meaningful talks.

The Colombian government ended peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group after a car bomb attack in Bogotá killed 21 police, prompting fears of a return to open conflict and more violence along the border with Venezuela and Pacific Coast. A new military campaign against the ELN carries severe risks and needs to be accompanied by measures to safeguard the possibility of a return to talks. In Guatemala, the government stepped up its attacks on judicial institutions fighting corruption.

In Yemen, fighting eased off in Hodeida port city as the warring parties took initial steps to implement December’s Stockholm Agreement. February could see further progress, but without concerted international support, the battle for Hodeida could resume. Fighting between rival armed groups again rocked Libya’s capital Tripoli, and with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army deploying in the south west, intent on purging it of terrorists and foreign armed groups, clashes could erupt there in coming weeks. In Syria, jihadists took control of Idlib in the north west straining the Russia-Turkey deal which has helped hold off a government assault on the densely populated area, while a rise in Israeli airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-allied targets in the south west triggered a worrying retaliation.

In Africa, Burkina Faso saw a further rise in attacks by ethnic armed groups and suspected jihadists. Facing both mounting insurgency and social protests, the government should better support its overstretched troops to guard against further instability. Meanwhile, Somali jihadist group Al-Shabaab launched a terror attack in Kenya’s capital, killing 21 civilians and stirring memories of its 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping centre.

Ahead of Nigeria’s polls this month, Boko Haram upped attacks in the north east and election-related violence began to climb. To avert a bloody crisis, security forces must remain impartial and politicians must keep their pledges to campaign peacefully and challenge results lawfully. Sudan’s security forces responded with greater brutality to continued protests calling for President Bashir’s exit. Influential foreign governments should seek to improve prospects for a peaceful transition by creating incentives for Bashir to step down. While South Sudan’s fragile peace deal between the government and main rebels is holding, a military build-up in the south points to looming offensives against rebels who refused to sign the September agreement.

Elsewhere on the continent, Zimbabwe’s security forces forcefully broke up opposition protests, Ethiopia’s military carried out airstrikes against ethnic Oromo rebels, Gabon’s security forces quickly stopped an attempted coup, and old tensions rekindled in Côte d’Ivoire after the International Criminal Court acquitted – but has not yet released – former President Laurent Gbagbo. A government crackdown on opposition protests in Cameroon could unleash further frustration and unrest, while violence rose in the Anglophone west.

In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a deadly attack by the Arakan Army on four police stations provoked a military counteroffensive, further complicating efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and jeopardising the country’s broader peace process. We call on all sides, with China’s support, to seek a negotiated solution to avoid further inflaming ethnic tensions. Violence also escalated in Thailand’s deep south, where separatist militants stepped up attacks and clashed with security forces.

Voters in Mindanao in the southern Philippines overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new, more autonomous entity to govern the region, representing the culmination of efforts to implement the 2014 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – although a deadly bomb attack on a cathedral days later was a reminder of the danger posed by potential spoilers. In other good news, Macedoniaand Greece took final steps to implement their June 2018 agreement ending a 27-year dispute over the name of Macedonia, and Lebanon formed a new national unity government, ending nearly nine months of deadlock. Lastly, reports that the U.S. and Taliban have agreed in principle on some elements of a framework for a deal on Afghanistan provided hope of a possible breakthrough in what is today the deadliest conflict in the world.