MS Risk Blog

Ethnic tension Flare-ups in North Kosovo Destabilising Regional Peace

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Kosovo police patrols have been coming under attack in the north of the country, near its border with Serbia. Specifically in the north, ethnic tensions continue to simmer almost two decades since the war between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs ended.  It is still not known the reasons for the attacks, but ethnic tensions are the most likely motivation.

The northern region of Kosovo is renowned for smuggling activities. With high police presence it could be that smugglers decided to attack police in order to threaten the police away from the area. Kosovo police have been closing roads i that are used by smugglers to illicitly transport people and goods across from Kosovo to Serbia and through into Europe. But given the extent to which the police have been targeted, and general ethnic tension in the region, the attacks hold heavier sentiment than commercial gain.

The border police came under attack with automatic weapons, AK-47s, and a hand grenade showing the potential lethality of the assault. However, other attacks featured people throwing stones at the police cars and road equipment used to damage and stop police cars as they drive by. All of which attest to the ambition of harming Kosovo authority in the area.

Between 15 April and 26 April there were five attacks on border police in the region. No police officer was injured in the attacks, but they resonate the feeling of the local populace. The attacks have come just weeks after Kosovo refused to construct polling stations for the Serbian elections at the start of April, a move that led to condemnation from Serbian officials, as well as EU and UN officials, because of its destabilising potential. Kosovo’s reasons to prevent ethnic Serbs in Kosovo from voting is that it would undermine Kosovo sovereignty, especially given that Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has claimed that the attacks originated on the Serbian side of the border with the aim of destabilising the Kosovo. He called the attacks an act of terror that were aimed at intimidating the police and people of Kosovo. Serbia suggested that the attacks were in fact a Kosovan attempt at destabilising things in the region. Both lobbying the UN to accuse the other.

The region has experienced repeated flare-ups since Kosovan independence in 2008 and it looks to continue. With Europe’s tensions at an all-time high, these flare-ups have put even more pressure on the European community to ensure tranquillity between Serbia and its neighbours. It is a hard job, though, as Serbia is surrounded by mostly pro-western governments who, not only condemn the attacks on Ukraine by Serbian-ally Russia but are looking to secure European and American support should Russia show aggression towards the Balkans.

Although Serbia and Russia are allies, it would be unlikely that Serbia would be aggressive against its neighbours while Russia is occupied in war in Ukraine. Serbian support for Russia is still high, but Serbia realises that while Russia is occupied it must find a powerful friend elsewhere with whom it can do business. This friend has come in the form of China who has been sending military equipment, notably surface-to-air missile systems to Serbia, these systems have shown their applicability in modern conflict given their extensive use (different systems) by Ukraine against the superior numbers of the Russian air force. China has also been investing in the Balkans, not only in Serbia.

Although these police attacks have shown how unstable the position is between Kosovo and Serbia, it is unlikely that a flare-up like this should warrant further action from either side. Both Serbia and Kosovo have been accusing the other of destabilising tactics and rhetoric to the United Nations, but as peace is the main goal, the UN is solely trying to reduce these tensions. The UN is also looking at changing its role in Kosovo as the UN Mission in Kosovo has accomplished its goals. So, we could see increased security measures being used by the UN to maintain peace in the region. However, Serbia is looking to balance its relationships between Europe and Russia and China and so any aggression towards Kosovo or its neighbours would ultimately ruin any prospect of joining the EU, something Aleksandar Vučić has said is one of Serbia’s goals.

Security Alert – Houndé, Burkina Faso

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Unconfirmed reporting indicates that protests erupted between miners and gold mine workers at Canadian group Endeavor Mining’s Houndé Gold Operation. Tensions have been on the rise in the area since the morning of Tuesday 17 May.  Local reports claim that artisanal gold miners are apparently blaming mine officials for having monopolized their sites. According to local reporting, which remains unverified, on 16 May officials moved in to clear artisanal gold miners from the site around the mine, a move that resulted in them storming the mine and setting fire to its facilities. While these reports remain unverified, compelling video is now circulating suggesting that some sort of a breach of the mine may have occurred. The tensions have impacted a number of services in the city of Houndé, including the mayor’s office, schools and places of commerce which as of 17 May are closed. Smoke has also been seen rising from the mine, with reports indicating that several staff vehicles were set on fire by artisanal gold miners in the area. Security officials at the mine were apparently unable to stop the large crowd from entering the mining site.

The Houndé Gold Mine is located in southwestern Burkina Faso, in Houndé, in the province of Tuy in the Hauts-Bassins region. It is situated about 100 km east-northeast of Bobo-Dioulasso along the Route Nationale N1 to Ouagadougou.

This situation in Houndé is developing and MS Risk is closely monitoring the situation on the ground and we will confirm or deny the situation once the information is clarified. Companies with convoy moves on main routes west of Ouagadougou are advised to verify the status of their drivers and should assess routes to ensure that they remain accessible for the rest of the day. Likewise companies should be aware of the possibility of similar tensions rising at other industrial mining sites around the country.

Will Moldova become the next target of Russian aggression?

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On May 2, Ukrainian intelligence sources revealed that they believe that the Kremlin has already taken the decision to launch an invasion of Moldova through the country’s breakaway Transnistria region, suggesting that Russia may attempt to use Transnistria’s Tiraspol airport to land forces and overwhelm Moldova’s army, which numbers less than 4,000 active-duty soldiers.  A Times article quoted an unidentified military source as saying “We believe the Kremlin has already taken the decision to attack Moldova. The fate of Moldova is very crucial. If the Russians start to take control, we will, militarily, be an easier target and the threat to Ukraine will be existential.” The source also suggested that an invasion could take place around the time of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations on 9 May.

Transnistria, also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic (PMR), is a breakaway region of Moldova and self-declared presidential republic, unrecognised by the wider international community (with the exception of mutual recognition with Abkhazia, Artsakh, and South Ossetia), but supported by Russia. Geographically, Transnistria comprises a long narrow strip of landlocked territory of 4,163 km² sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine. The region declared independence from Moldova in 1990 sparking a conflict which in 1992 was paused by a ceasefire agreement that has held until the present. In Transnistria’s most recent census in 2015, ethnic Russians made up the largest percentage of respondents at 29.1%. Since the 1992 ceasefire, the Russian Federation has maintained military facilities and around 1,500 are deployed in Transnistria, supporting a Transnistrian paramilitary force of at least 7000.

In the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a publicity video of Putin ally and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko appeared to show a map depicting Russian forces entering Moldova from Ukraine, raising fears that Russia also planned to eventually annex the former-Soviet state. On 14 April, Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Malyar claimed that Russia was amassing troops on Ukraine’s border with Transnistria, but this was denied by Transnistrian authorities. On 22 April, Deputy Commander of Russia’s Central Military District, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, speaking at the annual meeting of the Union of Defence Industries of the Sverdlovsk Region, suggested that Russia might push to control the entirety of Southern Ukraine to Transnistria, creating a ‘land bridge’ between Russia-controlled Crimea and Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. On 25 April, Transnistrian sources reported that an attack had been carried out against the headquarters of the Ministry of State Security (MGB) and on 26 April two radio antennas close to Tiraspol near the Ukrainian border were destroyed by explosions. In response to the explosions, the Transnistrian Defence Ministry ordered a general mobilisation of “all men between 18 and 55”.

The opening of a new front in Moldova could provide several advantages for Russa. If successful, controlling southern Ukraine, a key Kremlin aim of the war, and creating a land bridge between Crimea and Transnistria could open up Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, in particular Odessa, for increased transports of forces and materiel into the country. This would facilitate reinforcement of the Russian military and reduce the risk to Russian navy vessels operating on the Black Sea from Ukrainian anti-ship missiles. Mobilisation of Transnistria’s paramilitaries could offer a new source of manpower for Russia’s campaign in Ukraine and open up a new front in the west to split Ukraine’s defence. The Kremlin may also hope that a stronger presence in Transnistria would deter Moldova’s pro-EU President, Maia Sandu, from siding with the west and participating in sanctions against Russia. Expanding Russia’s threat to Moldova could also serve to divert NATO and EU attention and weapons shipments from Ukraine.

There are, however, also arguments against the likelihood of Ukraine’s warning of an impending invasion of Transnistria or Moldova. Although Transnistria’s Tiraspol airport’s runway, at around 2,400m length, would be adequate for the landing of Russian Il-76 transport and aircraft, Russian flights into Transnistria would at present be forced to run the risk of overflying Ukrainian anti-air missile defence systems. At the same time, the Russian military’s push to secure southern Ukraine and the port of Odessa appears to be stalled by strong resistance in the city of Kherson, thwarting plans to link-up with Transnistria. Increased Russian presence on the border of Moldova might also backfire in pushing the Moldovan government further towards the EU and in particular the safety of NATO.

At present the high-risk strategy of Russia expanding its operations to Moldova is judged to be an unlikely outcome. This assessment appears to be shared by western intelligence agencies which have not echoed Ukraine’s warnings, in contrast to the loud and repeated warnings of an impending Russian attack which were made prior to the invasion of Ukraine. However, this situation may change should the efforts of Russia’s push to occupy southern Ukraine become more successful and resistance in Ukraine’s southern cities ceases to hold back Russian forces.

Somalia Elections Update

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Since the beginning of 2022, the overall security situation in Somalia has been getting gradually worse. Bitter political infighting over the long delayed parliamentary elections have further divided national security forces and yielded a strong spike in terror activities perpetrated by Al Shabaab. These include suicide bombings and shootings of both political targets and the general public, as well as voter suppression and intimidation. Between early March to date, the Somali elections have still yet to be held. Whereas some headway has been made with the election of several representatives and a new speaker, the continued delays, uncertainty and tumultuous actions of both President Farmaajo and Prime Minster Roble are inadvertently allowing Al Shabaab to exploit the impasses whilst the increasingly polarised security forces are distracted.

The Current situation

As of 28 April, several important events have transpired which are creating an increasingly volatile political environment. On 7 April, Prime Minister Roble ejected the African Union representative sent to Somalia to monitor the election status, an act which the president swiftly rejected. Demonstrating a further increase in the relations between the two and proving to the IMF and western governments that the strict deadline for all elections to be complete (17 May) may be looking unlikely. The deadline marks the point at which Somalia will no longer be eligible to receive financial aid from the International Monetary Fund. The cause was not aided by an attempt by President Farmaajo to block lawmakers entering in a vote on 27 April. The continued struggle to hold free and fair elections is likely to further erode trust in Somalia’s abilities to manage its political system which is still in its infancy.

On the security front, the political turmoil is creating a perfect environment for bitter struggles between the national security forces who themselves have their own allegiances. Subsequently, Somalia has seen a marked increase in Al Shabaab activity. There is no coincidence that the combined efforts of Somalia’s security forces being diverted towards the political row has come at the same time as extreme violence by the jihadist group both in Mogadishu and in surrounding rural areas and border regions (specifically with Kenya).

Future Prospects and Projections

It is fair to say that with the election of Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur as the new speaker of the House, Somalia edges closer to electing its new president next month. It is likely that together with Abdi Hashi Abdullahi (the Upper House speaker) Nur will oversee the election of the president by the two houses of Parliament, however it is uncertain whether these will take place before the end of May. Given that the elections have been delayed now for over a year, It is our judgement that if the 17 May deadline is missed, significant international pressure will likely begin to take its toll on the political system.

Given that a large amount of Somalia’s house representatives have now been elected and sworn in, we can foresee an incremental march to victory. Somalia’s electoral system however does not rely on the people to vote for representatives. The “House of the People” and it’s 275 representatives is chosen by delegates appointed by clan elders and members of civil society. The MPs then vote for a president, who leads the country. We assess that this procedure has and will continue to likely cause delays and political infighting, as by its nature, it is a soft target for corruption and tribal, ethnic and regional polarisation. As Somalia moves further towards it’s election deadlines, there will likely be increased pressure to avoid losing out on the vital monetary and security aid from foreign nations, resources which, if lost, will represent a significant political blow for both Farmaajo and Roble.

As of April 28, it is unclear if we will see a new president sworn into office by the end of May. We do however see some optimistic movements.


Armed Clashes in Colombia’s Border Regions

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On 29 March, 11 people were killed in what Colombian authorities described as an operation by security forces against former FARC members. It emerged in the following days that some of the 11 people may have been civilians. The victims allegedly included community and indigenous leaders and a 16-year-old teenager. On 30 March, the OHCHR office in Colombia tweeted that it is following up on the incident, where “civilians, community and indigenous leaders reportedly lost their lives,” calling on authorities to investigate and clarify the facts. The Colombian prosecutor’s office said on Twitter that it was opening an investigation into “the events in Puerto Leguizamo where 11 people died.”

This extremely concerning incident occurred as part of a focus by Colombian security forces on cracking down on former FARC dissidents. The FARC, despite agreeing to disarm as part of the 2016 Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace agreement, remain a significant presence in rural regions in Colombia. There are also other non-state actors active in these areas. According to the Indepaz peace research institute, there are 90 armed groups with some 10,000 members active in Colombia overall. These figures include more than 5,000 FARC dissidents who rejected peace, some 2,500 members of the National Liberation Army or ELN (the country’s last active guerrilla group), and another 2,500 rightwing paramilitary fighters. There are frequent armed clashes between these different groups. The Venezuelan army is also involved in the conflict, it has been claimed by rights organisations and by Colombian President Ivan Duque. Humanitarian workers and refugees from Apure said that they have witnessed members of Venezuela’s National Guard entering villages with the ELN rebels and taking people away in trucks.

Local communities become caught up in the violence between the Colombian army and these groups, and caught up between the groups fighting each other, as these actors compete for territory. The conflict has had dire humanitarian consequences for the populations of regions like Apure, as levels of violence has increased over the last year or so. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, mass displacement in Colombia almost tripled in 2021 compared with 2020. UNOCHA states that in total nearly 110,000 people have been displaced or confined by the armed conflict in 2021 alone. Human Rights Watch said that at least 103 people were killed in Arauca in the first two months of 2022 amid violence between the armed groups, the highest death toll in the region for January and February since 2010.

The violence and displacement is a consequence of inadequate implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, which aimed at bringing security to areas historically impacted by conflict when under FARC control. President Duque is steadfastly opposed to the agreement, which must be a contributing factor to the unsuccessful implementation. One of the agreement’s provisions was to protect former FARC members and allow them to reintegrate into civilian society, yet 315 former FARC members have been killed since the accord was signed. On 28 January, Colombia’s constitutional court declared an “unconstitutional state of affairs,” and ordered the government to implement the agreement’s security guarantees. Slow movement on another of its provisions, to strengthen Colombia’s government’s presence in formerly FARC controlled regions, means that a power vacuum has been created where these rural areas formerly held by the FARC are now dominated by numerous smaller splinter groups and armed nonstate actors such as the ELN. They all vie for control over illicit activities in these areas that the FARC once controlled.

Whether improvement will be seen in the situation is uncertain. A UN Security Council briefing was held on 12 April to discuss the topic where President Duque was present for the first time. It was expected there may be more encouragement to use mechanisms established by the 2016 agreement such as the he Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI), but there do not appear to be solid plans or conclusions drawn from this meeting. It is possible that the May presidential elections will bring about some change to security policy and improve the situation, since current frontrunner Gustavo Petro has expressed that he is open to dialogue with the ELN to reach a peace agreement.