CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
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The new edition of CrisisWatch, ICG's monthly bulletin on the world's conflicts, identifies deteriorating situations in 17 countries in April 2004. There is rising international concern for Sudan's western region of Darfur, but the government-supported Arab militias' "reign of terror" against black civilians continues. Over one million people have been displaced by the conflict, and over 100,000 people have fled to neighbouring Chad, where Chadian troops were deployed on the border at the end of April to protect refugees and Chadian citizens from marauding militias.
Elsewhere in April 2004, conflict worsened in southern Thailand with suicide raids, arson attacks, and militants battling policemen and soldiers, making 28 April 2004 one of the bloodiest days in modern Thai history: 107 rebels and 5 security officials killed. Fighting erupted in Ambon, Indonesia, quickly degenerating into Christian/Muslim communal violence leaving more than 36 killed, many by snipers, as well as hundreds of buildings burned down. Amid widespread uprisings and a major fire-fight in Fallujah, April 2004 also turned out to be by far the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the war began. Cyprus took a significant turn for the worse last month as Greek Cypriots rejected a long-negotiated UN peace plan in a referendum held on both sides of the divided island. The situation also deteriorated in the countries listed below.
There were three conflict situations showing improvement in April 2004. Free and fair presidential elections were held in Macedonia, where a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU came into effect on 1 April. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was returned to power in elections, and though his 85% of the vote is somewhat dubious, the process was still a step forward for democracy there. Finally, the UN successfully resumed its disarmament and reintegration process in Liberia on 15 April.
For the forthcoming month, CrisisWatch identifies Georgia, Iraq, Israel/Occupied Territories and Thailand as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of further conflict in May 2004. No Conflict Resolution Opportunities are identified for the next month.
Under heavy pressure from army, Hutu FNL rebel group offered 22 April to cease attacks on government forces and enter into negotiations, hoping for international community support. But government later clashed with FNL, with at least 10 killed. Clashes earlier in month between FNL and government troops killed at least 21 and caused some 27,000 to flee fighting near capital, Bujumbura. Significant number of parliamentary deputies defected from largest political party Frodebu to party of former Hutu rebel group FDD. Refugees returning in increasing numbers. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan began planning for UN peacekeeping mission, but Security Council yet to formally approve. Rwandan troops briefly entered Burundi 22 April to chase DRC-based Hutu rebels.
Rwandan troops reportedly crossed into DRC 21 April in breach of peace agreement, and forced patrol of UN peacekeepers to return to base. UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) began deploying in troubled Kivus region, with full deployment expected by end of May. Kivus still subject to widespread ethnic violence. At least 61 killed in clashes late April in South Kivu between Rwandan Hutu rebels and DRC troops. President Kabila asked International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to investigate possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide: investigation could commence later this year.
Rwandan troops carried out incursions into Burundi and, reportedly, DR Congo in pursuit of Hutu rebels in breach of peace agreement with DRC; government later asked UN to protect its border with DRC. 7 April marked 10th anniversary of commencement of Rwanda genocide, during which estimated 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates slaughtered over 100 days by Hutu extremists. Dignitaries from around world commemorated anniversary with Rwandan citizens in ceremony in capital, Kigali.
No progress in dispute over demarcation of border, with Eritrea continuing to refuse to meet UN special envoy Lloyd Axworthy.
Fitful peace talks now set to resume 6 May after numerous delays and refusals by some faction leaders to attend.
Reflecting rising international concern about humanitarian crisis in western Sudan, President Bush and UN Secretary General Annan called on government to end attacks on civilians in Darfur, with Annan claiming attacks were ethnic cleansing. This claim echoed by USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios. UN Commission on Human Rights passed resolution weakly criticising Sudan. UN team in Darfur late April on fact-finding mission. Government and main western rebel groups agreed 45-day humanitarian ceasefire 8 April, met in Chad 20 April for peace talks; no progress in talks so far. UN says more than 1 million civilians now displaced in Darfur, and leaked UN report claimed Arab militias conducting "reign of terror" against black civilians. Chadian troops deployed on Sudan border late April to protect refugees and Chadian citizens from militias. Meanwhile, peace talks with southern rebels re civil war resumed in Kenya 28 April, in attempt to resolve outstanding issues of power-sharing and application of Sharia law in capital, Khartoum. Parties extended existing ceasefire 1 month from 30 April.
President Museveni offered ceasefire to Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels 15 April if they agreed to peace talks - but said military strikes against LRA would continue until such agreement. Museveni retired from army 6 April, 18 years after his National Resistance Army seized power.
Security forces raping and killing illegal Congolese diamond miners and families, with tens of thousands expelled, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Expelled miners later attacked Angolan refugees in DR Congo. In positive move towards greater transparency, government agreed to share some oil revenue information with IMF.
President Mugabe celebrated 24th anniversary of independence from Britain by vowing land reform would continue, and pledging never to rejoin Commonwealth. Finance Minister Chris Kuruneri arrested 24 April on charges of corruption and illegal dealings in foreign currency.
UN to investigate claims that hundreds killed during and after March opposition protests. Opposition leaders agreed to resume dialogue with President Gbagbo 17 April on stalled peace talks provided preconditions met - but little progress likely in short term, with both sides holding large rallies in Abidjan 24-25 April, and rebel leader Guillaume Soro talking of northern secession. UN commenced deployment of peacekeepers by "rehatting" 1,400 already deployed West African troops as UN peacekeepers; 6,200 to be deployed by July.
Security minister claimed 22 April plot to kill President Conte foiled; opposition leader and members arrested in connection with alleged plot - opposition said claim "based on lies". Earlier, 2 opposition leaders barred from travelling overseas amid crackdown on opposition. Food price rises causing concern among population. NGO, International Federation for Human Rights, released report criticising "caricature of democracy" in Guinea, claiming basic rights not respected. Prime Minister Francois Fall resigned 30 April over differences with Conte.
UN resumed disarmament and reintegration process 15 April after 2-month information campaign. Process progressing well, with UN stating some 19,000 former combatants reported for demobilisation, although only 11,000 weapons handed in - leading to concerns that some former fighters may be stockpiling weapons. UN hopes to disarm 40,000 fighters.
Increasing unrest in Niger Delta and worsening sectarian violence in centre and north. Seven oil workers and guards, including 2 U.S. workers, killed in ambush in Delta 23 April by Ijaw militants. Five Ijaw assailants killed 17 April trying to storm oil facility. Government responded by launching military offensive against militants. Protesters forced another oil facility to close briefly 14 April. More than 100 believed killed in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in remote central villages 27 April, with thousands forced to flee. In north, Muslims razed several Christian churches and police station early April.
2 electoral officials charged with embezzlement of public funds in lead-up to local government elections on 22 May.
In blow for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and "one country, two systems" principle, Beijing committee proclaimed central government has sole authority to amend HK political structure, and ruled out full elections for Hong Kong in 2007-08.
Low-level 6-party talks to begin in Beijing 12 May to prepare for further talks in June. U.S. vice president Cheney called on Beijing to recognise that evidence from Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan confirms Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons: China had cast doubt on U.S. and South Korean claims that North Korea was developing uranium weapon. Kim Jong-il travelled to Beijing 19 April for talks with Hu Jintao: China reportedly urged Jong-il to soften stance towards U.S. to break impasse over ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Massive rail explosion, apparently accidental, shook Pyongyang into asking for international aid.
President Chen Shui-bian, re-elected by wafer-thin margin in 29 March election, said would push ahead with plans for new constitution in 2006, angering China, which sees plan as step toward independence. U.S. cautioned Chen against aggressive pro-independence stance. Recount of election results demanded by opposition Kuomintang party likely to take place mid-May.
Factional battles resumed in north; Taliban insurgency continued in south and east. Northern forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostum on 7 April occupied Maimana, capital of Faryab province, after a provincial commander realigned himself with President Karzai and Defence Minister Fahim. Both commander and Faryab governor fled province. President Karzai deployed 750 Afghan National Army troops to area. Dostum's troops withdrew from Maimana but remained in province. Fighting broke out 12 April near Mazar-i Sharif between Dostum's forces and those of regional rival, Atta Mohammad. Mohammad's troops gained full control of area, killing 1 of Dostum's soldiers, wounding 2, and looting several residences belonging to Dostum and his Junbish party. In south and east separate attacks on officials, aid workers, American and Afghan soldiers killed 19, including U.S. soldier in 22 April Paktia ambush. NATO-led peacekeepers in Kabul arrested 2 senior members of former PM Gulbbuddin Hekmatyar's party and number of al-Qaeda followers. Karzai called on former Taliban to participate in parliamentary and presidential elections.
Opposition Awami League backed down from pledge to unseat government by 30 April. Police arrested thousands of protesters amidst violent clashes in capital; PM Khaleda Zia halfway through 5-year term. Her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) claimed to have details of 'Awami conspiracy to destabilise the country'. Unrest by citizens seen as backlash against widespread corruption and extortion.
Polling for parliamentary elections began 20 April; due for completion 10 May, counting beginning 13 May. PM Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies campaigned on platform of peace and prosperity. Apparent strong gains by Sonia Gandhi's opposition Congress Party. Over 30 killed in election related violence, lower than in previous elections. Maoist rebels blamed for 8 April mine blasts that killed 26 police in eastern state of Jharkhand. Rebels fighting Indian rule in northeast rejected offer by PM Vajpayee to hold talks to resolve decades-old insurgency. United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) accused New Delhi of plundering region's mineral resources, neglecting its economy and said only referendum on independence of tribal and ethnic groups could end hostilities.
Indian elections held in Jammu and Kashmir marred by violence. Grenade attack on rally of ruling People's Democratic Party 8 April killed 11. At least 5 more killed in separate attacks in Srinagar. Kashmiri separatist politicians and rebels rejected election, called for poll boycott. Office of main opposition Congress Party attacked.
Triangular conflict between king, political parties and Maoists continued. King Gyanendra attempted talks with political parties in bid to end stand-off: rejected by 5 main parties but Gyanendra met former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, whom he sacked in 2002 for incompetence. Demonstrations started 1 April to press Gyanendra to fire royalist PM and form all-party government. Political parties vowed to continue protesting until king appoints their nominee as prime minister or revives parliament. Ban on all political gatherings in Kathmandu 8 April led to crackdown on protestors and thousands of arrests (including former PM Deuba). Despite ban, demonstrations continued daily. Maoist rebels called for joint movement with constitutional parties 21 April. Previously political parties have ruled out alliance with Maoists unless they renounce violence. Maoists stormed 2 police posts in separate attacks 5 and 8 April, killing 11 police officers.
Tribal leaders accused of sheltering al-Qaeda members in Pakistan's South Waziristan province given amnesty. Next day Islamabad released 50 tribesmen who were among 163 militants arrested in March. Foreign militants given 1-week extension on 30 April deadline to 'register'. Controversial bill creating national security council (NSC) and affording military permanent role in Pakistan's governance passed 14 April. Opposition walked out in protest. President Musharraf insisted NSC will be consultative body only.
President Kumaratunga's United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) emerged 8 seats short of absolute majority in 2 April parliamentary elections. Veteran politician Mahinda Rajapakse appointed PM. Ministries of defence (incl. responsibility for peace process), constitutional affairs and education retained by Kumaratunga. Early stand-off between government and new coalition partner, leftist People's Liberation Front (JVP), resolved. JVP hold 39 of 105 seats won by UPFA in 2 April polls. Government reportedly going ahead with proposals to replace presidential system of government with parliamentary one, and change electoral system - despite losing key post of speaker of parliament by single vote. Norway to resume mediator role; delegation scheduled to meet Kumaratunga 2 May, and leader of LTTE political wing, Sinniah Paramu Tamilselvan, 3 May. Violent clashes between breakaway rebel commander Karuna's forces and main LTTE killed at least 9; Karuna since disappeared. Further fighting 26 April killed 7. Over 1,000 child soldiers reportedly released or demobilised in April. Argument between Sinhalese and Tamils became full-scale riot 28 April in Central region.
Early indications pointed towards Aung San Suu Kyi's imminent release before constitutional convention due to start 17 May - 2 top National League for Democracy (NLD) members released 13 April, NLD headquarters unlocked by military junta 17 April. But she and NLD deputy chairman Tin Oo remain under house arrest. Yangon pulled out of 'Bangkok Process' international talks on prospects for reform scheduled for April 29-30: talks postponed.
Campaigning continued ahead of 10 May presidential elections. President Arroyo and Fernando Poe Jr. equal in polls. Third-ranked former education secretary Raul Roco pulled out for health reasons. Government and communist National Democratic Front (NDF) met for third round of formal talks 26-29 April. Three female suspected members of communist New People's Army (NPA) released 21 April as part of confidence building plan to free 32 political prisoners by 4 May. Three NPA killed 25 April in clash with troops in southern Mindanao island, while 6 Abu Sayyaf members, including senior leader Hamsiraji Sali, killed in clash with Philippine troops on southern Basilan island 8 April. Ten Abu Sayyaf suspects remained at large after southern jailbreak. Talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expected to resume in Kuala Lumpur in May.
Continuing concern over possible militia incursions from West Timor. Next UN resolution on security situation due 10 May.
In one of bloodiest days in modern Thai history 107 rebels killed, 17 arrested and 5 security officials killed as militants, mostly armed with machetes, battled policemen and soldiers in Pattani, Yala and Songkhla southern provinces 28 April: PM Thaksin Shinawatra blamed drug-crazed "bandits" and supportive local politicians, dismissing claims that religious or separatist ideology lay at root of violence. In earlier 22 April attacks 1 soldier and village chief killed and 50 public buildings, including 15 schools, set ablaze across Narathiwat and Yala provinces; 10 youths arrested. Troops deployed to south to protect rail workers after 4 separate incidents killed 2. Thai court issued arrest warrants for 4 policemen linked to disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, prominent Muslim lawyer for suspected Jemaah Islamiah militants.
President of Albania paid first ever official visit by Albanian head of state to Kosovo, meeting with UN Special Representative for Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, 22 April.
Bosnian leaders called on war crimes suspects to voluntarily surrender to The Hague tribunal. Failed attempt to capture indicted war criminals Milan and Sredoje Lukic 18 April killed 1; 2 members of Special Police Force suspended. High Rep. Ashdown had previously suspended funding to ruling Serb Democratic Party (SDS) for failing to cooperate with tribunal.
NATO reviewing peacekeeping mission after 17-18 March violence. Blame ascribed variously to UNMIK, KFOR, Kosovo media, politicians and international policies. International prosecutor in Kosovo found no evidence Serbs responsible for deaths of 3 Albanian children who drowned in Ibar River, which led to wave of Albanian violence against Serbs 17 March. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan met 27 April with Kosovo President Rugova, who pressed for immediate independence. General boycott of all Kosovo institutions by Serb politicians continued, in part to protest ineffective response by the international community to March events. Jordanian UN police officer opened fire on convoy carrying international prison officers in Mitrovica 17 April. In ensuing gunfight Jordanian and 3 U.S. officers killed, 11 injured.
PM Branko Crvenkovski won second round of presidential elections. Inconclusive first round led to final 28 April vote between Crvenkovski of Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and Sasko Kedev of conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO- DPMNE). Crvenkovski won with 63%, and turnout passed required 50%. Kedev demanded re-vote alleging election fraud. European election observers said vote met international democratic standards, despite some "serious" irregularities. Stabilization and Association Agreement between EU and Macedonia came into effect 1 April.
Government increasingly unstable and reliant on Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Presidential elections scheduled for 13 June, this time without 50% voter turnout requirement which had invalidated 2 previous elections. Parliament adopted government's plan for resolution of Kosovo by creation of 5 ethnic Serbian cantons. Serbia reached tentative agreement with IMF and World Bank contingent on parliament reducing budget deficit by a third by June deadline. IMF support and certain World Bank and EU programmes on hold until approved. Attacks on ethnic minorities in northern province of Vojvodina jumped sharply. Reportedly more ethnically- motivated attacks since March than in entire period following Milosevic's ouster.
Dozens injured and over 100 arrested 13 April as police used water canons, batons, and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators calling for resignation of President Robert Kocharian. Demonstrations steadily gathered momentum in recent weeks: over 10,000 people turned out 9 April, first anniversary of Kocharian's inauguration. Opposition led jointly by Stepan Demirchian, chief of Justice Bloc and runner up to Kocharian in disputed 2003 election, Artashes Geghamian, leader of National Accord Party, and former PM Aram Sargisian. Group began boycotting parliamentary sessions in February, and had set 12 April deadline for parliament to pass law allowing no-confidence referendum on president - as stipulated by constitutional court following 2003 election. Protests continued throughout month as government cracked down on opposition. Public particularly angered by widespread reports that police stood by as unknown assailants beat group of journalists during 5 April demonstration.
No movement on detention of dozens of opposition activists arrested following October 2003 elections.
Separatist president Aslan Maskhadov lost third major ally in 2 months as Shaa Turlaev, head of Mashkadov's personal guard, reportedly surrendered to Russian officials. Assassination attempt on president of neighbouring republic of Ingushetiya failed 6 April; Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility. UN Commission on Human Rights voted against EU-sponsored resolution condemning Russian abuses in Chechnya.
Civil conflict potentially imminent as standoff between President Mikheil Saakashvili and authoritarian leader of Ajara region Aslan Abashidze worsened. Saakashvili said Tbilisi not afraid to use force to "liberate" Ajarans from Abashidze's "criminal" rule, as Georgian military began exercises 30 April at Black Sea port of Poti, 30km from Ajara. Abashidze ordered mobilisation of forces in response to growing tensions, and Ajaran police used truncheons to suppress anti-Abashidze protest 30 April in Batumi. Central Election Commission (CEC) annulled 28 March parliamentary election results from 2 districts of Ajara after declaring them fraudulent and abandoning plans to repeat vote. Results leave Abashidze's Revival Party severely weakened, with only 6 seats in 150-seat parliament.
Some movement in peace process as Armenian president Kocharian and Azerbaijani president Aliyev met in Warsaw 28 April; foreign ministers expected to meet in May; and U.S. named Steven Mann, formerly state department special envoy to Caspian, as new co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group, replacing Rudolf Perina.
Negotiations between central government, officials from separatist Transdniestria region, and OSCE, Ukrainian, and Russian mediators resumed 26-28 April in Tiraspol after 5-month hiatus. Next round scheduled to take place in Chisinau 25-26 May.
Internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south joined EU 1 May. Cyprus remains divided and militarised following Greek Cypriot rejection (75.8%) of UN Secretary General Annan's plan for reunification. Turkish Cypriots voted (64.9%) in favour despite opposition of President Rauf Denktash. His Greek-Cypriot counterpart Tassos Papadopoulos' successful nationalist stance against plan led to international consternation. EU agreed to allow agricultural produce in north to be sent across 'green line' to Greek Cypriot south – and rest of EU - without restrictions or tariffs. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen pledged economic support for Turkish north.
Financial sanctions to be imposed on Sinn Fein and Progressive Unionist Party after Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) linked them to paramilitary activity by IRA and Ulster Volunteer Force. Political talks involving all Northern Ireland parties and British and Irish prime ministers postponed. Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams met Tony Blair and rejected IMC conclusions and called on British government to re-focus on peace process.
Eighteen charged - 14 Moroccans, 2 Indians, Syrian and Spaniard - in connection to 11 March attacks that killed 191. Spanish agent and 7 suspected terrorists killed in 3 April suicide blast.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev vetoed controversial draft media law after Constitutional Council said bill violated Kazakh constitution. Critics said law's strict media licensing rules would have limited freedom of speech.
Justice ministry quashed rumours that jailed opposition leader Feliks Kulov to be released 1 June. Rumour started by Kulov aide.
In anticipation of February 2005 general elections, 3 opposition parties formed coalition to challenge presidential party's grip on parliament. Alliance members said goal to ensure transparent elections. New opposition Taraqqiyot party appealed to Supreme Court after justice ministry rejected registration attempt. Leader and several members of previously unknown Islamist group, Bayat, arrested in Isfara, in northern Tajikistan - accused of murdering Baptist minister and attacking pro- government imams. Commander of Russian border guards said Tajik troops to take control of frontier with Afghanistan by May 2005.
President Saparmurat Niazov fired ministers of finance and economy, along with top national bank executives, in political crackdown ostensibly aimed at combating corruption. UN Commission on Human Rights approved strongly-worded resolution condemning Turkmenistan's human rights record. Country remains among world's most totalitarian states.
Government officials said outbreak of violence in Tashkent and Bukhara 28 March-1 April, which left 47 dead, including 10 policemen, work of international terrorists linked to al Qaeda, but targeting of police suggests perpetrators homegrown. Authorities earlier blamed radicals affiliated with banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Open Society Institute, prominent international NGO headed by George Soros, forced to close operations in Uzbekistan after re-registration attempt rejected by justice ministry. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development scaled back lending after review of Uzbek progress on reform benchmarks showed poor results and continued human rights abuses.
Government plans to export natural gas causing significant unrest. President Carlos Mesa reshuffled cabinet 13 April to strengthen support base. Some 20,000 protesters demanded his resignation in demonstrations in capital La Paz 22 April, just 6 months after last president toppled. Trade unions threatened continued protests. Referendum to be held in May on direct election of currently appointed governors in effort to respond to demands for greater decentralisation, and 18 July on plans to export gas.
President Uribe proposed amended legislation for demobilisation of right-wing paramilitaries; to require jail time for worst offenders. Former leader of AUC paramilitary group, Carlos Castaño, missing after gun battle with rival paramilitaries killed number of bodyguards; later reported dead. Former general threatening to expose links between army and leftist FARC rebel group. Congress considering whether to amend constitution to allow Uribe to run for second term.
President Lucio Gutierrez increasingly politically isolated, and facing calls to step down. Indigenous parties planning massive protest march 1 May.
Opposition, under protest, agreed to revalidate 1 million disputed signatures for recall referendum on President Chavez 27-31 May with international monitoring. National Electoral Council (CNE) to announce 4 June if referendum to proceed. Risk of violent protests whichever way decision goes. Currently 1.9m votes validated, with 2.4m needed to trigger referendum - which would be held 8 August. Parliament passed law to increase number of Supreme Court judges from 20 to 32, with new judges to be appointed by Chavez, weeks before court considers opposition appeal against rejected referendum signatures.
Presidential elections 16 May. Polling shows gap between President Hipolito Mejia and former president Leonel Fernandez closing, but Fernandez still ahead by double-digit numbers.
Slowly regaining degree of stability, but many armed rebels still roaming countryside. UN Security Council approved new stabilisation mission of 6,700 troops and 1,600 police and experts to replace current U.S.-led force of 3,600 on 1 June. Rebel commander Louis-Jodel Chamblain, former paramilitary FRAPH leader sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia, surrendered to police 22 April amid concern whether deal made to pardon him. Lack of disarmament of rebels and Aristide military drawing business sector concern.
Claimed leader of rebel group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) announced armed struggle would commence if government did not provide adequate response. Congress approved murder charge against ex-president Fujimori for decade-old killing. Indigenous protesters beat allegedly corrupt local mayor of Ilave to death after he refused to step down.
Israeli helicopter attack killed Hamas leader Dr Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who replaced Sheikh Ahmed Yassin after latter assassinated 22 March. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon threatened - and then backed down - that Yasser Arafat could also be targeted. New Hamas leader unnamed, but likely Mahmoud Zahar, Rantisi's deputy. In U.S. policy shift, President George W. Bush publicly backed Sharon plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza Strip, prompting criticism from EU and outrage from Palestinians and Arab states. Members of Sharon's Likud party to vote on plan 2 May, but PM equivocal on whether he might still take plan to Knesset if party votes against it.
Authorities said major terror plot foiled. Police seized chemicals and intercepted 3 trucks packed with explosives, destined, according to 2 suspects captured in 20 April raid, for government buildings and U.S. embassy. Suspects reportedly linked with suspected terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi. King Abdullah cancelled meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush after latter endorsed Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza Strip.
Israeli army chief said 26 April second stage of German-mediated prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbollah progressing and could lead to information on fate of Ron Arad, Israeli airman missing since 1986.
Mysterious bombing and subsequent gun battle in Damascus killed 2 suspected militants and 2 others, including policeman. Authorities have not released identities of presumed attackers, and motivation for bombing remains unclear. U.S. again warned Damascus to stem flow of foreign fighters into Iraq after Marines stepped up interdiction efforts along Syrian border. Amnesty International said Syria still holding hundreds of Kurds arrested in last month's rioting.
Despite renewed pledge 6 April to stop building and assembling centrifuges for uranium enrichment, international community increasingly suspicious that Tehran less than forthcoming with inspections and secretly building bomb.
Deadliest month for U.S. troops since war began (138 killed, compared with 82 in November 2003, 2nd deadliest month) as heavy fighting raged across several parts of Iraq. Associated Press reported at least 1,361 Iraqis killed in April. Hundreds of Iraqis killed in Fallujah following U.S. invasion of city. End to siege appeared likely 30 April as Marines began withdrawing; replaced by Iraqi force led by former Saddam general Jassim Mohammed Saleh. U.S. forces also encircled holy city of Najaf, where radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr holed up with heavily armed followers - reports suggest mosques being used to stockpile weapons. Battles around Najaf and Kufa killed dozens of insurgents. Rocket attacks and bombings on markets, buses, and other civilian targets have outraged Iraqis, but anger increasingly directed at Coalition for failure to provide security - exacerbated by new photos of U.S. forces humiliating Iraqi prisoners. Insurgents made headlines around world with hostage-taking spree: nationals of several countries remain in captivity. U.S. reportedly agreed to proposal by UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to create non-political caretaker government - replacing Interim Governing Council - to oversee transition period between 30 June sovereignty handover and holding of elections in January 2005. 483 Coalition soldiers, including 429 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
Series of clashes between militants and police shook kingdom. Bombing of security forces building in Riyadh 21 April killed 5, including 2 senior police officers, and injured 148 - extremist group al-Haramin Brigades claimed responsibility. Days later police killed 5 militants in Jeddah, 4 of whom reportedly among Saudis' most wanted terror suspects.
Government continued efforts to improve security situation; announced new arrest related to 2000 bombing of USS Cole.
Government declared 8 April presidential election "turning point for democratisation" after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika reelected with 85% of vote. In qualified step forward, Algerian military, which has in past sponsored presidential candidates, affected neutral posture. Although voting mostly free, disqualification of certain candidates and surprising scale of president's victory raised questions as to its fairness.
President Mubarak discussed Israeli PM Sharon's proposed Gaza pullout plan with George W. Bush at Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch. Mubarak concerned pullout will scuttle Roadmap, leave Cairo in charge of Gaza security. Egypt reportedly considering abolishing controversial Emergency Law - in place since 1981 - limiting civil and political rights.
U.S. lifted most sanctions against Libya following Tripoli's continued cooperation on WMD. Muammar Qaddafi made triumphant return to Europe, visiting Brussels 27-28 April.
New Spanish PM Zapatero visited Morocco, pledging increased cooperation against terrorism. 14 Moroccan terror suspects remain in Spanish custody.
UN Security Council extended mandate of UN mission for referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October 2004, instead of 28 February 2005 as recommended by Secretary General Annan, and passed resolution urging sides to accept peace plan. Annan said UN mandate may not be renewed if stalemate between Morocco and POLISARIO front continues.