The President's Take
In my second monthly column to accompany CrisisWatch, our unique conflict tracker, I look at how outside actors are now openly fighting not for Syria, but over it. I also note more bad news from Venezuela, and flag our upcoming report on how the outside world and regional governments can avert disaster there. Read more …
President & CEO
Ten conflict situations deteriorated in April 2005, according to the new edition of CrisisWatch.
In Togo, Faure Gnassingbe claimed victory in elections denounced as rigged by the opposition; election-related violence killed at least 29, and some 11,500 people fled the country. In Haiti, bloody clashes pitting peacekeepers and police against ex-soldiers and street gangs intensified. A series of suicide attacks in Cairo killed 3 tourists and wounded dozens. And in Myanmar, relations between the government and ethnic groups worsened as rebels clashed with state security forces and pro-government militias. The situation in Afghanistan, Ecuador, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Israel/Palestine, North Korea and Uzbekistan also deteriorated last month.
Five conflict situations improved in April. A South African-brokered deal saw Cote d'Ivoire's president agree to allow his principal rival to stand in October presidential elections, while in the Philippines, a breakthrough in talks between the government and MILF rebels improved prospects for a peaceful resolution of the separatist rebellion there. The situation also improved in Kashmir, Lebanon and Serbia & Montenegro.
For May 2005, CrisisWatch identifies Guinea-Bissau as a Conflict Risk Alert, or situation at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month. No new Conflict Resolution Opportunities are identified for May.
Transitional government mandate extended 4 months at Kampala meeting of representatives of 10 African states, after original 22 April election deadline passed; parliamentary poll now scheduled for 4 July and presidential vote for 19 August. Former Hutu rebel group, CNDD-FDD, froze cooperation with government over dispute over nomination for interior minister. Following talks with Tanzanian government, last remaining rebel group, (Hutu) Forces nationales de libération (FNL) declared unilateral ceasefire, expressed willingness for unconditional peace talks. FNL retained right to self-defence, and sporadic violence continued: army attacked FNL bases north of Bujumbura 20 April following rebel ambush, while FNL killed 6 and injured 5 in attack on Gatumba 23 April. South African troops to remain Burundi until March 2006.
March first-round elections failed to produce outright winner. Run-off vote 8 May between President François Bozizé, who won 43% of first-round vote, and former PM Martin Ziguele. Two first-round candidates announced backing for Bozizé.
Tensions with Sudan continued: Chad accused Sudan of financing and arming 3,000 Chadian rebels based near El Geneina border town. Chad suspended mediation of Darfur conflict; 2 subsequent Sudanese government missions patched up dispute. Chadian officials urged UN to assist local population in border areas now home to over 200,000 Sudanese refugees, with growing concern over water supplies.
Firm MONUC approach to disarming Ituri militias produced some results following expiry of 1 April deadline for voluntary disarmament: under 3,000 (from 13,000) remain active. Rolling deployment of reinforced Congolese army units. Leader of PUSIC militia coalition, Kahwa Panga Mandro, arrested 9 April; FAPC militia considered fully disarmed; secretary-general of UPC militia declared end to war 13 April following March arrest of UPC leader Lubanga. In Kinshasa, political debate continued over future constitution; voter registration to begin June, making controversial delay of 30 June elections almost certain. Plans for internationally-backed training of 10 army brigades to provide election security announced. Over 3,300 reported to have fled to Rwanda from North Kivu violence. At International Court of Justice DR Congo demanded compensation from Uganda for invasion, pillage and human rights abuse.
UN Security Council urged FDLR Rwandan Hutu rebels in DR Congo to make good their 31 March promise to disarm and be repatriated. Rwanda said FLDR integration into Rwanda’s army could only happen on case-by-case basis; would not exclude individual judicial action. Over 3,000 Rwandans have now fled to Burundi and Uganda to escape local gacaca court trials for alleged involvement in 1994 genocide; Burundi confirmed they would not be granted asylum.
Peace process stalled since closure of Boundary Commission field offices March 2005, citing “obstructive actions” by Ethiopia. Ongoing war of words: Ethiopia said Eritrea trained and airlifted 32 insurgents killed by security forces in Ethiopia’s unstable Ogaden region. Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki told ruling party officials Ethiopian expansionism made renewed conflict inevitable and stepped up military preparedness.
Inter-clan fighting southern Somalia claimed up to 34, with similar clashes in central province. Over 100 MPs and ministers defied demands by interim President Abdillahi Yusuf they return to Nairobi, remained in Mogadishu working towards city’s demilitarisation. Transitional government denied claims of split, reiterated commitment to retain Mogadishu as capital, said would move back to Somalia by end of May. Mogadishu security situation remained unstable: grenade attack on children’s hospital and separate killing of aid worker. Following 15 March UN Security Council request, arms embargo monitoring panel re-established. Somaliland’s parliament passed electoral bill paving way for elections originally slated for 29 March.
North-south peace fragile. Opening of National Constitutional Review Commission, planned to conclude by late March, delayed by opposition objections over allocation of seats; Commission to draft post-Naivasha interim constitution. Concern grew over southern militia groups, potentially peace spoilers; most failed to attend Nairobi “south-south dialogue” meeting with SPLA 18-21 April; all major southern political opposition groups attended. $4.5 billion development aid, mostly for southern Sudan, pledged at Oslo donors’ meeting, though fears remained over absorptive capacity of southern institutions; U.S. and Germany linked assistance to progress on Darfur. Situation in Darfur remains serious: ongoing insecurity hindering aid delivery; 17 killed in torching of village near Nyala 7 April and numerous Janjaweed attacks. Fifth round of AU-backed peace talks planned for early May in Abuja; SPLA leader John Garang said would attend. Government earlier held talks with smaller National Movement for Reform and Development rebel group in Chad. First UN peacekeeping contingent arrived southern Sudan; main force expected to begin deployment May. In positive move, AU said would increase Darfur peace monitoring force to 7,700 by September. UN passed names of 51 suspected of Darfur war crimes to ICC following March referral.
Continued attacks on civilians in northern Uganda by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), including outskirts of Gulu town. LRA leaders reportedly in southern Sudan. Peace moves stalled: chief government mediator, Betty Bigombe, contacted LRA leader Joseph Kony 13 April, but President Museveni expressed preference for military victory. Understanding between ICC and northern Uganda community leaders improved through meetings in Uganda and The Hague. Debate over end to Uganda’s no-party system continued ahead of proposed June referendum on constitutional changes which would allow third term for Museveni.
Opposition parties walked out of parliamentary commission, complaining National Electoral Commission, designed to oversee 2006 elections, controlled by ruling MPLA party; national assembly subsequently April by 120 to 60 votes.
Agriculture ministry predicted harvests would decline for 4th year running; one third of Swaziland’s population already rely on food aid. King Mswati III spent $1.7m on birthday celebrations.
Ruling Zanu-PF claimed victory in flawed 31 March polls, taking 78 of 120 seats; opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secured 41. President Mugabe appointed further 30 MPs giving Zanu-PF two-thirds majority required to change constitution. U.S. and EU criticised election, African Union said election “technically competent” and South African observers endorsed it. MDC filed 16 court petitions challenging results and severed ties with Pretoria; U.S. reviewed sanctions options. Mugabe said would retire at end of current term in 2008. Zimbabwe re-elected to UN Human Rights Commission amidst protest by U.S. and other Western states. Famine fears continued; government announced planned import of 1.2 million tons of maize despite foreign currency problems, while denying food shortage.
In major step forward South African mediator suggested – and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo conceded – that Gbagbo’s principal rival, Alassane Ouattara, could stand in 30 October presidential elections. Followed Pretoria peace deal signed by warring parties 6 April; commitments include militia disarmament, UN supervision of electoral process, return of Forces Nouvelles ministers to government and re- examination of laws not in conformity with 2003 Linas- Marcoussis accords. However, mutual confidence low and details of disarmament process unclear: rebel and government chiefs of staff agreed 14 May start-date and heavy-weapon drawback from 21 April, but timetable open to further discussion at Yamoussoukro seminar 2-6 May.
Continuing instability: President Conté’s worsening health raised fears of power vacuum. Security situation on Côte d’Ivoire border deteriorated with bandit attack on Kokota village 6 April and detention of 17 Ivorian combatants from dissident rebel group of IB Coulibaly. Sierra Leone’s war crimes prosecutor David Crane claimed former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor behind January 2005 attempt to assassinate Conté. In positive moves, PM Diallo began economic and political reforms; EU lifted Article 96 aid freeze.
Growing fears of violence surrounding 19 June presidential election; 2 former presidents – Joao Bernardo Vieira and Kumba Yala – announced intention to run despite ban. Yala said would seize power if candidacy blocked. UN Secretary-General Annan appointed former Mozambique president Chissano as special envoy in attempt to defuse tension.
Security situation unchanged, with ongoing worries about inadequate combatant reintegration program. Voter registration for 11 October elections began 25 April. U.S. Congress applying pressure on Nigeria to extradite former Liberian dictator to Sierra Leone’s Special Court. Sekou Conneh, former head of LURD militia, announced would run in October presidential elections. Head of UN Mission, Jacques Paul Klein, announced resignation 29 April.
Sporadic violence across Nigeria: ethnic Fulani militias killed 14 in central Benue state while 100 died in land disputes on border between Cross River and Ebonyi states. President Obasanjo continued anti-corruption drive, challenging political rivals to demonstrate any corruption linked to president.
Concern about refugee unrest following World Food Programme plans to reduce food basket by 30%. Sierra Rutile Mines, once biggest industry in country, reopened after decade of closure.
Faure Gnassingbé – son of longtime dictator Eyadema Gnassingbé – claimed 60% of votes in 24 April presidential elections. Opposition candidate Bob Akitani said poll was rigged and briefly pronounced himself president; criticized by regional ECOWAS body. Opposition claimed 100 killed by security forces in post-election rioting; 11,500 have fled Togo, according to UN. Gnassingbé call for “unity government” rejected by opposition; ECOWAS, Nigerian mediation ongoing.
Widespread public protests against Japan’s UN Security Council aspirations and failure to confront war record appeared to have tacit support from Beijing. Protestors in Hong Kong denounced Beijing decision to limit next Hong Kong chief’s term to 2 years as unwarranted interference in internal affairs.
Prospects of return to 6-party negotiations increasingly bleak after Pyongyang announced would only return to talks if changed to “mutual arms reduction negotiations”. South Korea and China warned Washington against referring Pyongyang to UN Security Council as would exacerbate situation; North Korean spokesman quoted saying sanctions would be seen as “declaration of war”. North reportedly preparing to remove spent fuel rods from Yongbyon nuclear reactor - would provide sufficient material to make additional 6 to 8 nuclear weapons. North and South agreed to resume bilateral dialogue. North Korea reportedly tested short- range missile into Sea of Japan 1 May.
Opposition KMT leader Lien Chan in China for historic 8-day tour; held talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao 29 April: first meeting between Nationalist and Communist Party leaders since Nationalists fled mainland 1949. Joint communiqué released opposing Taiwanese independence; rejected in Taipei as attempt to divide Taiwan's political parties and undermine its elected government, though President Chen Shui-bian urged Beijing to open talks with his administration. Polls indicated slim majority of Taiwanese supported Lien’s trip. Political fallout from anti-secession law likely to delay lifting of EU arms embargo on China for at least another year.
Militant activity increased after winter lull. U.S. forces retaliated to rockets fired at base in Khost province 21 April, reportedly killing 12 militants in bloodiest encounter in recent months. Incidents throughout month killed at least 26 suspected Taliban and 12 Afghan police. One U.S. soldier killed Uruzgan province 26 April; U.S.-led air strike on suspected insurgent camp 29 April killed 7. Investigation under way into 6 April U.S. helicopter crash which killed 18. Clashes in Herat 29 April between Afghan troops and police killed 6 in province’s worst violence since September 2004 riots. Former presidential candidate Yunus Qanuni and mujahideen allies announced new coalition party, National Understanding Front, consisting of 11 former mujahideen groups turned political parties. Several Taliban senior members reportedly joined coalition’s proposed “allegiance program” designed to bring former Taliban leaders into political fold: not open to 150 senior Taliban leaders. Killing of woman in Badakhshan province for adultery highlighted continuing lack of central government control outside Kabul. Three-week registration period for candidates in 18 September parliamentary elections began 30 April.
Tensions rose across Indian border after separate incidents killed 5. India’s Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles accused each other of incursions. Meeting to resolve dispute over route of Indian border fence ended without agreement.
Developments in northeast: National Democratic Front of Bodoland agreed to extend ceasefire for further 6 months; 17 April attack in Manipur state killed 1; Mizoram government and Bru National Liberation Front signed peace accord to end 8 years of militancy, will allow repatriation of thousands of Bru refugees from neighbouring North Tripura district. Communist (CPI-M) rebels killed 2 politicians and village head in Andhra Pradesh 9 April. Federal government reportedly asked state administrations to intensify anti-Maoist operations in “Naxalite belt” stretching across central India.
Jubilation of Kashmiris on both sides of Line of Control as bus service, suspended since partition in 1947, resumed 7 April. Separatist groups attempted to intimidate passengers: attacked passengers’ housing in Srinagar; exploded landmines on route; and labelled those boarding bus “traitors”. Meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi 17 April resulted in joint statement calling peace process “irreversible”, promised to work towards “soft border” - opening meeting points for divided families and boosting trade and travel across frontier. At least 40 killed in separate clashes between militants and security forces. Head of largest militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, reportedly ready for peace talks if invited by New Delhi.
State of emergency formally lifted 30 April, but practical impact and extent of reduction of royal powers uncertain. Battles between Maoists and security forces intensified: at least 100 rebels reported killed western district of Rukum 9 April in deadliest encounter in over year; further 84 rebels reported killed Rukum and Rolpa districts. Widespread disruption caused by general strike imposed by Maoists from 2-12 April. In positive development Nepal agreed to UN human rights monitoring mission: 50-member international monitoring team likely to start deployment across Nepal with wide mandate in May. King Gyanendra met Indian PM Manmohan Singh Jakarta 23 April, claimed India to resume military aid; New Delhi says awaiting progress on democracy. Gyanendra promised elections in over 50 municipalities by April 2006 but parties sceptical. Despite Gyanendra’s reassurances of reconciliation former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba arrested 27 April after refusing to appear before Royal Corruption Control Commission panel; student leaders also arrested. Human rights groups believe thousands of political activists remain in custody.
Precarious ceasefire in place between Bugti tribesmen and approx. 300 paramilitary troops in Balochistan after negotiations: Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain, head of federal ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, and Tribal Chief Akbar Bugti reportedly set up accord and agreed to 3-member monitoring committee though details of agreement yet to be released. Continued stalemate in parliament on central government agreement with Baloch regional parties on economic and political autonomy led to continued attacks by militants on security personnel and government installations. Security forces launched search operations for militants in western tribal region of North Waziristan 21 April. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) plans for rally for leader Benazir Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari thwarted by massive security operation which saw thousands of PPP supporters arrested: leading PPP politicians, including parliamentarians, later released but many party workers still detained.
Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim continued efforts to bring sides towards deal on joint mechanism for aid distribution amid growing opposition from groups linked to government coalition partner Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP). LTTE insist mechanism in place before they consider wider talks for solution to conflict. Pro-LTTE Journalist Dharmaretnam Sivaram abducted and killed Colombo 29 April. LTTE factional violence continued with 5 rebels, belonging to breakaway group led by Karuna, killed 15 April.
Third round talks between government delegation and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) held Helsinki under former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. Both sides agreed definition of special autonomy - “self-government of Aceh province within the Republic of Indonesia” but key security issues unresolved; next talks due late May. Clashes between Indonesian military (TNI) and GAM continued. Aceh governor Abdullah Puteh found guilty of graft; sentenced to 10 years 11 April but later released into “city arrest” due to “health” concerns’. TNI to give up lucrative enterprises within 2 years as part of reforms but will keep cooperatives and foundations. Violence re-erupted Mamasa district of West Sulawesi province 24 April killing 4; fifth outbreak since Mamasa created 2002. Political parties voted for new (non-parliamentary) heads for next 5 years: House of Representatives deputy speaker Muhaimin Iskandar National Awakening; Businessman Soetrisno Bachir -National Mandate Party; Vice President Jusuf Kalla for largest party, Golkar; former president Megawati Sukarnoputri re-elected leader of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.
Volatile relations between government and ethnic groups worsened. At least 8 Karen rebels killed in clashes with military while pro-Yangon United Wa State Army reportedly attacked key positions held by rebel Shan State Army, heavy casualties expected though exact figures unknown. Exiled Shan leaders previously declared independence – move criticised by both ruling junta and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Junta denied NGO claims chemical weapons being used on Karen rebels. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. Bomb in Mandalay killed 2, wounded 16, 27 April.
Prospects improved for peaceful resolution of MILF separatist rebellion after exploratory talks with government in Malaysia. Both sides announced breakthrough on ancestral land issue though “governance” question unresolved. Talks described as very positive. Formal negotiations to begin June.
Southern insurgency continued with almost daily incidents of violence. Possible policy shift in Bangkok (following PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s admission heavy-handed approach failed) but plans for military drawdown on hold after 3 April triple bombing in Songkhla province killed 2, injured 70. Newly- appointed National Reconciliation Committee, composed of 49 mainly non-southern, non-Muslims, chaired by former PM Anand Panyarachun tasked with devising plan to end violence in south, released reports of investigative commissions into Tak Bai and Krue Se incidents from April and October 2004, and held initial consultations with southern community and religious leaders. Government paid approx. U.S.$600,000 in reparations to 345 families of Tak Bai victims, died or injured at hands of security forces during 25 October 2004 protest, though still refuses to release full report of Tak Bai investigative commission.
President Alfred Moisiu declared 3 July 2005 date for parliamentary elections. Parties signed Code of Conduct for electoral process and acceptance of results.
NATO foreign ministers, meeting informally in Vilnius, gave favourable review of progress towards membership in Partnership for Peace program..
Intra-Albanian political tension grew after opposition PDK accused government ministers of largest party, LDK, of links to secret security organisation: explosion at headquarters of ORA opposition party 17 April; police takeover of President Rugova’s security from private force. Enver Haradinaj, brother of former PM Ramush Haradinaj, shot dead 15 April. Final status preparation among Kosovo politicians stalled, but Contact Group (U.S., UK, Russia, Italy, Germany, France) and EU representatives held talks with Belgrade and Pristina: Contact Group publicly announced principles that Kosovo will not be partitioned, form union with any other state or return to pre-1999 status. Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica called for solution of “more than autonomy, less than independence”. International Commission on the Balkans presented report suggesting Kosovo status progresses in 4 stages culminating with independence in EU.
Irregularities continued in third round of municipal elections held 10 April. Independent candidate Trifun Kostovski confirmed as Skopje mayor. PM Vlado Buckovski promised electoral law would be changed and abuses prosecuted. Four cases related to 2001 conflict involving members and leaders of former ethnic Albanian rebel force, National Liberation Army, to be transferred from Hague tribunal to Macedonian courts.
Significant progress towards EU integration: EU Council of Ministers endorsed European Commission’s decision to begin negotiations on Stabilisation and Association Agreement 25 April. Two Hague indictees surrendered: former Yugoslav Army chief-of-staff Nebojsa Pavkovic; former Republika Srpska police general Ljubomir Borovcanin. Javier Solana met State-Union officials to resolve functioning of parliament by extending present mandate (had expired 3 March). Serbian government showing increasing signs of flexibility on Kosovo. President Boris Tadic twice publicly offered to meet with Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova: rebuffed both times. Kostunica publicly stated compromise will be necessary calling autonomy, less than independence”.
Demonstration by marginal opposition group held 20 April in Sevan violently disrupted; 1 injured by gunfire. Rare united statement of 25 parties, including ruling coalition, condemned the violence. Meanwhile internal squabbling within ruling coalition continued. Parliamentary session 14 April lacked quorum due to high absenteeism by rival coalition factions and continuing opposition boycott.
OSCE media freedom representative held discussions with President Ilham Aliyev 11 April, days after several hundred opposition supporters and journalists marched in Baku to protest government rights violations against journalists: several arrested. Opposition leaders and former government officials formed election bloc, New Policy, 12 April – one of several new opposition coalitions to have formed ahead of November parliamentary elections. Council of Europe.
Violence continued as 5 Russian special forces troops and 7 rebels reportedly killed in Grozny 15 April. EU sent first ever fact-finding mission to Chechnya to investigate ways of implementing reconstruction aid; concluded work beyond immediate humanitarian relief now feasible. EU Commission approved €22.5 million in humanitarian aid for North Caucasus, which continues to be plagued by instability: 4 Islamist militants and 1 policeman died in shootout in republic of Kabardino-Balkaria; meanwhile, police in Nazran, Ingushetia, used force to break up protest against Ingushetian president.
Georgian and Russian foreign ministers agreed – subject to finalisation by treaty – Russian military base dismantlement by January 2008. Tbilisi continued to seek international monitors Russian border. EU assessment mission deployed early April; OSCE approved new border guard training program to run through end 2005. Two days of UN- brokered talks between Georgian and Abkhaz officials concluded 8 April in Geneva. Chaired by UN Undersecretary- General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno, talks were first bringing sides together since Rose Revolution. De facto Abkhaz PM Aleksandr Ankvab survived second assassination attempt in 2 months; may be linked to his threatened crackdown on mafia. Georgia announced closure of reservist training camp in South Ossetia conflict zone.
Azerbaijan foreign minister met OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (Russia, U.S. and France) in Frankfurt 27 April; expressed surprise at absence of Armenian counterpart, who will reportedly meet separately with co-chairs. Earlier, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers held separate talks with Minsk Group co-chairs in London 15 April. Sides reported some progress; said meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents “envisaged in mid-May”.
Parliamentarians re-elected President Voronin to fresh 4-year term 4 April. Voronin appointed Vasile Tarlev PM; new cabinet won parliamentary approval 19 April. “Revitalised” GUUAM summit opened 21 April with leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (Uzbekistan has suspended its participation) meeting in Chisinau. Ukrainian PM Victor Yushchenko presented plan to resolve Transdniestria dispute.
Regional referendum on greater home-rule – rejected by Spain’s main national parties – derailed by elections 17 April. Moderate nationalist premier Ibarretxe lost 2 seats and failed to win majority, forcing tie-up with Spain’s Socialists or Basque communists, representing extreme nationalist vote. Spanish PM Zapatero offered coalition negotiations if Ibarretxe discards home-rule plans.
Normal politics suspended with campaigning for 5 May election of Westminster MPs. Victories expected for Sinn Fein (SF) – despite evidence of IRA’s continued involvement in criminal violence – and for DUP, with marginalisation of moderate SDLP and UUP. SF leader called for IRA to “fully embrace and accept” democratic means; unionists called for action not words. Irish PM and Northern Ireland’s top police officer both said IRA continued to recruit and train new members.
Nomination of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraqi president allayed fears of creation of Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Turkish security operation in southeast near Pervari town killed 21 Kurdish insurgents; further operation near Diyarbakir resulted in 1 death. Bomb in western Turkish resort of Kusadasi killed 1 policeman 30 April.
Reacting to events in Kyrgyzstan, parliament passed law banning mass gatherings or demonstrations in period between an election day and announcement of official results. Opposition urged President Nazarbayev to veto law.
Situation stabilised somewhat, with President Akayev submitting resignation from Moscow exile, and presidential vote set for 10 July. Leading candidates are interim president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and former vice president Feliks Kulov, but Russian-speaking Kulov must first clear Kyrgyz fluency legal hurdle. Court cleared Kulov of criminal charges relating to time in office. Security situation still fragile: thousands of squatters seizing land around capital, Bishkek, risking confrontation with residents and farm owners.
Media and civil society remained under pressure: government suspended operations of 2 independent newspapers and television station, and passed law requiring foreign embassies and international organisations to provide advance notice of meetings with civil society, political parties, or media. In Moscow, Russian authorities released Tajik opposition leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov despite extradition request from Tajik prosecutor-general on terrorism and embezzlement charges, citing inadequate evidence. But Iskandarov then arrested in Dushanbe after reportedly being abducted from Russia and brought back to Tajikistan.
President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov declared presidential elections for 2009, pledged not to run. But his totalitarian grip on Turkmen society continued to tighten: in latest move, government refused to extend licenses of international shipping firms, severing one of last remaining links with outside world.
Increasing instability and worrying trends: assault on activist who helped farmers protest government policies sparked demonstrations by hundreds in Jizzakh region. Independent journalist Ulughbek Haydarov severely beaten by unknown assailants in Jizzakh; journalists and human rights activists across country reported increased state harassment. New opposition coalition of political activists and business entrepreneurs promised massive acts of protest if economic and political reforms not implemented. Efforts by local authorities in Samarkand to demolish local bazaar led to protests. Significant discontent at government’s policy of forcing farmers to grow specific crops – often cotton or wheat – and sell harvests back to state at below-market prices.
Political unrest continued with ongoing disagreement over energy policies. Senate approved controversial hydrocarbon law increasing taxes on foreign oil companies 29 April: President Carlos Mesa opposes bill. Mesa refused to accept Foreign Minister Juan Ignacio Siles' resignation after lower house censure for failing to defend Bolivia's interests in water dispute with Chile. Movement Towards Socialism leader Evo Morales proposed presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuala help resolve water dispute and praised government verdict that outlaws concessions to foreign oil companies accused of exploiting domestic gas and oil without Congressional approval.
Talks with AUC paramilitaries in northern Santa Fe de Ralito remained stalled as AUC object to government's “justice and peace” bill which fails to give assurances against extradition to U.S. Negotiations with left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) on hold after they rejected Mexico as mediator. FARC killed 17 soldiers in ambush in eastern province of Arauca 6 April; launched attacks on 5 southern towns killing 5 wounding 30, 14 April. Five paramilitary fighters, including army sergeant died in clash with security forces near town of Cucuta on Venezuelan border 17 April. Elsewhere security forces killed at least 15 leftist guerrillas in northern provinces Antioquia and Choco. Four army generals sacked 27 April by minister of defence for opposing armed forces modernisation. U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed support for Uribe and fight against drug trafficking and terrorism despite failure to significantly reduce drug flow to U.S.
President Lucio Gutierrez third leader to be toppled by popular unrest in 8 years. Violent street protests erupted in Quito after Gutierrez' hand-picked and stacked Supreme Court dropped corruption charges against key political ally, former President Abdala Bucaram. Congress branded him dictator for meddling with court, military commanders withdrew support, Congress replaced him with vice president Alfredo Palacio 20 April. Gutierrez given 2 years asylum in Brazil.
Troops captured 5 Colombian right-wing AUC paramilitaries on Venezuelan soil in latest border incident 18 April. President Hugo Chavez cut military ties with U.S. after accusing American instructors of attempting to foment unrest. Chavez continued to bolster his military forces with new 20,000 strong military reserve to help deter “imperialist aggression”.
Bloody clashes pitting peacekeepers and police against ex-soldiers and gangs intensified. Five killed during pro-Aristide demonstration 27 April; police claimed returned fire, others said police fired without provocation. UN troops and Haitian police carried out joint operation in Port-au-Prince slum, killing up to 10 gang members, including suspect in fatal shooting of Filipino peacekeeper. Police killed former soldier Remissainthe Ravix, who helped oust former president Aristide, and notorious gang leader Grenn Sonnen. UN Security Council fact-finding mission suggested MINUSTAH likely to be reinforced by additional civilian police; current mandate expires June. Voter registration campaign started 25 April though hampered by logistical difficulties. National Dialogue process launched by interim president 7 April; Aristide’s former party Lavalas and other key civil society groups refused to take part.
Informal truce between Israel and Palestinian militants under increasing strain, with marked escalation of incidents initiated by both parties. Three Palestinian children killed southern Gaza 11 April, Israeli soldier wounded near Gaza border 21 April, and series of shooting and rocket incidents in Gaza and to lesser extent West Bank. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon met U.S. President George W. Bush at Texas ranch 11 April. Bush endorsed Sharon’s Gaza pullout plan, urged Israel to stop settlement expansion but assured Sharon U.S. would not expect Israel to give up all West Bank settlements in future negotiations. Week after meeting, Israel announced plans to build 50 homes in northern West Bank settlement of Ariel. Sharon likely to announce 3- week delay in Gaza withdrawal, from late July to 15 August. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited region in bid to boost Russian role in peace process.
Pro-Syrian moderate Najib Mikati appointed PM following resignation of Omar Karami; formed cabinet 19 April, breaking 6-week deadlock between opposition and government. Mikati’s government won vote of confidence 27 April; legislative elections scheduled to begin 29 May. Vote came day after final Syrian withdrawal of troops and intelligence agents in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1559. But leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to defy UN demands for Hizbollah to disarm and join political process, saying would keep arms as long as Israel remained threat.
Bending to international pressure, Syria withdrew all troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1559. Final withdrawal followed 26 April release of UN report characterising Syrian interference in Lebanon as “heavy-handed”. U.S. Sec. State Rice welcomed progress, but said Syria yet to fully end covert activities.
Negotiations with EU-3 (France, Germany, UK) over Tehran’s nuclear program ended in London 29 April without agreement. Earlier, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had threatened that Iran would resume nuclear enrichment if talks failed. Sides expected to meet again in New York 2 May on sidelines of arms control summit. At least 5 people died during violent demonstrations in southwestern province of Khuzestan, after allegedly forged letter appeared claiming government planned to change ethnic composition of majority Arab region; senior clerics blamed Israel and America.
First democratically elected government for 50 years approved by interim National Assembly - though achievement overshadowed somewhat by surge of violence and immensity of remaining political hurdles. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani sworn in as new president; Shiite leader Ibrahim Jaafari appointed prime minister. Jaafari announced partial list of cabinet members after bitter negotiations; list approved by National Assembly 28 April, remaining 7 positions to be filled before 7 May constitutional deadline for forming government. Delay caused in part due to reported deadlock with interim PM Allawi over distribution of ministries, and efforts by some Kurdish leaders to force out Jaafari. Amid political uncertainty, violence surged in April after relative lull since 30 January elections. Militants increasingly targeting Iraqi civilians and police. Coordinated blasts in Baghdad and southern town of Maidan 29 April killed at least 17; car bomb at Shiite mosque in Baghdad 22 April killed 11; bombs in Tikrit and Shiite neighbourhood of western Baghdad 24 April killed at least 36. Female MP Lamia Abed Khadouri shot dead 27 April. 1,213 Coalition soldiers, including 1,106 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations 1 May 2003.
Security forces clashed repeatedly with Islamist militants: gunbattle in northern town of al-Ras reportedly left 14 militants dead, including Abdulkarim al- Mejjati, alleged mastermind of May 2003 Casablanca bombings; shootout in Mecca 21 April killed 2 militants and 2 policemen. Meanwhile, final round of voting in municipal elections took place 21 April. Candidates backed by clerics, including the controversial Safar al-Hawali, swept to victory in Jeddah; moderate Islamist candidates won all seats in every major Saudi city.
Authorities captured rebel strongholds in north after weeks of clashes with followers of radical Shiite cleric killed by security forces in 2004; at least 170 soldiers and militants reported dead. Aid agencies increasingly concerned about conflict’s effect on humanitarian situation. U.S. and UK embassies briefly closed due to security fears.
President Bouteflika’s amnesty moves for both insurgents and military personnel – believed responsible for over 6,000 disappearances in 1990s – continued despite upswing in violence. Bouteflika said security “largely re- established” in speech 7 April; following day, Armed Islamic Group (GIA), previously thought largely defunct, blamed for shooting 14 civilians at roadblock near Larbaa, 30 km south Algiers. Interior ministry later said it had arrested GIA leader Boulenouar Oukil. Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat blamed for other attacks throughout month and across country, especially Boumerdes province. Human Rights Watch criticised amnesty plan, warning it would leave families without truth or justice.
Violence targeted at tourists returned: bomb attack in Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili bazaar 7 April killed 1 American, 2 French tourists and wounded 17; 2 women opened fire on tourist bus 30 April before killing themselves; suicide bomber detonated near museum same day, wounding 9. Democratic challenges to regime continued: student protests joined by academics while judges’ union threatened to not supervise October and November elections unless granted greater judicial independence. Opposition Kifaya (“Enough”) staged illegal nationwide protests 27 April; 75 arrested, most later released. Ongoing harassment of opposition groups; Muslim Brotherhood said multi-candidate elections meaningless without reform of 1981 emergency law. President Mubarak launched re-election campaign in series of 2-hour televised interviews starting 24 April.
Up to 20 leaders of Islamist opposition arrested 26 April, including spiritual leader Sheikh Mohamed El Hacen Ould Deddew, accused by government of links to Algerian- based Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat; Islamist opposition claimed arrests were political crackdown. Critics suggested government has been exaggerating Islamist threat to gain U.S. acquiescence in internal repression.
Notwithstanding improvement in regional political climate, UN report bemoaned lack of progress; Security Council renewed MINURSO mandate for further 6 months 28 April. European Parliament warned emergency aid required for 158,000 refugees from Western Sahara living in camps near Tindouf, Algeria.