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
After March suspension of participation in joint ceasefire monitoring mechanism, Palipehutu-FNL rebels agreed to hold talks with government to address outstanding concerns, including FNL role in armed forces, government. Talks still pending at month end due to venue disagreement. Hussein Radjabu – ousted ruling CNDD-FDD party chairman – arrested on allegations of destabilising nation 27 April.
Rebel Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) signed peace deal with government 13 April establishing ceasefire in north east. Government forces raided villages in north west 17-19 April, killing 1 in Mann, causing thousands to flee. Rebel Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD) attacked army convoy 24 April south of Paoua killing 1 soldier.
Chadian and Sudanese troops clashed in Darfur 9 April, first battle between armies amid rising tensions. 17 Sudanese, 9 Chadian soldiers and many rebels reported killed. After denials, Chad admitted crossing border “in pursuit” of rebels: said wants peace but will defend against rebels and Janjaweed militias crossing into Chad. Libya and Eritrea reportedly deployed border observers to lower tensions, defuse calls for UN force in eastern Chad. Death toll up to 400 in 31 March attacks on villages in eastern Chad by Sudanese and local Janjaweed militia aided by Chadian rebels.
Political deterioration continued after heavy March fighting as opposition Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) leader Jean-Pierre Bemba flew to Portugal 11 April with permission from senate for 60- day absence. Public prosecutor called on senate to lift Bemba’s immunity 12 April. MLC suspended participation in lower house of parliament 14 April due to intimidation and harassment including looting of MLC headquarters, homes of several MLC leaders. Opposition returned to parliament 25 April after President Joseph Kabila agreed to discuss concerns. Fighting between militias and army intensified in Kivus as Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) continued offensive against Rwandan FDLR and Rasta rebels, killing 22 near Uganda border 27 April. Rebel FNI leader Peter Karim handed himself in 7 April for integration into army as colonel along with 7 officers. UNSC extended MONUC mandate through 15 May allowing more time to discuss France’s draft resolution. Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and Uganda adopted joint military strategy 19 April to fight rebel groups in Great Lakes region, but DRC said no foreign forces to operate in its territory.
Government filed case against France in International Court of Justice: seeks declaration France violated diplomatic immunity of President Paul Kagame and others by issuing arrest warrants for alleged involvement in 1994 assassination of then-president Habyarimana. Brussels court opened trial of former Rwandan Maj. Bernard Ntuyahaga for 1994 killing of 10 Belgian peacekeepers. Rwandan military high court upheld genocide conviction and life sentence for Hutu general Laurent Munyakazi 27 April.
Tensions persist as accusations traded. Ethiopia said killed 23 Eritrean-backed rebels, captured 18, received surrender of 112. Kenya announced effort to begin intense diplomacy between rivals. Eritrea suspended membership in regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) 21 April over Somalia policy rifts.
Attack on oil field in remote Ogaden region 24 April killed 74, including 9 Chinese. Ogaden National Liberation Front claimed responsibility; Ethiopia blamed Eritrea. Addis denied reinforcing troops in Mogadishu 6 April, said civilian casualties and instability exaggerated 24 April. High Court released 25 journalists and opposition supporters for lack of evidence, dismissed charges against others, in controversial trial following disputed 2005 elections.
Fighting raged in Mogadishu after tentative ceasefire early month. Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopian troops stepped up offensive against Islamist insurgents and Hawiye clan militia 18 April. Violence appeared to level off and PM Ali Mohamed Ghedi claimed victory 26 April, but situation fragile. Some 400 killed in 9 days, up to 400,000 displaced since February. Heavy clashes in southern port town Kismayo 23 April between army troops that splintered into clan militias left up to 25 dead. Deputy PM Hussein Aideed of Hawiye clan in Eritrea with other MPs 19 April: announced alliance opposed to Ethiopia’s presence in Mogadishu, accused troops of genocide. Somali parliament voted 17 April to expel MPs in Asmara. Peace talks between Hawiye clan elders and Ethiopian commanders still pending. National reconciliation congress set 16 April postponed. Still only 1200 Ugandans of 8000 planned AU peacekeepers deployed. Ugandan killed 31 March after mortars hit AU base.
Fighting between Puntland and Somaliland forces mid-April around Dhahar, city within Somaliland’s post-independence boundaries, left 1 dead. Puntland retook city. Somaliland defence minister sacked 15 April.
Government of Sudan agreed 16 April to “heavy support package” to allow up to 3000 UN personnel into Darfur to support 7000 AU troops there, but Khartoum continued to resist deployment of 20,000 AU/UN hybrid force. Agreed package includes attack helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. Agreement followed debate of increased sanctions, week of visits to Khartoum by Chinese envoy Zhai Jun, SA President Thabo Mbeki and U.S. Dep. Sec. State John Negroponte. China involvement deemed key, though Khartoum had already committed to deal last November. U.S. stated 23 April that Khartoum must agree to hybrid force in matter of weeks or face tougher economic sanctions. Existing UNMIS force given 6-month extension 30 April. 5 AU Senegalese peacekeepers killed near Chad border 1 April in deadliest attack since 2004 deployment; 2 further deaths saw deadliest month for AU. Senegal threatened 13 April to pull out 500-strong contingent unless support provided. Leaked UN report accused Khartoum of flying arms and equipment into Darfur, disguising planes as UN aircraft, in violation of arms embargo. Rebels reported government airstrike against Jemmeiza village and further 73 killed in northern Darfur.Transitional Darfur Regional Authority inaugurated 24 April as step in implementation of 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement.
Significant steps taken to get peace process back on track. In mid-April meeting chaired by UN Special Envoy, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, government and LRA leaders renewed cessation of hostilities through end June, agreed to restart Juba talks 26 April under southern Sudanese VP Riek Machar’s mediation. 2 groups of rebel fighters in southern Sudan to converge in Ri-Kwangba; African Union, DRC and UN officials to help verify. LRA demanded 12- month suspension of International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against leaders to complete peace process.
No public signs of progress for SADC initiative led by South Africa President Mbeki to mediate between President Mugabe and opposition MDC. Ruling ZANU-PF reportedly took steps to consolidate chance of success in harmonised presidential and parliamentary elections now due March 2008. MDC factions led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara submitted shared roadmap to Pretoria, calling for transitional government and new constitution leading to free and fair elections. Crackdown on civil society continued: all NGO licences revoked, protests repeatedly broken up, arrests continued. EU added 5 deputy ministers to list of targeted sanctions against ZANU leaders.
Peace further consolidated as Guillaume Soro sworn in as PM 4 April. Transitional government announced 11 posts for President Laurent Gbagbo’s party and allies, 7 for Soro’s New Forces and 5 each for opposition RDR and PDCI. Gbagbo, Soro, French and UN troops agreed to December deadline for withdrawing foreign troops from buffer zone. Increase in violence around zone reported late April. President Gbagbo signed amnesty law 13 April for national security offences committed during conflict, excluding crimes against humanity, war crimes and economic crimes. World Bank agreed 20 April to lend $100 million for disarmament of former combatants in exchange for repayment of debt interest.
PM Lansana Kouyaté led ministerial delegation to France and Belgium 14-22 April. EU called for investigation into violence committed during January-February civil unrest. Head of National Assembly El Hadj Aboubacar Somparé called for investigation 5 April into excessive use of force by military in January-February. Hundreds of traders attacked and set fire to police station in Kindia in reaction to alleged police brutality 23 April.
Planned demonstrations suspended early month as President Vieira began political consultations, dissolved government and appointed consensus candidate Martinho Ndafa Cabi of opposition PAIGC PM 9 April. Cabi promised to hold legislative elections next year, named new opposition-dominated government 17 April. Justice, foreign affairs, internal ministries assigned to close Vieira associates.
Member of opposition Liberian Action Party Alex Tyler elected speaker of House 5 April. Head of National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (NCDDRR) appealed for $18 million for remaining 23,000 ex-combatants not included in donor-funded programs. President Johnson Sirleaf issued executive order 12 April transferring full responsibilities from UNDP to NCDDRR. Government announced plan 17 April to train Quick Reaction Unit to assume duty upon UNMIL’s departure in response to public riots. UNSC lifted 6-year-old diamond ban, lauded country for meeting demands of Kimberley Process 27 April. Government signed military agreement with U.S. 18 April.
Attack on French-run uranium mine in north 20 April, 1 soldier dead. Movement of Nigerians for Justice blamed.
Tensions and discontent heightened following presidential, parliamentary and governorship elections marred by violence, fraud and serious logistical problems. Action Congress candidate Atiku Abubakar ran in 21 April presidential poll only after Supreme Court overturned prior disqualification 16 April. Umaru Yar'Adua of ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) declared winner in landslide. International observers, local monitors and civil society criticised results. Opposition rejected, called for interim government, new elections and mass protests 1 May. Re-run of annulled polls 28 April consolidated PDP victory, but fraud, low turnout reported. Political violence in 10 states before and during 14 April governorship and state legislature elections caused over 60 deaths, with 2 major police stations razed in Port Harcourt. PDP won 27 of 36 governorships and 26 state legislatures;
President Abdoulaye Wade sworn in for second 5- year term 3 April despite opposition accusations of doctored voter lists and vote buying. Observers declared polls fair. 12 opposition parties vowed to boycott June legislative elections.
MP and speaker, Justice Edmond Cowan, announced parliament to be dissolved on 25 June ahead of 28 July parliamentary and presidential elections. Elections groups warned limited time between dissolution and polls would cause prejudice, pose logistical difficulties. Earlier dissolution urged.
6-party talks still on hold as North Korea failed to shut Yongbyon reactor by 14 April deadline. Washington initially said willing to give Pyongyang some leeway on timing, but President Bush said patience “not unlimited” and, with Japan, threatened new sanctions during visit by PM Abe. $25m frozen funds in Macau bank remained unreleased due to difficulties finding banks to take funds from designated money-laundering concern. Seoul sent negotiator Chun Yung-woo to Washington 23 April to discuss technical issues related to unfreezing funds and resumed food aid.
During annual military exercises 25 April, Taiwan made first open declaration they would fire missiles at mainland if attacked. Pro-independence think-tank promoted idea of interim “second republic” constitution in absence of democratic process with China; plan rejected by opposition KMT as clear independence move. During visit of KMT delegation to Bejing, Chinese President Hu Jintao urged closer ties. Trial of opposition leader Ma Ying-jeou began 3 April; outcome expected to influence upcoming presidential elections.
President Karzai and Pakistan President Musharraf signed pact to fight terrorism in Istanbul 30 April as war of words between 2 on fight against militants eased somewhat. Amid continued concern about targeting civilians, U.S. State Dept. said 2006 saw 53% increase in terrorist attacks against noncombatants while rights group reported suicide attacks killed 8 times as many civilians as combatants in 2006. NATO forces took control of strategic southern town Sangin after coordinated ground and air bombing campaign in push around Kajaki dam, site of important electricity works. Heavy fighting in Herat province at month-end included NATO attack that killed 6 civilians, prompting large anti-U.S. protests. Australia announced plans to increase troop contribution by 400 to 950 by mid-year; new forces to deploy to Uruzgan. President Karzai admitted holding reconciliation talks with some Taliban leaders, ruled out talks with foreign Taliban or Mullah Omar. Taliban kidnappers of 2 French aid workers (and 3 local staff) conditioned release on withdrawal of French troops, but released French woman 28 April.
Interim government crackdown on alleged corruption reached highest levels of political elite. Former PM and head of Awami League Sheikh Hasina charged with murder but allowed to return from holiday after initial attempt to force exile. BNP leader Khaleda Zia resisted pressure to take exile in Saudi Arabia. Over 100,000 reported arrested since January, 79 reported killed in custody. 3 bombs detonated 1 May at train stations in major cities, group called “new al Qaeda” claimed responsibility. Army chief General Ahmed made 2 April speech calling for “own brand of democracy”, blasting decades-long failure of political parties. World Bank released $200m in withheld funds in sign of support for interim government.
In Assam, state government said prepared to enter peace talks with United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), rebel group blamed for dozens of deaths this year. 3 shot dead in Manipur state 23 April, likely People's United Liberation Front in-fighting. Naxalites in Jharkhand state killed 8 members of breakaway faction in gun battle 10 April. In Chhattisgarh, Maoists killed 2 farmers apparently for selling land to steel company; police killed 2 Maoists in targeted strike 15 April; state extended ban on Maoist party.
Indian authorities said violence in India- controlled Jammu & Kashmir fell two-thirds in 2006 to lowest level in 17 years. No agreement in 11th round of talks between New Delhi and Islamabad on Siachen Glacier issue. New Delhi hosted 24 April roundtable on Kashmir, but separatist parties stayed away as talks skirted subject of territory. Thousands protested in Srinagar 16 April in response to continued civilian casualties at hands of Indian police forces.
Opposition MDP chairman claimed beaten when detained after 16 April Male demonstrations against alleged wrongful death of man detained on drugs charges.
Election commission said 110-day lead time needed to prepare for constituent assembly elections, effectively postponing proposed June polls to mid-autumn. Following Maoist arms registration, Nepalese army weapons stored 10-12 April; next phase verification of fighters. Maoists issued ultimatum calling for declaration of republic by 21 May, threatening mass civil disobedience if not met. Political deadlock over new polls date and Maoist deadline stalling verification and disrupting legislature sessions. Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MJF) called 72-hour strike 23 April, renewing calls for greater representation for Tarai plains. But MJF registered as political party, said would join electoral process. Army 21-gun salute for king on anniversary of end to royal rule and reports of meeting between king and army chief of staff raised new controversy over monarchy, effectively suspended by interim constitution.
Internal security concerns rose after 28 April suicide bombing killed 30 and wounded interior minister at Peshawar political rally; prime suspects militants linked to al-Qaeda. Fighting between rival groups of pro-Taliban tribesmen continued in South Waziristan. Islamabad admitted military involvement for first time: supported Pakistani Taliban commander Mullah Nazir against rival pro-Taliban group allied with Uzbek fighters. Nazir now consolidating control over South Waziristan. Controversy deepened over March suspension of top judge Iftikhar Chaudhry, who faced hearing before panel of judges he claimed biased; protests called for President Musharraf’s resignation over issue. 90 Baloch members of Jundallah militant group arrested by Tehran in crackdown after spike in Baloch attacks last month.
Scores of LTTE fighters and government troops killed in clashes in north and east throughout month. Fierce fighting reported on new Mannar front in north west. Further aerial attacks by LTTE increased fears of undetected attacks: 6 troops killed in attack on northern Palili air base 24 April, and though little damage reported after attack on oil facility near Colombo 29 April, airport closed briefly and some airlines withdrew flights. Defence Sec. Gotabhaya Rajapakse vowed to continue military offensive saying ceasefire had “no meaning”. Rebels maintained agreement only basis for future talks but current climate precluded negotiations. More than 30 killings reported in northern town of Vavuniya. Local and international rights groups said hundreds disappeared since January, expressed alarm at deteriorating press freedom including forced closure of newspapers. Colombo said unnamed diplomats interfering in local politics, threatened action. International Commission of Jurists criticised government investigation into killing of 17 aid workers August 2006 for bias and lack of transparency.
Jakarta began clarification of power-sharing arrangement with Aceh government. Home Affairs ministry’s draft regulation gave Jakarta lead role in 31 policy areas and broad authority over regional issues; Governor Yusuf protested. World Bank report said March most violent since tsunami in Aceh, highlighting recent rising local tensions. Strike at Freeport mine 18-21 April caused 20% hit to production; management agreed to demands for better pay, local development initiatives. West Irian Jaya formally renamed West Papua 18 April; governors and MRP agreed to implementation of Special Autonomy Law.
Continued Burmese offensive on Karen National Union (KNU) forces killed over 17, displaced hundreds over Thai border. Army reportedly seized 4 major rebel bases. In first application of February agreements with International Labour Organisation, 2 state officials convicted of using forced labour sentenced to 6 months' prison. UN humanitarian affairs deputy Wahlstrom met senior officials in attempt to resolve growing humanitarian access crisis. Myanmar and North Korea signed agreement 26 April to normalise relations during visit by North Korean delegation, while India announced increased military aid and cooperation.
Fighting escalated between factions of MNLF rebels allied with Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo island. 11 April rebel mortar attack on marine base sparked army retaliation against rebel bases; MNLF beheading of 6 government workers followed. Organisation of Islamic Countries, mediator of failed 1996 Manila-MNLF peace agreement, called for end to fighting ahead of scheduled July talks in Jeddah. Violence rose ahead of May polls.
First round of presidential elections held 9 April: after 82% turnout, Fretilin candidate Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres (28%) will face José Ramos Horta (22%) in second round 9 May. Limited campaign-related violence between Fretilin and other supporters in Viqueque and Dili, observers declared polls generally free and fair and devoid of violence. Losing candidates complained of irregularities and intimidation at poll; in Baucau, number of votes exceeded registered voters by factor of 3. Efforts to capture ex-army rebel Alfredo Reinado called off 23 April by Ramos. Sporadic clashes in Dili in late April, but security situation relatively stable.
Situation in south remained volatile: month included burning of Buddhist woman in Yala, shooting by soldiers of 3 Muslim youths. Confidence in interim government continued to fall as disparate political groups held rallies criticising government. First draft of new constitution completed 17 April; many points of contention ahead of September referendum, including provisions giving coup leaders amnesty.
Ministerial delegation sent to Brussels to unfreeze EU aid delivered promise to lift state of emergency in May and hold parliamentary elections by March 2009, 1 year earlier than initially promised. UN fact-finding mission visited country.
State of emergency extended by 1 month for 6th time since 17 November riots in capital. MP Akilisi Pohiva said continued ban on political gatherings could prompt return to violence.
FM Besnik Mustafaj resigned; PM Berisha denied subsequent reshuffle would destabilise government.
Justice Ministry announced revoking citizenship of 367 mujahideen naturalised after fighting alongside Bosniak soldiers during war: must leave or face deportation. High Rep. Schwarz-Schilling agreed with federal and entity PMs to form coordinating body on conditions in Srebrenica; relations between Republika Srpska (RS) and Federation deteriorated as tensions rose over returnees and area’s status. RS parliament adopted resolution allowing entity to organise referendum on BiH police reform 11 April. Office of High Representative warned move would set back BiH progress.
U.S. Under Sec. State Burns said 17 April U.S. will support Kosovo independence declaration after UNSC enabling resolution. U.S. mooted June deadline for resolution, yet further delay likely as Russia stepped up rhetoric against Ahtisaari plan and member state objections prevented forceful EU advocacy of supervised independence. UN Envoy Ahtisaari presented proposals in closed UNSC session. Amid major disagreements, Council sent fact-finding mission to Belgrade and Kosovo 25-28 April. To mark visit, displaced Kosovar Serbs protested on Serbian side of Kosovo boundary 26 April. Kosovo Assembly approved Ahtisaari plan 2 April. Kosovo Unity team signed declaration, on U.S. urging, at civil society-initiated 13-15 April meeting in Pocantico in U.S., pledging cooperation with international community to create multi-ethnic state. Preliminary conclusions of international investigation into February protestor deaths defined killings as criminal, focused on role of Romanian police contingent but did not name specific officers.
Party for Democratic Prosperity to become second ethnic Albanian party in governing coalition. Former Interior Minister Boskovski and senior police officer Johan Tarculovski on trial for war crimes in Hague 16 April, charged with 2001 murder of 7 ethnic Albanians in Ljuboten. Culture Minister Ilirijan Bekiri resigned after public outcry over attempt to censure theatre.
Suspected Wahhabi militant Ismail Prentic shot dead 20 April in police raid on group accused of planning suicide bombings in Sandzak. Talks on formation of coalition government continued. Democratic Party called for resumption of parliament constituent session and election of parliamentary speaker. Liberal Democratic Party merged with Civil Alliance of Serbia 7 April. Assassination attempt against journalist Dejan Anastasijevic 14 April.
Defence Minister Serzh Sarkisian appointed PM 4 April. Campaign for 12 May parliamentary elections began amid several apparently election-related violent incidents including 12 April attack on Prosperous Armenia Party local offices. Assassination attempt 3 April on Gyumri mayor killed 3.
Intimidation of independent media continued as Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of 2 largest independent newspapers, sentenced to 2.5 years prison for article allegedly insulting Azeri refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. Rights and media groups said case politically motivated. Journalist for Fatullayev papers attacked by unknown assailants. Former Health Minister Ali Insanov sentenced to 11 years on corruption charges. Supporters also say politically motivated. Police arrested 11 alleged Islamist extremists in Baku 12 April.
Ramzan Kadyrov inaugurated as president 5 April. Helicopter crashed, killing at least 18 servicemen; military did not confirm cause of crash. European Court of Human Rights found Russia culpable in disappearance of Shakhid Baysayev during military sweep in 2000, awarded widow damages.
President Saakashvili outlined new peace proposal on South Ossetia 23 April linked to new law on region passed by parliament 13 April. Plan, aiming to create conditions for “European-style autonomy” for region, rejected by de facto Tskhinvali authorities. Informal Joint Control Commission meetings failed to reach agreement on next steps after disagreement over new Georgian police check-points in Kekhvi and Tamarasheni villages. On Abhkazia, PM Noghaideli presented new settlement proposal to UNSC based on recognition of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Abkhaz de facto FM Shamba rejected future status within Georgia. UNSC unanimously adopted resolution calling for restraint from both sides in upper Kodori gorge. UNOMIG mandate extended to 15 October.
Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs met for “constructive” talks in presence of Minsk Group chairmen in Belgrade 18 April. De facto NK authorities set presidential election for 19 July.
Deputy Chief Prosecutor of Dagestan Abdu Basir Omarov found dead 1 April. Special forces soldier killed in shootout with rebels 18 April. 2 suspected militants killed in police raid 23 April.
Opposition activist Andrei Kilmau arrested 3 April for online article criticising President Lukashenko: first arrest for online dissidence.
Leaked document signalled joint declaration by President Vladimir Voronin and Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov recognising TD government and leadership for first time. Plan sees TD gaining top deputy ministers in government. Voronin’s shift reportedly engineered by Moscow.
Following March defection of 11 MPs to ruling coalition, President Yushchenko issued decree 2 April dissolving parliament and setting early elections 27 May. PM Yanukovych refused to obey. Supporters of both staged major demonstrations. While Constitutional Court considered legality, with 5 of 18 judges threatening to quit citing “gross pressure” from PM's allies, Yushchenko issued second decree 26 April setting elections for June. Yanukovych again challenged as unconstitutional. Parliament voted 30 April for simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections to be held by 9 December.
3 explosive devices caused damage in south west France 18 March; no immediate claim but ETA suspected. ETA told media ready to make “firm commitments” to non-violence if “attacks” on Basque homeland end. In run up to 27 May municipal elections, high court judge declared Basque National Action (ANV) party legal 29 April. Supreme Court hearing on eligibility of newly formed Patriotic Socialist Union (ASB), also accused of ETA links, scheduled for 16 May.
Cypriot MEP Marios Matsakis arrested on Akrotiri British sovereign base during European Parliament group visit, for outstanding fine for causing criminal damage at base. UN published inter-communal public opinion survey.
4 main party leaders announced distribution of ministerial portfolios in new executive due to convene 8 May. Additional DUP councillors resigned in protest of March agreement to share power with Sinn Fein (SF). Youth violence in West Belfast saw intervening police attacked 11 April. SF named 3 nominees, including 1 ex- convict, to Policing Board after holding first ever talks with board.
Armed forces issued web statement 27 April, warning would resist “mounting” efforts to undermine secular republic. Constitutional Court decision on constitutionality of first round vote on ruling AK Party presidential nominee FM Abdullah Gul due 1 April. Gul’s nomination ended months of speculation that PM Erdogan would run, but constitutional objection brought by opposition Republican People’s Party, hoping to trigger early parliamentary elections. 300,000 demonstrated in defence of secularism in Ankara 14 April; additional million protested 29 April in Istanbul. Army chief of staff Buyukanit announced military ready to attack PKK in Northern Iraq, pending political decision, 12 April. Military reported at least 11 soldiers and 38 rebels killed in clashes in 4 weeks to 21 April; further clashes left at least 2 soldiers, 5 rebels dead. 3 Christians working in publishing house in Malatya, including 1 German, killed 18 April. 5 students charged, further arrests. Attempted assassination of Higher Education Council President Tezic 25 April. Government presented EU accession road map 17 April; EU declined to approve FM Gul’s proposed 2013 accession date. At least 580 detained during May Day protests in Istanbul.
Journalist Oralghaysha Omarshanova missing since 30 March after covering Almaty province clashes between ethnic Chechens and Kazakhs.
Forceful police intervention ended 11-19 April opposition protests after Interior Minister Nogoybayev was attacked when urging crowd dispersal. Omurbek Subanaliev and Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, aides of opposition leader Feliks Kulov, arrested and charged with organising “mass unrest”. Protracted struggle between president and parliament over reforming constitution continued. Parliament approved 2 appointments to Constitutional Court providing quorum to review proposals. Former president Akayev’s daughter Bermet denied permission to stand in 29 April by-election in Kemin, leading to confrontation between supporters and authorities.
Arrests and convictions of alleged Islamist radicals continued in Northern Sughd province: 10-year sentence for suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir member; 18-19 years for 3 suspected Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) members; 7 years to life for further 11 IMU members. Charges include bomb attacks and border incursions.
President Berdimuhammedov dismissed Interior Minister Rahmatov on corruption accusations.
EU delegation held talks with Uzbek officials ahead of EU decision, due May, on continuing sanctions. Tashkent refused to meet UN Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour on regional tour. Arrests and detention of journalists, rights activists and religious dissenters continued. Delayed trial of jailed rights activist Umida Niyazova began 30 April. Journalist Jamshid Karimov’s confinement to psychological hospital, since September 2006, extended further 6 months. Human Rights Watch representative granted 3-month accreditation after reversal of initial decision to expel.
Clashes 18 April between military guards and demonstrators demanding greater share in profits from Margarita gas field killed 1 and injured 20; protesters held 58 police officers hostage for 24 hours. Constituent Assembly delegates gathered more than 3000 proposals for new constitution.
ELN rebels agreed “experimental” ceasefire with Bogotá 18 April after negotiations in Cuba, but details unclear. Leading human rights activist Judy Vergara Correa murdered in Medellín, allegedly in response to campaign against criminal activity by local demobilised paramilitaries. Parapolitics scandal continued to widen: opposition Senator Gustavo Petro accused President Uribe of authorising local militias when governor of Antioquia in mid-1990s. In signs of growing concern in Washington, U.S. Senate subcommittee froze $55 million in aid, former vice-president Al Gore refused to appear with Uribe at Miami climate change conference. Government alleged FARC responsible for explosion in Cali police headquarters, possible sign of strategic return to targeting urban centres; FARC denied involvement.
President Correa’s proposed constituent assembly received strong mandate with 81% approval in popular referendum 15 April (turnout 71%). Elections for representatives expected 30 September. But political divisions deepened further as Supreme Court ruled March dismissals of 57 Congressmen unconstitutional and pro-Correa Congressmen then moved to sack 9 judges. 4 of 24 opposition lawmakers accused of treason sought political asylum in Colombia, amid heightened political tension between 2 countries, but relations normalised at month- end with return of Ecuadorean ambassador to Bogotá.
In 11 April address to armed forces, President Hugo Chávez asked military to adopt socialism “without ambiguities”, removing any pretext of armed forces’ political independence. Chávez threatened to withdraw from OAS over prospect of sanctions after Caracas failed to renew independent RCTV’s broadcast licencse. Chavista program increasingly ideological with businesses ordered to provide 4 hours weekly training in Marxism. Inflation and food shortages remained chronic.
Security improved with gang arrests up and kidnappings down. Pursuit of gang members continued with arrest of 600 in last 2 months; trials of major gang leaders pending. MINUSTAH figures show 18 kidnappings in March, lowest since April 2006. Journalist and regional leader of opposition Fanmi Lavalas party (FL) Johnson Edouard murdered 12 April in Gonaives.
Authorities regained control of major roads 25 April after roadblocks by coca farmers protesting eradication programme erupted in violence twice in month. 1 killed, 5 injured in central Peru after suspected Shining Path ex-rebels attacked crop destruction team. President Alan Garcia announced plan for aerial bombardment of drug trade infrastructure, declared state of emergency in 3 provinces.
5-month-old Gaza ceasefire at risk as Hamas militants fired rockets and mortar shells into Israel 24 April. Attacks came in response to 9 killed by Israeli army in West Bank raids 21/22 April. Israeli troops killed 3 Hamas fighters on Gaza-Israel border 28 April. Insecurity in occupied territories continued – highlighted by ongoing Gaza kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston – despite Palestinian Authority efforts. President Abbas ordered formation of national security council 15 April. PM Haniya’s security plan approved by cabinet 14 April. Israel welcomed elements of renewed 2002 Saudi peace initiative, rejected others and invited direct talks with Arab states. Outlines of possible Hamas- Israel prisoner swap emerged but progress difficult to judge. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and President Abbas met in Jerusalem 15 April, first of biweekly meetings agreed to during March visit of U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice. Interim report by Israeli commission criticised Olmert’s handling of Lebanon war 30 April.
Political tensions escalated. MP Saad Hariri’s Future Movement issued statement 16 April questioning legitimacy of Hezbollah’s arms. Impasse intensified over tribunal to address 2005 assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri, prompting U.S. suggestion UNSC impose tribunal, and interventions by Russian deputy FM, UN counsel and UNSG Ban Ki-moon. Controversy building over procedures for September presidential elections.
Syrian-American businessman, Ibrahim Suleiman, appeared before Israeli parliament foreign affairs committee 12 April to encourage peace talks. Lawmakers reacted positively. Official Israeli position still insists Syria end support for Hamas and Hizbollah as precondition. High-profile U.S. delegations to Damascus continued with 4 April visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Bush administration criticised visit and stepped up condemnation of Syria after 24 April sentencing of human rights leader and 22/23 April parliamentary elections: low turnout reported, ruling Baath Party won overwhelming majority.
Suicide attacks and fatalities increased as U.S. military surge lost momentum. Over 200 killed, almost all Shiite civilians, in 5 suicide bombs in Baghdad on 18 April. Suicide bomb in parliament within fortified Green Zone killed 1 MP 13 April, while suicide attack on patrol base near Baqouba 24 April killed 9 U.S. soldiers. Additional car blasts in Baqouba, Ramadi, Mosul 24 April killed 40, in Karbala 28 April killed 55. Sectarian tensions flared in Mosul 22 April as gunmen killed 23 members of Yazidi minority. Muqtada al-Sadr, whereabouts still unknown, organised mass demonstration in Najaf 9 April, demanding timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops: days later 6 Sadr cabinet members resigned over differences with PM Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki has not supported withdrawal timetable, but ordered halt to U.S. project to build wall around Sunni enclave of Adhamiya. New U.S. envoy, Ryan Crocker, gave first briefing in Baghdad, supported wall project. U.S. Congress approved Iraq spending bill calling for troop withdrawal start by 1 October. U.S. President Bush expected to veto.
Riyadh further consolidated claim to regional leadership, identifying Iran nuclear program as regional crisis 14 April. FM claimed ties to U.S. healthy despite Saudi statement at March Arab League summit that U.S. presence in Iraq is “illegitimate occupation”.
Government reported 9 April 25 troops and 20 Shiite rebels killed in continued fighting in northern Saada province. Rebels say fatality figures inflated. Government accused of laying anti-personnel mines: at least 60 admitted to hospital with related injuries.
Algiers hit by 3 bombings 11 April: 33 killed, 222 wounded. Attacks claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly GSPC), directed at PM’s office, police station and gendarmerie office, worst in capital in decade. PM Abdelaziz Belkhadem vowed national elections scheduled 17 May to proceed despite attacks. 80 Islamists with suspected links to al-Qaeda in Iraq arrested. Countrywide demonstrations 17 April affirmed local support for policy of national reconciliation.
Muslim Brotherhood announced would field 20 candidates in June elections for Shura Council (upper house of parliament). Mass arrests of members continued; 26 April trial of 40 members on terrorism and money laundering charges adjourned to June. State Security Emergency Court sentenced Mohammed el-Attar to 15 years on charges of spying for Israel. Police injured in clashes with hundreds of Bedouin tribesmen attempting to cross Sinai border into Israel. Men believed to be fleeing potential police crackdown on tribesmen protesting 2 Bedouin deaths in earlier police chase.
Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi installed president 19 April. Former central bank governor Zein Ould Zeidane named PM. Mauritania readmitted to African Union 10 April ending suspension since August 2005 coup. Mauritanian court indicted 6 suspected of links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly GSPC) 11 April.
Attacks by 2 suicide bombers near U.S consulate in Casablanca 14 April followed death of 4 militants during police raid.
Moroccan government and Polisario Front presented peace plans to UN early April: Morocco plan rules out independence but proposes autonomy and local powers; Polisario plan calls for vote on self determination but offers possibility of cooperation with Morocco. Both plans declare willingness to hold direct talks. UNSC supported moves, requested UNSG to set up negotiations under his auspices, and extended UN Mission in Western Sahara to 31 October. Saharawi activist reportedly arrested and beaten by Moroccan police in El Aaiún 17 April.