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
Major army-FNL rebel clashes raged in Bujumbura and neighbouring provinces from 17 Apr; 52, likely more, reported killed. FNL shelled capital 22 Apr: Vatican embassy compound, university campus hit. Air force bombed rebel positions north west of Bujumbura 30 Apr. Peace process under threat as rebels pledged continued violence until demands met for renewed talks on power sharing; govt rejected. FNL refused to rejoin truce monitoring team, slated to resume 1 Apr, without amnesty. President Nkurunziza urged regional, international political intervention. National Assembly remains paralysed by political crisis. Former ruling CNDD-FDD leader Hussein Radjabu sentenced 3 Apr to 13 years on charges of fomenting instability; planning appeal.
Parliament voted 17 Apr to remove presidential term limits, clearing way for President Biya to continue 26-year rule past 2011. Opposition groups protested: SDF boycotted debate; case against Biya by opposition AMEC thrown out of Supreme Court.
Anti-govt rebels clashed 1 Apr with army in eastern Adé: 7 civilians killed, 47 wounded. President Déby replaced sacked PM Coumakoye with Youssouf Saleh Abbas 16 Apr - Abbas immediately offered to negotiate with rebels, who dismissed PM as powerless. 4 opposition members named ministers 23 Apr; France welcomed as reconciliation, rebel National Alliance rejected as divisive. Human Rights Watch 1 Apr reported 10,000 evicted during Feb-March state of emergency in capital. Ex-president Hissène Habré to stand trial in Senegal for abuses during 1982-90 rule.
Fresh fighting flared in North Kivu between army and Hutu FDLR rebels, forcing 25 Apr suspension of some relief operations. Inter-rebel, rebel-army clashes including Pareco, CNDP, FDLR militias continued in Kivu provinces through Apr. 63 rights, aid groups 22 Apr called for Jan Goma peace accord implementation and appointment of independent special adviser on human rights for east. Mass grave reportedly discovered in Bas-Congo, where March police-sect clashes killed some 100. ICC 29 Apr unsealed arrest warrant for militia leader Bosco Ntaganda on charges of conscripting child soldiers in Ituri 2002-2003 as former leader of FPLC; fourth ICC warrant in DRC.
1 dead in 10 Apr grenade attack on Kigali genocide museum during annual memorial week; 1 killed as car mowed into memorial procession. Key ICTR hearing commenced 24 Apr on transfer of jurisdiction of cases to Rwandan courts.
UNSG Ban Ki-moon warned UNMEE withdrawal could prompt Ethiopia-Eritrea war. UNSC considering options for future UN/UNMEE presence; condemned Eritrea’s continued “obstructions”. Addis Ababa severed ties with Qatar 21 Apr; cited strong links to Eritrea, support for regional armed opposition groups including in Somalia.
Opposition reported 17,000-plus candidates and 2 main parties withdrew from local elections – with some parliamentary by-elections – due to beatings, intimidation. 3 killed in 14 Apr bomb blasts at 2 Addis Ababa gas stations, perpetrators unidentified.
Power-sharing coalition sworn in 17 Apr, breaking 6-week impasse; move followed 13 Apr naming of 40-member cabinet with opposition ODM leader Odinga as PM. Largest cabinet since independence estimated to cost one-eighth of govt revenue; Finance Minister Kimunya warned of budget cuts in key ministries to fund cabinet. Some 10 killed in 13-17 Apr Mungiki gang protests at murder of jailed leader’s wife; major transport routes in Nairobi, Naivasha paralysed. Gang abandoned 29 Apr reconciliation talks with govt after 2 top leaders shot 28 Apr. Rights groups 4 Apr accused both military and anti-govt militia, Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF), of large-scale abuses in Mt Elgon area; 6 bodies found 29 Apr blamed on SLDF.
Over 100 killed in 19 to end Apr clashes: some say fighting in Mogadishu heaviest since 1991; several key towns, districts fell to Islamist militants. U.S. airstrike 1 May reportedly killed al Shabaab commander, Aden Hashi Ayro, believed al- Qaeda boss in Somalia, and some 9 others. 21 reportedly executed by alleged Ethiopian soldiers in capital mosque 19 Apr: 50 children reportedly abducted: Ethiopia denied involvement. Ethiopian forces also accused of 28, 30 Apr retaliatory attacks on civilians in Baidoa, at least 16 killed. 4 teachers – 2 Kenyan, 1 Briton of Somali origin – killed 13 Apr when suspected insurgents took control of Hiraan regional capital Beledweyne. 4 reported killed in southern town Merka in grenade attack on cinema. Further 20 killed in early Apr violence across country. Alliance for Reliberation of Somalia in Asmara agreed 10 May meeting with Transitional Federal Government – first since 2006; called for UN mediation. 8 Apr suicide attack on AU base killed 1 Burundian peacekeeper, 4 civilians. Dramatic rise in piracy including attacks on French yacht, Spanish fishing boat, Dubai-flagged cargo ship, all later released. 2 UN contractors – Kenyan, Briton – kidnapped 1 Apr, still missing; UNHCR vehicle escaped 5 Apr Puntland ambush.
Somaliland parliament granted President Dahir Riyale 1-year term extension 10 Apr ahead of May elections; bomb exploded in parliament building 9 Apr, no casualties. 2 reported killed in 27 Apr police crackdown on rioters.
Some 30 killed in 24 Apr violent North-South clashes in contested Abyei region between southern army (SPLA) and northern Misseriya, following early Apr reports of northern troop deployments to region. 95 killed in inter-tribal fighting in southern Lakes and Warrap states. Repeatedly delayed census, first since 1993, launched 22 Apr; seen as prerequisite to democratic elections 2009. Major army-JEM rebel clashes reported in Darfur 12 Apr, both sides claim inflicted heavy losses. Army allegedly bombed 2 villages 1 Apr, killing 1 child, Khartoum denies. AU, UN Envoys reported parties to confl agreed in mid-month consultations to discuss security improvements, but not ceasefires or new peace talks. Mission head said 30 Apr 1,600 troops to join AU-UN peacekeeping mission June; UNMIS mandate renewed same day. 2 WFP drivers killed 7 Apr in South Sudan, 1 in Darfur 21 Apr; agency announced 17 Apr regularity of attacks forced halving monthly rations in Darfur. UN humanitarian chief 22 Apr put 5-year Darfur conflict death toll as high as 300,000; Sudan rejected.
Peace precarious as LRA leader Kony failed to sign permanent deal, amid reports of multiple civilian abductions. Kony delayed 10 Apr signing, seeking guarantees of own safety, financial security and clarification on justice mechanism; chief LRA negotiator then “quit”, reportedly fired. Govt negotiators left talks 11 Apr. Unconfirmed reports of 9 rebels killed in early Apr LRA infighting over deal, including ICC-target and Kony deputy Okot Odhiambo. UN Envoy Chissano optimistic talks salvageable, but President Museveni said Kony “not serious”. Recent abductions reported in DR Congo, Sudan, Central African Republic claimed to be LRA by rights groups – some 350 allegedly kidnapped, including some 50 children. 3 journalists arrested 26 Apr for reports critical of govt.
Ousted Anjouan leader Bacar, 21 supporters released from jail 18 Apr on French island Reunion but kept under house arrest after renegade island retaken March. France still considering Bacar’s request for asylum, while Comoros demanding his extradition. Interim President Cheikh appointed interim govt 1 Apr, confirmed elections expected in 3 months. UN fact-finding mission said island’s humanitarian situation “severe”.
Govt blocked release of flawed 29 March presidential election results and launched brutal countrywide crackdown amid widespread reports of opposition MDC leader Tsvangirai victory. MDC gains create possibility for transition from ZANU-PF rule – but more violence threatens. Independent observers say no candidate won 50% needed to avoid run-off. ZANU-PF preparing for second vote; MDC stance shifting. Electoral commission 2 Apr announced historic MDC majority in simultaneous parliamentary poll; ongoing recount confirmed shift. MDC factions – Tsvangirai and Mutumbara – 28 Apr announced reuniting after 2005 split. Organised state violence against foreign journalists, polling officers, opposition activists and citizens intensified. “War veterans” deployed to rural areas, reportedly establishing detention camps. Some 300 arrested, documents seized in 25 Apr raids on MDC and Zimbabwe Election Support Network offices; MDC claimed 15 members killed. South African President Mbeki criticised for failure to denounce Mugabe and polls; Zambia, Botswana reportedly calling for more pressure. SADC 12 Apr urged release of results, joining UN, AU, G8 call. UK, U.S. proposed arms embargo late month. UNSC divided at 29 Apr Zimbabwe discussion; South Africa, China opposed aid provision and appointment of special envoy. South Africa 18 Apr refused to unload Chinese ship carrying arms for Zimbabwe.
Electoral Commission 14 Apr set delayed presidential elections for 30 Nov to increase time for voter registration, disarmament. Govt 17 Apr signed voter identification deal with French firm Sagem. Former rebel Forces Nouvelles (FN) announced new drive to integrate troops into national army or civilian life, to begin 2 May. Dismantlement of ONUCI observation posts in former “zone of confidence” neared completion; 2 of 17 remain. UN expert group 7 Apr report alleged multiple violations of 2004 UN arms embargo by national army and FN. Ex-rebel leader Ibrahim Coulibaly (IB) sentenced 31 March by French tribunal to 4 years, accomplice Paul Leonelli 3 years, for involvement in 2003 coup attempt.
Trade unions cancelled strike planned end March over living costs, cited positive efforts to redress concerns by “oversight committee” monitoring Jan 2007 peace accord – reports many feared repeat of Jan 07 strike crackdown. Govt 1 Apr announced end to fuel subsidies; price rises over month prompted oil, staple goods export ban 15 Apr. Peace accord “follow-up committee” stalled when business representatives withdrew late Apr, protesting slight by President Conté. Power struggle between Conté and PM Kouyate continued as Conté annulled PM decisions on Libyan investment, ceremonial reading 4, 19 Apr. UNDP appointed mediator and ex-Haitian PM Latortue urged reassessment of Jan accords to avoid return to conflict, after first mission completed 11 Apr.
National Assembly 16 Apr voted to extend MP terms – due to expire 21 Apr – to 16 Nov legislative elections, amid concerns President Vieira plans to dissolve parliament and appoint interim govt; majority party PAIGC opposed. 12-13 Apr clashes between rival police units killed 2 officers, 1 prisoner, circumstances unclear; Judicial Police unit head threatened resignation, Interior Minister Biote promised inquest. UN released $6m – first tranche of funding for post-confl reconstruction; followed early Apr UN Peacebuilding Commission assessment mission and G-B request for $20-50m.
UN SRSG Ellen Margrethe Løj 14 Apr stressed fragility of peace, continued reliance on UNMIL for security amid concerns over planned UNMIL drawdown impact. Paris Club creditors 18 Apr agreed $254m debt relief for Liberia, conditional on IMF-set reforms. 2 Apr UNMIL report alleged corruption among court officials.
Libyan-brokered “protocol of understanding” between govt and Tuareg rebels (Alliance Touareg Nord-Mali, ATNMC) signed 3 Apr: agreed ceasefire, govt scale-back of forces in north, release of 33 soldiers captured by ATNMC in March; remains fragile. Govt official 8 Apr said military given no orders to abide by ceasefire, distrusts ATNMC pledge. Further talks stalled after Algeria refused to take over mediation effort. In north town Kidal: several killed 2 Apr in army airstrikes on ATNMC bases; 1 Tuareg Malian army officer, 1 Tuareg civilian killed 11 Apr, responsibility disputed; many reportedly displaced. 3 Tuareg negotiating release of 2 Austrian hostages held north Mali assassinated mid-month.
Toubous-led Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara (FARS) 2 Apr announced joined forces with Tuareg Niger Justice Movement (MNJ); reportedly 5-6 Apr killed 7 soldiers, captured 6. Govt claimed several MNJ bases destroyed, 10 killed in 19-29 Apr offensive. National Assembly 12 Apr said rebellion threatened stability, voter registration pre-2009 elections; strengthened anti-terrorism law approved 19 Apr. Govt closed Sahara FM radio, Agadez, after station reported army abuses.
Lawyers challenged court order for MEND faction leader Henry Okah – charged with gun-running, treason and not seen in public since Sept arrest – to be tried in secret; ruling due 2 May. President Yar’Adua 10 Apr renewed call on African states, U.S. to help set up force to secure offshore oil facilities. Delta violence continued: gunmen killed 2, abducted 3 in separate attacks in Port Harcourt 6, 20 Apr; 4 killed when Agip oil vessels bombed 13 Apr; MEND reportedly launched various attacks on oil pipelines, severely affecting production. 4 Americans, 1 Nigerian temporarily detained 12 Apr for illegally entering Niger Delta waters, declared military zone. Election of Sokoto and Bayelsa state governors (ruling PDP) annulled 12 and 15 Apr in wake of Apr 2007 flawed elections. Countrywide violence through month: at least 12 killed in series of party supporter clashes; 15 reportedly killed in inter-communal clashes in Ogun, Anambra states early Apr.
Constitution changed to allow trial of ex-Chad leader Hissène Habré – under Dakar house arrest since 1990 - in Senegal for crimes against humanity during 9-year rule; France pledged funding. President Wade denied food crisis, blamed opposition for 30 March food price riots.
300 youths clashed with police, military in Kano late Apr over ownership of sand stock allegedly promised by ruling APC. Police 11 Apr vowed to curb lawlessness, citing rise since Feb. UNDP announced 3-year $80m capacity building program for SL govt.
Lhasa govt 24 Apr warned no tolerance for “excit[ing] popular feelings” in advance of Olympic torch relay passing through region 20 June; security tightened. 30 sentenced 29 Apr for participation in March Lhasa riots; many awaiting trial. State media announced 25 Apr govt will meet with Dalai Lama representative but continued to denounce role in violence. Reports of minor violence in Tibetan areas: attack on Garze govt offices in Donggu township, Sichuan 3 Apr left 1 official seriously injured, Tibetan exile groups said 8 civilians killed; 2 reported killed in Qinghai gun battle between alleged Lhasa rioter, police. 9 Tongxia monks arrested early month after detonating homemade bomb inside local govt offices.
Progress strained by 24 Apr U.S. accusations NK helping Syria build nuclear reactor “not intended for peaceful purposes” and continued hostile rhetoric in North- South relations. But 6-Party Talks likely to resume end May. U.S. demands on Pyongyang fluctuated in month: Washington suggested 13 Apr ready to offer nuclear assistance, removal of NK from terrorism list in exchange for acknowledgement “sharing” nuclear technology; followed by “positive” talks 22-24 Apr. Revelations of Syrian assistance increased pressure on NK for full disclosure. Inflammatory rhetoric between Koreas now worst in years, amid continued near-incursions; Pyongyang said 14 Apr would never make deal with “treacherous” Lee Myung- bak. Japan extended sanctions 11 Apr citing nuclear deadlock, unresolved kidnapping of citizens.
Historic meeting of Taiwanese VP-elect Siew and mainland President Jintao 12 Apr marked first official Beijing visit by high-ranking Taiwanese politician since 1949. But cross- strait détente tempered by President-elect Ma Ying-jeou 8 Apr statements refusing to directly engage. Ma also appointed Lai Shin-yuan, former pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmaker, as head of Mainland Affairs Council.
President Karzai escaped unharmed from 27 Apr attack on military parade that killed 1 MP, ethnic minority community leader, child; later claimed by Taliban. Breach prompted 29 Apr vote of confidence in parliament: ministers of defence, interior, head of national department of security. 30 Apr gun battle in Kabul with suspected plotters killed at least 4. NATO Bucharest summit 2-4 Apr: Kabul said Afghan forces to take security lead in capital from August; France announced roughly 700 new troops to deploy in east, freeing some U.S. to redeploy to south. Several suicide attacks struck south western province Nimroz targeting local police, foreign road engineers amid increased insurgent activity there. 29 Apr suicide attack in Nangarhar province aimed at poppy eradication program killed over 15 after several months national downward trend in suicide bombings.
Informal talks between caretaker govt (CTG) and political parties on democratic transition began mid-month; govt pledged easing emergency before general elections due by end 2008. Former PM Hasina hospitalised 18 Apr; supporters demanded she be moved abroad for treatment, threatened to boycott elections. At least 50 injured as thousands protesting food prices near Dhaka clashed with police 11 Apr; violence also erupted in capital 9 Apr when Islamists protested equal inheritance rights for women. New corruption charges announced against Hasin, Khaleda and 18 others 1 May.
Maoist rebels killed 8 villagers in Patna, Jharkhand 7 Apr. Bomb blast killed 3 in Siliguri, West Bengal 2 Apr; police claimed suspects said explosion accidental, bomb meant for sabotage operations in Bhutan.
Welcoming return to democracy in Pakistan, Indian PM Singh said expected bilateral ties to improve. Islamabad has already entered into talks to liberalise visa, trade regimes. Indian police claimed arrested senior Hizbul Mujahideen militant Junaid-ul-Islam 3 Apr. Protests against alleged mistreatment of political prisoners continued.
Twice-postponed Constituent Assembly (CA) polls held 10 Apr under generally free and fair conditions with little violence; turnout over 60%. Maoists picked up half assembly’s first-past-the-post seats, and 240 of 601 total. Nepali Congress and UML party trailed with second, third-strongest showings; haggling underway to form power-sharing govt. Maoist leader Prachanda hopes to assume presidency. CA to convene in May; declaration of republic tops agenda as Maoists called on King Gyanendra to “go gracefully”. Royalist politician Rudra Bahadur Singh shot dead 18 Apr.
Militant Baitullah Mehsud announced ceasefire in S Waziristan, adjoining districts 23 Apr after talks began between govt and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. But Mehsud stopped talks 28 Apr citing differences over scope of military withdrawal. Ceasefire also followed release of Sufi Mohammad by NWFP govt earlier in month. UK FM Miliband called for Pakistan re-entry into Commonwealth; membership suspended after November imposition of state of emergency. 7 killed 9 Apr in Karachi as clashes broke out between lawyers allied with MQM and opponents of President Musharraf. Jalozai refugee camp, home to 70,000 Afghans, officially closed 15 Apr; clashes with police reported as refugees refused to leave.
150-200 govt soldiers reported killed, hundreds more wounded in fierce 23 Apr battle, as govt sought to breach LTTE forward defence lines at Muhamalai. Tigers admit 25 fighters dead, govt says more than 100. Army regained control of important Catholic Church and pilgrimage site in northern town of Madhu after months of fighting. Tigers, army each blamed other for blast that killed activist priest in LTTE-held Wanni region. Highways minister, 9 others killed in likely LTTE suicide explosion in Gampaha 6 Apr. 25 Apr bus bombing, also blamed on Tigers, killed 26 in Colombo suburb. Campaigning began for key eastern provincial council elections due 10 May.
Bakorpakem unit in attorney general’s office recommended ban on Ahmadiyah sect 16 Apr. In 21 Apr sentencing of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member Abu Dujana, Jakarta district court became first to declare JI a terrorist organisation. 10-year sentence for Timor-Leste militia leader Eurico Gutteres overturned by Supreme Court 3 Apr, leaving no convictions for crimes against humanity in 1999 violence.
Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed massive voter intimidation ahead of 10 May constitutional referendum. Campaigning against constitution forbidden, but NLD encouraging “no” vote after deciding against boycott U.S. efforts to obtain UNSC statement condemning referendum blocked by China, Russia, Indonesia. 2 minor explosions in Yangon 20 Apr; govt blamed exiled opposition group. EU ministers extended sanctions, arms embargo by 1 year 29 Apr.
Malaysia threatened pullout of its members of International Monitoring Team in Mindanao confl when current mandate expires Sept 2008, citing lack of progress. Muslimin Sema, mayor of Cotabato and Nur Misuari rival, elected MNLF chair 1 Apr, sidelining Misuari.
Security threat removed; 29 Apr surrender of Gastão Salsinha and 11 other fugitive rebels linked to 11 Feb attacks on President Ramos-Horta may bring increased stability. But ramifications of presidential efforts at reconciliation in month unclear: upon 17 Apr return to Dili to resume presidential duties, Ramos-Horta announced pardon of 80 criminals, including convicted former interior minister Rogério Lobato, to take effect 20 May. After surrender, Ramos-Horta said “forgave” Salsinha but that he must face courts with 5 others. State of emergency lifted 22 Apr except in Ermera, where joint police-military command now tasked with search for illegal weapons. 4 Timorese rebels also detained in Indonesia in month for suspected involvement in attacks; 3 to be deported to Dili early May. 28 Apr Australia announced withdrawal of 200 extra troops sent after Feb attacks.
3 parties in ruling coalition, including PPP, continued to face allegations of vote-buying and electoral fraud. Election commission recommended dissolution of Chart Thai and Machima Thipataya parties 11 Apr, PPP likely to face similar charge; state prosecutors to decide on referral to Constitutional Court. Military admitted 56-year-old imam Yapa Kaseng beaten to death in custody late March; 5 army officers face prosecution. Slight further easing in martial law, but state of emergency holds in southern provinces.
Governing Democrats and main opposition Socialists 21 Apr passed constitutional changes to electoral system increasing proportional representation; small parties opposed. Thousands in 4 Apr rally demanding resignation of PM Berisha after deadly 15 March weapons depot blast; prosecutor general asked parliament to lift resigned defence minister Mediu’s immunity for investigation.
Parliament 16 Apr adopted long-disputed reform on oversight and coordination of police required for Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA); EU delayed SAA signing due to translation issues. FM Alkalaj, 2 deputy ministers refused resignation 25 Apr after Central Election Commission ban from public office due to conflict of interest. National Minority Council established 23 Apr. Raids of suspected terrorists continued; 1 arrested 4 Apr.
Kosovo leaders, EU Special Representative Feith approved new constitution 7 Apr; adopted by parliament 9 Apr. UNSC closed session 21 Apr discussed 17 March Mitrovica courthouse violence – UN investigation underway; also Belgrade plans to hold general elections 11 May in 16 Kosovo municipalities. UNMIK chief Rücker said only UN had authority to hold elections; proposed later polls in 5 Serb-majority municipalities. UN-EU transition uncertain: EULEX deployment delayed; Rücker 21 Apr acknowledged need to “reconfigure” UNMIK presence but said mission to stay beyond 15 June entry into force of constitution. Former KLA leader and PM Ramush Haradinaj returned to Kosovo after acquitted of war crimes by ICTY 3 Apr; criticised PM Thaci 8 Apr for lack of govt working plan, failure to reach out to Serbs; called for early elections. Kosovo and Macedonia agreed border demarcation protocol 18 Apr; opposed by Belgrade, Russia. Independence recognitions continued: 38 total.
Parliament dissolved 12 Apr; early elections called for 1 June. UN envoy Nimetz continued negotiations on name issue after Greece blocked NATO accession 3 Apr. Greek FM Bakoyannis 20 Apr offered financial aid, reduced visa requirements in return for name change; Skopje rejected.
Government crisis over ties with EU continued:President Tadic, Deputy PM Djelic, FM Jeremic 29 Apr signed Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA); ratification and entry into force conditioned on cooperation with ICTY. PM Kostunica condemned as “anti-constitutional”, threatened impeachment of Tadic. Signature came after concerted EU pressure for SAA before 11 May parliamentary elections; EU Regional Policy Commissioner Hubner 21 Apr threatened aid cut. ICTY chief prosecutor Brammertz, during 17-18 Apr Belgrade visit, called for better cooperation; said appeal of Haradinaj acquittal under consideration (see Kosovo). Supporters of Sandzak Democratic Party attacked in Novi Pazar 26 Apr.
Government formed following 19 Feb presidential elections: Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian appointed PM; 11 of 17 retained cabinet posts. Continued protests: several dozen protesters clashed with police in Hrazdan province 8 Apr; 7,000 participated in first authorised rally since 19 Apr end of state of emergency in Yerevan; 21 opposition activists ended hunger strike 10 Apr after appeal by presidential candidate Ter-Petrossian. U.S. 17 Apr threatened aid cut if govt failed to engage in “national dialogue”. Yerevan 25 Apr established working group to meet Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe resolution demanding independent investigation of 1 March crackdown and release of detainees, also repeal of legal amendments restricting freedom of assembly.
Opposition journalist Agil Khalil under pressure from authorities, state-controlled media after 13 March attack. 4 Armenians 28 Apr arrested in enclave of Nakhichevan; Armenia Defense Ministry said they entered territory accidentally. Armenia 23 Apr released Azeri soldier captured 9 March. Central Election Commission announced 15 Oct as presidential election date.
15 Apr gunfight between pro-Kremlin militia Vostok and soldiers loyal to President Kadyrov left 18 dead in Gudermes; public chamber called for dismissal of militia leader Sulim Yamadayev 16 Apr as Chechen President forced to deny sanctioning clash. 2 nieces of human rights ombudsman’s representative killed in 20 Apr gun attack on car. Sunzhen district police chief Ali Gaidamurov found dead after 17 Apr abduction.
High Russian-Georgian tensions over Abkhazia breakaway region. Moscow 29 Apr announced, 1 May commenced, unilateral increase of peacekeepers (PKF) in Georgian populated areas of Abkhazia; threatened “military reaction” if Georgia invades, claiming it deployed 1,500 troops in Upper Kodori valley – Tbilisi denies; continues to push for changes in Russian-led PKF. NATO, EU called for lowering tensions; U.S. urged Russian restraint. Tbilisi 21 Apr accused Russia of shooting down unmanned reconnaissance plane over Abkhazia; Moscow rejected, claiming plane violated 1994 ceasefire, shot down by Abkhaz forces. Russian President Putin 16 Apr announced recognition of legal documents issued by Abkhaz and South Ossetian de facto authorities; Tbilisi condemned. UNSC 15 Apr extended mandate of UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) for 6 months. Preparations for 21 May parliamentary elections: speaker Nino Burjanadze of ruling UNM 21 Apr withdrew candidacy; New Rights party announced 7 Apr to join opposition National Council; President Saakashvili 14 Apr warned opposition against popular unrest; OSCE established election observer mission 10 Apr. France 23 Apr granted political asylum to former Defence Minister Okruashvili after sentenced in absentia 28 March to 11 years. No NATO membership action plan offered at 2-4 Apr Bucharest summit, but political commitment for eventual membership made.
Armenia and Azeri presidents failed to meet at 2-4 Apr NATO Bucharest summit. Baku submitted formal query to OSCE secretariat on appointment process for Minsk Group co-chairs. Azeri FM Mammadyarov said 15 Apr new proposals expected from Group; declared willingness to meet with new Armenian FM Eduard Nalbandian 7 May in Strasbourg. Armenian President Sarkisian 16 Apr said “independence is irreversible”.
Deputy head of Ingushetia’s Supreme Court Khasan Yandiyev shot dead 13 Apr; 3-5 armed gunmen raided Karabulak Interior Ministry office 16 Apr, wounding 6 police. Military convoy attacked by unknown gunmen in Nesterovskaya village 5 Apr. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called to reinvigorate monitoring of region 15 Apr amid reports of “alarming” human rights violations.
Foreign ministry 30 Apr declared several U.S. embassy staffers “persona non grata”, in continuing economic sanctions dispute. EU Council 7 Apr extended visa bans by 1 year on 41 govt officials including President Lukashenka. Police forcefully dispersed protest against trial of youth activist Katsyaryna Salauyova in front of Polatsk court; arrested 2. Minsk authorities 21 Apr barred planned 26 Apr opposition rally.
President Voronin 11 Apr offered “broadest possible autonomy” to Transdniestrian separatist leader Igor Smirnov in first direct meeting in 7 years; no further progress.
Rift in governing coalition: PM Tymoshenko 20 Apr announced plans to transform Ukraine into parliamentary republic; accused President Yushchenko of blocking initiatives 16 Apr. Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko said proposals are threat to “territorial integrity” of country.
2 attacks on ruling Socialist Party offices 17 Apr in Bilbao injuring 7 police and 20 Apr in Elgoibar. 3 bombs exploded 1 May in San Sebastian and Vizcaya. Police 18 Apr arrested 10 accused of pro-ETA street violence.
Further progress in reunification talks as 6 working groups, 7 technical committees started negotiations 18 Apr under UN auspices near Nicosia. Ledra border crossing in Nicosia opened 3 Apr. Turkish Cypriot leader Talat visited Greek part of Nicosia 4 Apr. UNSG 17 Apr appointed Tayé- Brook Zerihoun as new special representative.
Ruling AK Party announced working on democratisation package in effort to avoid party ban; parliament 29 Apr amended penal code article 301 – now crime to insult “Turkish nation” rather than “Turkishness”, maximum sentence lowered from 3 to 2 years and justice minister’s consent required to open investigation. Tens of thousands in 12 Apr Ankara rally in support of secularism. Prominent Kurdish rights activist Leyla Zana sentenced 2 years for spreading “terrorist” propaganda. EU Commission President Barroso said during 9-12 Apr visit opening of 2 further EU accession negotiation chapters likely June, called on govt to speed up reforms. FM Babacan 21 Apr announced Turkey ready to “normalise” relations with Armenia. 45 al-Qaeda members arrested 1 Apr in Istanbul. 27 PKK members, 3 Turkish soldiers killed in clashes throughout month in Sirnak, Hakkari, Bingol and Diyarbakir provinces; army 15, 23, 27 Apr bombed PKK targets in northern Iraq.
Govt announced wheat export ban (not flour) 15 Apr to stave off shortages; move raised supply concerns in neighbouring republics. Free-trade zone agreed with Uzbekistan 22 Apr. President Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law Aliyev, following 26 March sentence in absentia for coup plot, released further evidence of alleged corruption of top officials.
Dozens briefly arrested in 10 Apr protests in Bishkek against govt plan to cede 3 contested areas, 4 tourist sites to Kazakhstan. Deal ratification led to 300-strong demonstration 26 Apr. In 17 Apr Astana visit President Bakiyev said Kyrgyzstan excluded from Kazakh wheat export ban, guaranteed 300,000 tons grain. Legislative changes 18 Apr removed parliament’s right to review energy privatisation deals. Opposition-convened assembly 12 Apr adopted resolution demanding dissolution of parliament, invalidation of constitution. Russian soldier serving at Kant military base shot by Kyrgyz police 20 Apr; Moscow called for inquest.
Diplomatic tensions with Kyrgyzstan heightened after late-March water disputes at border, involving hundreds of Tajiks, Kyrgyz border guards. Govt admitted 8 Apr to having provided false data to IMF to secure loans for agriculture sector. Independent radio station Imruz closed 8 Apr for reporting critically on internal Tajik affairs.
EU leaders met with Turkmen officials in Ashgabat 9-10 Apr; deal reported of 10 Bcm additional annual gas supply to EU – details unconfirmed. Gas deliveries to Iran resumed 25 Apr at doubled price, following 29 Dec cut. President Berdymukhammedov 14 Apr sacked transport minister, Central Bank chief, other top finance officials.
At 2-4 Apr NATO Bucharest summit, President Karimov authorised NATO rail access to Afghanistan; called for new “6+3” process, adding NATO to U.S., Russia, neighbouring countries group to increase Afghanistan stability. Dissident poet Yusuf Juma sentenced 15 Apr to 5 years forced labour for Dec 2007 protest against Karimov. Uzbek arrested in Kazakhstan 20 Apr in connection with 2005 Andijon massacre. EU foreign ministers voted 29 Apr to suspend visa ban on Uzbek officials for further 6 months; pledged review in July.
Political crisis over new constitution continued, tensions grew, ahead of 4 May referendum in Santa Cruz (SC), first of 4 provinces to vote on increased autonomy. Govt froze SC accounts 25 Apr, but reversed decision shortly after. President Morales said referendum unconstitutional but rejected MAS party calls to declare martial law, ruled out military response. Regional representatives visited country early month to mediate. Land ownership conflicts erupted, including violent clashes between Guarani indigenous people and estate farmers in Santa Cruz mid-month. Pro-Morales Guarani People’s Assembly self-declared autonomy from Santa Cruz department 20 Apr.
Tensions with Ecuador remained high following March airstrike as President Uribe and Ecuadorian President Correa traded snipes. Bogotá accused Quito of ordering army to avoid confrontation with FARC. Correa denied accusation, said 16 Apr any FARC incursion on Ecuadorian territory treated as act of war; announced new deployments on border. OAS missions sought to defuse tensions in capitals 8, 17 Apr. Correa offered to grant belligerency status to FARC if abides by law of war and releases hostages 23 Apr. Colombia protested, stated recognition of “terrorist groups” unfounded. Mario Uribe, key ally and cousin of president, arrested over alleged ties to paramilitary groups 22 Apr; request for asylum in Costa Rica rejected. 3 further congress people detained early month for suspected paramilitary links. Proposed hostage exchange collapsed after FARC rejected 8 Apr French mission and again demanded demilitarisation of area.
Relations with Colombia still strained (see Colombia). Military intelligence chief dismissed 4 Apr for failing to inform President Correa early month Ecuadorian citizen killed in March airstrike had been under investigation for ties to FARC. Defence minister replaced by close political ally of Correa 8 Apr, leading to resignation of heads of armed forces, military and police. Correa announced reinforcement of military capacity with purchase of 24 Supertucano fighter planes planes.
President Chávez continued pushing radical reforms rejected in Dec referendum: private enterprises in steel, cement sectors early month – including Argentine, Mexican concerns – nationalised; law taxes on foreign oil companies raised, laws on police, military reserve and education reform decreed. Police operations against radical pro-Chávez groups in Caracas slums 3 Apr met with blockade of armed individuals, demonstrations. Protesters threatened “military response” if operations continued. 17 Apr pro-Chávez United Socialist Party of Venezuela registered before National Electoral Court ahead of Nov regional elections.
Violent protests over rising cost of food and fuel early month killed at least 6, led to ouster of PM Alexis. Began in Les Cayes 3 Apr but soon spread across country, intensified in Port-au-Prince where protesters tried to storm National Palace 7 Apr. MINUSTAH peacekeepers targeted in Les Cayes. Alexis dismissed after no-confidence vote 12 Apr; Préval announced short-term rice subsidies 12 Apr; issued call for greater food aid, echoed by WFP. Ericq Pierre, IABD official designated as new PM by Préval 27 Apr awaiting ratification by 2 chambers.
Tensions and violence again intensified in Gaza, but ceasefire mediation efforts continue. Cross-border attack on Nahal Oz fuel depot 9 Apr killed 2 Israelis, at least 7 Palestinians. Israeli tanks and bulldozers sent 11 Apr near Bureij refugee camp: at least 4 teenagers dead. Further clashes in vicinity 16 Apr killed 3 Israeli soldiers – fierce retaliation same day left 22 Palestinians dead, including 5 children and Reuters cameraman. Hamas breached border in armoured vehicle 19 Apr. Israel cut fuel supplies, seriously disrupting food distribution. Mother, 4 children killed 28 Apr after Israeli airstrike – army investigating. Yet both sides continued support for Cairo’s ceasefire mediation efforts. Hamas 25 Apr offered 6-month “period of quiet” in Gaza first, later West Bank; Israel dismissed. 12 other Palestinian factions 30 Apr agreed in principle to ceasefire. Former U.S. President Carter 19 Apr met exiled Hamas leader Meshaal in Damascus, deputy Israeli PM Yishai in Israel. Talks between Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel continued: U.S. President Bush scheduled to visit mid-May. Israel agreed to PA opening 20 police stations in rural areas of West Bank, following March agreement on Jenin deployment. Israel staged 5-day civil defence drill early Apr amid increased tensions with Syria, Lebanon.
Parliament failed again to elect president – post vacant since Nov. Hizbollah-led opposition did not participate in 22 Apr session; speaker Nabih Berri called on rival leaders to hold talks before new vote 13 May. Arab FMs meeting in Kuwait City with U.S. Sec. State Rice and UN, EU officials issued statement 22 Apr expressing “deep dismay”, urging Syria, Lebanon to “redefine and normalize ties”. UN reported gunmen momentarily blocked UNIFIL patrol in pursuit of suspicious truck near Tyre end-March – first UNIFIL encounter with “armed elements” since end 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. Audiotape 22 Apr allegedly by al-Qaeda deputy Zawahri urged militants to “expel” peacekeeping forces in Lebanon. 2 members of Christian Phalange Party, part of governing coalition, shot dead 20 Apr in Zahle. Johan Verbeke of Belgium appointed as new UN special coordinator for Lebanon.
Signs of possible resumption of Syrian-Israeli talks, but tensions with U.S. continue. Both President Assad and Israeli PM Olmert publicly acknowledged messages exchanged. Turkish PM Erdogan stepped up behind-scenes efforts in Damascus visit 26 Apr; said talks to begin at low level. Former U.S. President Carter, in Damascus for Hamas talks (see Israel/OPT), said 21 Apr Assad believes only few issues remain but U.S. discouraging Israel from proceeding. Tensions high at border with 5-day Israeli civil defence drill, Syrian manoeuvres in response. U.S. intelligence officials 24 Apr released information accusing Syria of building nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance at site destroyed in 6 Sept Israeli airstrike; Damascus denied. IAEA to investigate claims; criticised U.S. delay in disclosure.
On “national nuclear day” 8 Apr President Ahmadi-Nejad announced ongoing installation of further 6,000 centrifuges in Natanz facility, bringing total to 9,000. Move again defied UNSC calls for suspension of enrichment – third round sanctions imposed March. IAEA chief ElBaradei said 23 Apr reached “milestone” agreement with Tehran to clarify alleged weapons studies by May. Additional cabinet reshuffling followed March parliamentary elections: finance minister replaced amid major price increases; interior minister ousted. Conservatives consolidated hold in 25 Apr run-offs: now 69% of all seats. Women’s rights campaigner Khadijeh Moghaddam arrested for acting against national security 12 Apr; Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi 14 Apr reported intensified death threats – Ahmadi-Nejad ordered police protection 15 Apr. Explosion at mosque in southern city Shiraz 12 Apr killed 11, wounded over 200; investigation continuing.
Deadly Basra operation initiated by PM Maliki end-March against Sadrist militias drew sharp criticism for poor troop performance, bad planning. Situation remains unstable though govt forces have fragile hold on Basra port and fighting has levelled. Senior Sadr aide Riyad al-Nuri shot dead 11 Apr in Najaf. Clashes continued, intensified end-month, in Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad: hundreds killed. U.S. Gen. Petraeus, Amb Crocker in testimony to U.S. Congress emphasised “fragile and reversible” progress; recommended suspension of troop reductions. U.S. Sec. State Rice in surprise Baghdad visit 20 Apr to support Maliki. U.S., Maliki pressed for engagement of Arab neighbours. Iranian FM Mottaki reiterated support for Iraqi govt efforts to disarm Shiite militias in Basra, despite continued U.S. accusations Tehran arming, training them. Suicide bombings elsewhere killed over 100; at least 53 died in bus blast 15 Apr in Baquba. Assyrian Orthodox priest killed 5 Apr in Baghdad home. Trial of former deputy PM Tariq Aziz, accused of involvement in executions of merchants, opened in Baghdad 29 Apr.
Under U.S. pressure, Riyadh insisted 23 Apr lack of embassy in Baghdad does not reflect lack of support, but insecurity. U.S. senators 24 Apr called on President Bush to halt $123m in arms sales to Saudi if oil production not increased.
Violent rioting and govt crackdown unsteadied south, while collapse of Feb peace agreement threatened in north. Fortnight of clashes between security forces and protestors in southern cities reportedly left 1 demonstrator dead; some 20 police, 30 civilians injured. Demonstrations started end- March over alleged discrimination in govt, army jobs. Large- scale fighting reported in north – including 18 killed in clashes between al-Houthi Shiite rebels and govt-aligned forces; at least another 8 killed 29 Apr – but details scarce due to media blackout. Bomb attack 16 Apr at military checkpoint in Marib province killed 3 soldiers. UN put up blast walls, closed some offices mid-month after projectiles hit foreigners’ housing complex in Saana 6 Apr – attack reportedly claimed by al- Qaeda. Blast near Italian embassy 30 Apr. MP shot dead 18 Apr in north; circumstances unclear.
Continued bread shortages, rising living costs sparked call for general strike and protests in Mahalla al-Kubra city, Cairo and elsewhere 6 Apr: 2 killed and over 50 arrested in ensuing police crackdown. Ruling National Democratic Party won 92% seats in 8 Apr municipal elections. 3% turnout reported after Muslim Brotherhood (MB) boycotted over arrest of 900 members in run-up. Military tribunal 15 Apr sentenced 25 senior MB members up to 10 years for financing terrorism, prompting university protests; 15 acquitted.
2 Apr escape of detainee Sidi Ould Sidna, suspect in Dec 2007 murder of 4 French tourists, prompted series of raids on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) hideouts; 8 arrested, including Sidna, late Apr; another suspect arrested 10 Apr. Soldiers mistakenly shot French private security guard 17 Apr; security forces on high alert since Dec.
9 prisoners detained in connection with 16 May 2003 Casablanca bombing escaped Kenitra prison 7 Apr; had earlier condemned “collective punishment” of Islamists. Other Islamist prisoners in same facility began hunger strike. Spain earlier arrested 2 wanted by Morocco for 2003 attacks. Further 26 members of banned Islamic group Justice and Spirituality arrested 31 March.
UN Envoy van Walsum 21 Apr declared independence unrealistic in blow to Algeria-based Polisario Front. UNSC resolution 30 Apr called for “realism and compromise” on independence, extended UN mission (MIDURSO) for 1 year, urged further talks: statements welcomed by Morocco.