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
SomaliaZimbabweCôte d’IvoireNigeriaIndia (non-Kashmir)NepalIndonesiaKosovoMacedoniaSerbiaIsrael/PalestineLebanonIraq
BurundiDemocratic Republic of CongoLiberiaSierra LeoneMoldova
Ethiopia/EritreaSudanCôte d’IvoireKorean PeninsulaIndia (non-Kashmir)NepalSolomon IslandsIsrael/Palestine
BurundiEthiopia/EritreaSudanKorean PeninsulaSolomon IslandsIsrael/PalestineIraq
President Ndayizeye held his second face-to-face talks with leader of the country’s biggest rebel group, CNDD-FDD, in South Africa. Talks discussed proposals to share government, military and parliamentary posts and comply with last year’s largely ignored ceasefire agreement. The second largest rebel group, FNL, still refuses to join talks with Government. Fighting between army and FNL in north-western Burundi caused more than 21,000 people to flee.
Democratically elected president of CAR overthrown in coup on 15 March 2003 by General Francois Bozize, who has promised to hold presidential elections by end of 2004. CAR closed its border with DR Congo on 21 August. CAR issued international warrant for arrest of former president, Ange-Felix Patasse, on charges of murder and theft of more than $100 million.
President Joseph Kabila and former rebel leaders agreed on senior officers for new army, removing another stumbling block to peace. This completes installation of new transition government. Transition parliament had opening session on 22 August. Militias in war-devastated province of Ituri agreed to work with new government to restore security to the province. French-led peace-keeping force in Ituri handed over posts to beefed-up UN mission (MONUC) on 31 August, which formally takes over on 1 September.
Held first presidential election since the 1994 genocide on 25 August 2003. Incumbent President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, received 95% of the vote, with about 80% turnout. Opposition says will challenge result in court. Election monitors criticised government for not allowing opposition parties to compete on equal footing. UN Security Council voted to replace Carla Del Ponte as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with UN Secretary-General nominating Gambian judge, Hassan Jallow.
Outstanding border issues causing increased anxiety. UN mission (UNMEE) accused Ethiopian soldiers of making incursions into border security zone. International Boundary Commission will soon attempt to demarcate the border, although elements in Ethiopian Government have signalled reluctance to cooperate.
President Hassan said Transitional National Government will remain in power until a new government is formed, despite expiry of its mandate on 13 August. TNG controls small area of Mogadishu. Peace talks continue in Kenya, though some key parties, including TNG and Somaliland, refusing to attend. UN Security Council expressed concern over "persistent flow of weapons and ammunitions" to Somalia.
Peace talks in Kenya between Sudanese Government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army at critical stage. Postponed to 10 September, as Government initially refused to negotiate on basis of draft framework agreement prepared by mediators, while SPLA demanded that framework document be sole basis for discussion. Deal making behind scenes may produce agreement. Uganda claims Sudan is arming Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Uganda.
Fighting continues between Ugandan armed forces and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in the north.
Following death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in February 2002, UNITA has demobilised but most of its ex- combatants yet to be reintegrated into civilian life. National elections planned for 2004 or 2005. Millions displaced during war still not resettled.
President Levy Mwanawasa defeated parliamentary move to impeach him. 120,000 civil servants went on strike over unpaid allowances. Former President Chiluba charged with theft of U.S.$49 million.
Economy continues to deteriorate. Inflation hit 399% in July. Severe currency shortage. On 16 August law passed prohibiting hoarding of cash. Government has also moved to take control of food aid distribution, directing UN and international charities to hand food over to local officials for distribution. 3.5m currently receiving food aid, expected to increase to 5.5m by December. Opposition accused Government of rigging 30 August council elections.
Power-sharing government under threat after 11 men arrested in France on 23 August, accused of plot to assassinate President Gbagbo. Government and former rebels deadlocked over who should control defence and security ministries. 2 French soldiers killed in clashes with rebels on 25 August. Security Council voted on 4 August to extend mandate of French and ECOWAS peacekeeping forces to 4 February 2004. Parliament granted amnesty on 6 August to former rebels holding north of country.
In July U.S. warned Guinea against providing supplies to LURD rebels in Liberia. Liberia in past has led incursions in Guinea with support of Guinean dissidents based in Liberia - Guinea now returning favour in Liberia. Guinea’s presidential elections scheduled for December 2003. Lansana Conté, Guinea’s 69 year old president, has declared candidacy, but believed to be critically ill. EU expressed concern over democracy in Guinea.
President Charles Taylor resigned on 11 August and took up offer of asylum in Nigeria. Almost 2,000 Nigerian peacekeepers deployed in Monrovia, with 2,300 U.S. marines positioned on ships offshore. Government signed peace agreement with LURD and MODEL rebels in Accra on 18 August, with interim government to take power on 14 October until elections in 2005. Businessman Gyude Bryant chosen to head interim government. Fighting continues in countryside. Humanitarian corridors still do not exist. Relief aid limited to Monrovia and Buchanan corridor.
Ethnic conflict between Ijaw and Itsekiri groups and within Ijaw groups in Niger delta claimed almost 100 lives and left more than 1,000 injured. Ceasefire declared on 20 August after 5 days fighting, though there has been sporadic fighting since. Nigeria’s President Obasanjo provided asylum to Liberia’s ousted President Taylor.
Government overthrown in military coup on 16 July 2003 while President out of country. Coup short-lived. Following strong international condemnation led by ECOWAS, and Nigeria’s President Obasanjo in particular, President returned on 23 July after signing accord with coup leaders. No further upheavals in August.
International confidence growing that Sierra Leone may have finally emerged from decade-long civil war, though concerns UN may be moving to withdraw mission (UNAMSIL) too rapidly. Special Court has called for international community to ensure Charles Taylor arrested and handed to Court.
After intense activity in August, underlying situation neither better nor worse: next period has both high risk and high peace opportunity. Tensions escalating since October 2002 when North Korea admitted to secret nuclear arms program. Six-way multilateral talks between U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia in Beijing on 27-28 August. North Korea announced intention to become nuclear power; plan to test atomic bomb in near future. Having agreed on 28 August on new round within two months, Pyongyang announced on 30 August it saw no value in further talks. U.S. and others declined to take at face value. Japan announced plans for new missile defence system.
Taiwanese authorities bolstered security measures after uncovering Chinese spy ring. China strongly condemned Taiwan’s eleventh bid for UN representation on 8 August. President Chen announced on 13 August commercial aviation and shipping links may be restored by end of 2004.
Armed attacks by extremist groups against U.S. forces, government troops and aid workers continued in southeast border regions. More than 60 people killed on 13 August (including two Red Crescent workers, 15 Afghan civilians and six government soldiers), bloodiest day in over a year. Battles between local commanders in the north continue to cause displacement and civilian casualties. NATO took command of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on 11 August. Continuing need to expand international security umbrella outside Kabul. Subject to parliamentary approval, 250 German troops will be deployed to northern city of Kunduz. UN approval sought to send troops under ISAF umbrella; otherwise troops will operate under “Enduring Freedom” U.S. command. U.S. and Afghan soldiers began week-long campaign of bombing and intense ground battles on 25 August, hitting Taliban camps and killing dozens; 2 U.S. soldiers killed.
Over 50 people killed in two bomb blasts in Mumbai on 25 August. Government blames Pakistan- based Kashmiri militants, Lashkar-e-Taiba and affiliated Indian Islamic students’ association. Police seized 21kg of explosives and other weapons; killed 2 members of Kashmiri militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in gun battle. 34 civilians and 6 tribal separatists killed in attacks in Tripura and Manipur on 14 August as rebels sought to enforce boycott of independence day celebrations. Government and Naga separatists agreed on 5 August to extend ceasefire for another year.
Despite continued violence, including bomb explosion in Srinagar shortly before Indian PM Vajpayee arrived on 27 August, Indo-Pakistani relations have improved in recent months. Initial responses to Mumbai bombings on both sides confirmed improvement. Echoing Vajpayee’s April offer, Pakistani President Musharraf called on 11 August for talks about ceasefire along Line of Control. However, both sides continue to attach unrealistic preconditions to talks. Ghazi Baba, Commander in Chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed and alleged architect of December 2001 attack on Indian parliament, killed in gun battle in Srinagar on 30 August.
Talks that resumed in mid-August between Government and Maoist rebels ended in stalemate. Rebels insist on new constitution redefining role of King; government only prepared to amend current constitution. Maoist leader Prachanda called off ceasefire on 27 August. Assassination attempts against several serving and former politicians blamed on Maoists. Battles on 30-31 August killed 9 rebels, 2 soldiers and 2 police; Maoists back on Government terrorist list; curfews imposed in much of country.
On August 21, opposition members walked out of parliament’s first sitting since November 2002 in protest over constitutional changes enabling President to sack PM and dissolve parliament. Sectarian violence continues in Quetta: 2 Shia men killed in separate attacks on 16 August. Angry mobs torched cars and destroyed property after one victim’s funeral. Skirmishes continued between Pakistani and Afghan troops across disputed border. Afghan leaders accused Islamabad of doing too little to prevent al-Qaida and Taliban forces regrouping in Pakistan. Pakistan proposed greater intelligence sharing. Three-way commission (Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S.) investigating border disputes agreed on 14 August to establish hotline between senior military commands.
Security situation relatively stable since signing of February 2002 ceasefire, but political killings increasing in north and east. Government has said it will send troops to area. LTTE (Tamil Tigers) suspended direct peace talks in April, claiming not enough being done to rehabilitate war- torn Tamil areas. Government has proposed limited autonomy for majority Tamil areas; rebels are working on counter-proposal.
Car bomb exploded outside Jakarta’s Marriott hotel on 5 August, killing 12 and injuring over 150. Indonesian police named 5 suspects - all members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) - on 19 August. JI operational chief Hambali, alleged mastermind of the October 2002 Bali bombing, captured in joint operation between Thai authorities and CIA on 12 August. Government suspended plan to divide province of Papua after violence broke out killing 4 between 23 - 28 August. Christian-Muslim tensions simmer in Poso after series of violent incidents in June and July. Military operation against separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) - launched mid-May after peace negotiations broke down - looks likely to continue. Current military methods appear likely to generate more support for GAM.
International pressure mounting on Myanmar’s military leadership over detention (since late May) of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. U.S. and EU bolstered sanctions but none of neighbours - with whom it does most of its trade - has imposed sanctions; and China has strongly criticised them. August saw cabinet reshuffle among ruling generals. On August 30, Gen. Khin Nyunt, newly-appointed PM, laid out roadmap to elections next May - no mention of NLD role or Suu Kyi release. U.S. authorities believe Suu Kyi is on hunger strike.
Government lifted “state of rebellion” on 11 August. Soldiers who staged attempted coup in July put on trial. Defence Secretary resigned on 29 August - President Arroyo assumed post. 2 members of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf arrested - under interrogation claimed Abu Sayyaf was planning bombings in Mindanao in October. July ceasefire between government and MILF holding - peace talks due in Malaysia on 4 September.
Australian-led multinational intervention force arrested Harold Keke, leader of Guadalcanal Liberation Front. Amnesty for return of illegal weapons ended. Some 2,700 weapons turned in. Intervention force will now begin searching for illegal weapons. Australian Prime Minister John Howard visited for talks.
SFOR made unsuccessful efforts to capture indicted war criminals, mounting raid on home of Gen. Ratko Mladic's late mother on 13 August and surrounding sites associated with Radovan Karadzic in Pale on 26 August. Mitar Rasevic, chief warder at Serb prison in Foca, surrendered to Hague Tribunal. The 3 ruling nationalist parties continue to bicker - both with coalition partners and within their ranks over jobs, education and tax reform, and proposed unification of Mostar.
Serbian parliament adopted declaration on 26 August reaffirming claim to Kosovo. 2 Serb teenagers killed and 6 injured in attack by unknown assailants on 13 August. UN police officer killed in ambush on 2 August. Kosovo Serb arrested. Unknown how much of violence was response to Belgrade’s declaration on Kosovo, coming as it did during transition to new UNMIK Chief, Harri Holkeri.
Increase in violent incidents as ethnic tensions persist. Albanian National Army fired 2 rocket-propelled grenades on 25 August at guard tower on Kosovo-Macedonia border; grenade attacks by unknown assailants on Skopje government buildings and bomb explosion on railway tracks north of Skopje on 28 August. No one injured. 2 police officers briefly kidnapped by ethnic Albanian gunmen on 27 August. Mandate of EU peacekeeping mission extended until 15 December 2003; EU police mission to strengthen rule of law under consideration.
Montenegrin politics continue to be overshadowed by allegations of smuggling and human trafficking.
At least 8 attacks in predominantly ethnic-Albanian Presevo Valley, including mortar attacks on Serbian army base on 12 August, police checkpoint on 15 August, and in Presevo centre on 23 and 27 August. Albanian National Army (ANA) thought to be behind at least some attacks. May be reaction to declaration on Kosovo adopted by Serbian parliament as draft on 11 August and in full on 26 August. Belgrade increased Kosovo rhetoric, perhaps to turn public attention away from corruption scandals. Commission investigating assassination of Serbian premier Djindjic named 44 suspects; allegations of links to government figures.
Upsurge in violence of recent months continues. Between 20-22 August, 28 Russian soldiers and at least 12 Chechen rebels killed in fighting. Spate of suicide attacks continued: on 1 August suicide bomber killed 35 at military hospital in southern Russia. Russian Government pushing ahead with plans to hold controversial October election for Chechen presidency.
Parliament finally approved composition of new electoral commission, but compromise went against recommendations of U.S. envoy James Baker aimed at preventing electoral fraud in Nov. 2003 elections. Little progress made in negotiations over future status of Abkhazia.
Talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh remain stalled, and progress in dispute unlikely until after Azerbaijan’s October presidential election. Both sides accuse each other of using dispute to distract public attention from own domestic crises – in Armenia, controversial re-election of President Robert Kocharian, and in Azerbaijan, ill- health of President Heydar Aliyev.
Moldovan and Transdniestrian forces took first demilitarisation step in years, withdrawing 37 armoured vehicles from Security Zone separating sides. EU and NATO discussing OSCE proposal to send peacekeepers Moldova to help settle dispute and bring order to region.
Region’s wealthiest and most stable country continues to attract attention for poor treatment of journalists and opposition figures. Kazakh authorities reportedly refusing request for pardon from Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, jailed co-founder of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, until he promises to stay out of politics.
Dissatisfaction with Government remains high, particularly in south. President Akayev consolidated power by pushing through widely-criticised constitutional referendum, but promises not to run in next election, due in 2005. Conviction of popular opposition leader Feliks Kulov upheld by Supreme Court.
Following Kyrgyz president’s example, President Rakhmonov held referendum on package of constitutional changes, one of which could allow him to remain in power until 2020. Government said amendments approved by over 93% of voters.
Central Asia’s most repressive and isolated country showing no signs of progress. President Niyazov maintains strict control over general population, limiting access to information, restricting travel abroad, and using systematic human rights abuses to stifle dissent. Parliament, until recently rubber-stamping body, now stripped even of that function.
Government continued campaign against suspected Islamic extremists, especially alleged members of banned Hizb ut-Tahrir. Heavy-handedness on part of security services, including widespread use of torture, risks further radicalising segments of the Muslim population. Little danger of conflict in short term, but continuing repressive policies here, as elsewhere in region, risk future unrest.
FARC and ELN rebels announced decision for joint military operations against Government and ruled out peace talks. This followed President Uribe’s public request to Venezuelan President Chavez to convey Colombia’s willingness to negotiate with FARC if they agreed to ceasefire, implicitly suggesting Chavez Government links to FARC. Colombian Air Force to resume forcing down planes suspected of carrying drugs or weapons. U.S. to renew assistance to CAF for that purpose after new procedures put in place. Demobilisation talks with some paramilitaries move forward. Government introduced legislation to grant amnesty to illegal fighters whose groups agree to ceasefire or peace talks. UN criticised proposed amnesty. Dozens of civilians killed in rebel bomb attacks across country following first anniversary of Uribe’s election.
Alliance between President Gutiérrez and powerful indigenous parties collapsed on 6 August. Indigenous and trade union groups later led protests in capital against proposed austerity measures.
Political situation remains highly unstable. President Hugo Chavez challenged validity of opposition signatures submitted to new National Electoral Council (CNE) to force referendum on his mandate. Chavez reaction raised tensions after Supreme Court naming of CNE had appeared to defuse potential for violence. Push by opposition groups for referendum on Chavez’s mandate continues. CNE meeting non-stop to consider petitions.
Former general and coup leader, Efrain Rios Montt, registered as presidential candidate for 9 November elections. Constitutional Court approved his candidacy, despite constitutional provision barring anyone who previously took power in a coup from serving as president.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued report on 28 August stating more than 69,000 people killed between 1980 and 2000. Maoist rebels, chiefly Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), responsible for more than half these deaths. Shining Path guerrilla group appears to be operating again, after having been thought largely wiped out in 1990s. Japan rejected request to extradite former President Fujimori. Although criminal indictments against him remain in place, Fujimori considering return to Peruvian politics for 2006 elections.
Ceasefire called off by Hamas and Islamic Jihad after Israel killed senior Hamas leader in retaliation for suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 20 and injured 100. Israel has killed 10 Hamas members since bombing, and has vowed to continue targeting group’s leaders. Arafat appointed new national security adviser in apparent bid to reassert control over Palestinian security forces and undermine Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his security chief Mohammed Dahlan. U.S. announced freeze on assets of 6 Hamas leaders as well as several charities alleged to have supported Hamas.
Islamic Action Front, political arm of Muslim Brotherhood movement, returned to Jordanian parliament after six-year absence, winning 17 of 110 seats in June legislative elections. In municipal elections, however, Front boycotted all municipalities but Amman, and accused government of cheating.
Hizbollah fired shells into Israel on 10 August killing one person and wounding 5 others; attack came in wake of killing of Hizbollah leader in Beirut and days after group exchanged artillery fire with Israel for first time in 8 months. Violence erupted despite signs that Hizbollah being forced to rein in military activities because of intense U.S. pressure on Syria and Iran, group’s main backers. More anti-aircraft rounds fired on 31 August when Israeli planes entered Lebanese airspace.
Tension between Washington and Damascus remains high. Syria facing strong pressure from U.S. to expel members of radical Palestinian groups and restrain militant Hizbollah organisation. Syria also accused by U.S. of allowing anti-Coalition fighters to cross into Iraq.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found traces of highly enriched uranium at Iranian nuclear plant, but cautioned there are number of ways uranium could have got there. Iran’s nuclear energy program drawing increasing concern from international observers. U.S. also concerned about perceived Iranian interference in Iraq. Reformist coalition led by President Mohammed Khatami struggling to hold together until next spring’s parliamentary elections.