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
Conflict situations deteriorated in ten countries in August 2004 according to September’s CrisisWatch bulletin. The massacre of 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees in Gatumba, Burundi, darkened the skies over the whole of Central Africa, warning of a possible return to full-scale war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Afghanistan also worsened in August with several deadly bombs, factional fighting and the murders of election workers. Explosions marred India’s independence day, leaving at least 28 dead over several days. Political violence escalated in Bangladesh as a grenade attack at an opposition rally in Dhaka killed 19. Fighting between Georgia and South Ossetia intensified last month, taking the lives of more than two dozen. The situations in Chechnya, Israel/Occupied Territories, Macedonia and Zimbabwe also deteriorated in August.
Six countries saw their situations improve in August, however. After multiple delays and more than a decade without a government, Somalia finally inaugurated a transitional parliament. Relative stability returned to Venezuela as President Hugo Chavez won backing of voters in a recall referendum. And the Angolan government announced long-awaited elections. Côte d'Ivoire, Uganda and Peru also showed improvements.
For September 2004, CrisisWatch identifies the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Georgia as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of further conflict in the coming month; and Northern Ireland as a Conflict Resolution Opportunity.
BurundiDemocratic Republic of CongoZimbabweAfghanistanBangladeshIndia (non-Kashmir)MacedoniaGeorgiaRussia/North CaucasusIsrael/Palestine
Democratic Republic of CongoGeorgia
Northern Ireland (UK)
Massacre of 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees 13 August at UN-run Gatumba camp, 9km north of Bujumbura; only remaining Burundi rebel group, Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL), claimed responsibility, though eyewitnesses reported involvement of Congolese army, Mai-Mai militias and Rwandan Hutu rebels based in DR Congo (DRC). DRC border opened and closed repeatedly on spillover fears: Burundi accused DRC soldiers of shooting across border 30 August. Burundi peace process remained broadly on-track at regional summit Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 18 August with affirmation of 31 October 2004 deadline for elections (as stipulated in 2000 Arusha accords) and agreement on interethnic power-sharing formula. However, 10 main Tutsi parties boycotted saying process sidelined them. Burundi army claimed 3 FNL rebels dead after clashes near Ruyaga army base, south of Bujumbura. 3,000 displaced by fighting in Bujumbura province 28 August.
Refugee situation in Chad remained dire, particularly in central border region, with fears of sudden influx of 30,000 refugees. Deadly hepatitis outbreak in Djabal and Goz Amer camps. 200 French troops deployed to eastern border with Sudan’s Darfur region in bid to stabilise security situation.
Instability increased following killing of 160 Congolese Tutsis in Burundi refugee camp 13 August. Refugees had fled fighting in Bukavu, eastern DR Congo (DRC), June 2004. Burundi suggested DRC army involvement in massacre; Rwanda blamed DRC-based Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe rebels; both warned of possible military intervention in DRC. Azarias Ruberwa, DRC vice president and head of Rwanda-backed RCD Tutsi former rebel movement, temporarily left transitional government 23 August, protesting Kinshasa’s failure to provide security and reintegrate militias in Ituri and Kivu provinces. DRC President Kabila rejected renegotiation of transitional government under South African mediation; but South African President Mbeki met with Ruberwa on 2-day visit in attempt to end dispute. Talks in Kampala, Uganda, led to DRC, Uganda and Rwanda agreement 25 August to disarm all rebel groups immediately. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested 16 August increasing size of UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) from 10,800 to 23,900 as part of ongoing Security Council discussions on strengthening MONUC mandate and capacity; U.S. and others suggested such increases unrealisable. MONUC mandate to be renewed by 1 October.
Kigali said would intervene in DR Congo (DRC) to protect Congolese Tutsis following 13 August Burundi massacre of 160. Fears Rwanda will carry out threat either directly or through proxy groups. Ugandan, Rwandan and DRC ministers meeting Kampala 25 August agreed to disarm militia groups, including DRC-based Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe rebels. In separate development, ICTR prosecutor Hassan Jallow said had identified 40 cases to be transferred to Rwandan courts, prompting defence concerns about fairness of trials and Rwandan use of death penalty. Jallow further announced 18 August that ICTR would evaluate until 2005 possible Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) 1994 war crimes; current President Kagame was leader of RPF.
Eritrea re-opened key supply road to UN peacekeepers (UNMEE) 10 August, prompting hopes of UNMEE/Eritrea thaw. Ethiopia dropped objections to direct Addis Ababa-Asmara UNMEE flights 20 August. Neither side moved from position on status of disputed village of Badme. UNMEE mandate expires 15 September.
After multiple delays to current stage of peace process backed by regional mediator IGAD, Somalia inaugurated transitional parliament Nairobi 23 August, with 214 of 275 seats allocated. By month end only 17 seats (of 61 given to Darod clan) remained under discussion. UN Security Council condemned ongoing violations of Somalia’s arms embargo 17 August, extending Monitoring Group mandate 6 months.
First 150 African Union (AU) troops, of total 300 expected, arrived Darfur 15 August to protect 100 unarmed AU ceasefire monitors. African and international pressure still fell short of that necessary to pressure Sudanese government and provide protection for people of Darfur. Sudan appeared to accept possible 2,000 further AU troops 25 August at AU-backed peace negotiations in Abuja, but said troops could only help with cantonment and disarming of rebel groups; rebels insisted would not confine themselves to base before political solution. Rebels briefly boycotted talks 28 August claiming 75 villagers killed in Sudanese government ceasefire violation; AU ceasefire commission suggested breaches by both sides. UN Special Envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk noted mixed progress, easing of aid restrictions and police deployment. Deadline for response to July 2004 UN Security Council resolution passed 30 August; Pronk will brief Security Council 2 September on situation, with subsequent UNSC decision on possible further measures. In positive development 31 August, southern SPLA rebels and government extended 3-month truce to 30 November.
Combination of extended amnesty law and military pressure further weakened LRA, raising hopes for end to conflict, though President Museveni discounted possibility of political – rather than military – peace. LRA said leader Joseph Kony willing to talk to Museveni. Ugandan army claimed 10 LRA rebels killed 24 August. Further 14 killed in Parajok, southern Sudan, 26 August. LRA surrenders continued as 32 fighters, including 3 commanders, gave themselves up 15 August, taking total fighters surrendered over last 2 months above 500. Catholic church claimed war could end soon, but warned of difficulties of converting “military peace” to “social peace”. ICC investigators began work northern Uganda.
Angolan government announced election planned for September 2006, but conditional on series of technical and constitutional steps to provide electoral framework. UNITA former rebel movement welcomed long-awaited move and returned to electoral commission 26 August, but criticised earlier prevarication and late election date.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) announced 25 August it would protest government harassment and lack of genuine electoral reform by not contesting upcoming by-elections and pulled out of Harare city council. MDC warned it might not contest any elections until Zimbabwe implemented Southern African Development Community (SADC) electoral guidelines agreed at regional conference Mauritius 16-17 August. SADC said countries which failed to meet guidelines would be ejected. Concern remains high over harvest shortfall in country, and proposed law restricting human rights organisations before March 2005 elections.
30 July “Accra III” agreement led to August return of opposition members to President Gbagbo’s government, re-instatement of 3 ministers and Gbagbo’s acceptance of power-sharing compromise. Full cabinet meeting held 9 August. UN announced creation of first mixed police unit 19 August to patrol Bangolo town, within “demilitarised zone” between rebel-held north and government- held south.
Dispute continued over status of Yenga, currently occupied by Guinean army but claimed by Sierra Leone. UN investigated reports of trafficking of Liberian arms and ex- combatants into Guinea, with ongoing fears over stability of Guinea/Liberia border zone.
UN announced Liberian disarmament would end December, later than planned; claimed 68,730 ex- combatants demobilised to date. Reports suggested former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor linked to al Qaeda.
President Obasanjo visited Yelwa, Plateau state, site of Christian-Muslim clashes May 2004 and where state of emergency continues, opening month-long peace conference 18 August. Darfur peace talks continued in Abuja under Nigerian President Obasanjo, current African Union (AU) chair. Nigerian parliament gave authority to send up to 1,500 Nigerian troops to Darfur 19 August. Three died in clashes in oil-rich Port Harcourt 28-29 August.
Dispute continued over status of Yenga town, occupied by Guinean troops. Sierra Leone and Guinea agreed 6 August at Conakry talks to joint mission to determine solution.
Democratic Party candidate in 12 September Hong Kong elections jailed for 6 months on mainland for allegedly hiring prostitute.
Pyongyang refused to attend working-level talks for fourth round of 6-party talks scheduled for September. Analysts suggest Pyongyang stalling on talks in anticipation of U.S. November election. Pyongyang launched verbal tirade at President Bush after he referred to Kim Jong Il as “tyrant”, putting further doubt on early resumption of talks.
Continuing tensions across Strait eased somewhat after China and Taiwan each cancelled upcoming military exercises. Both sides announced successful missile tests.
Security situation further deteriorated: at least 12 killed in 29 August Kabul car bomb in front of U.S. private security company offices; claimed by Taliban. Blast previous day in southern Paktia province killed 10, including 9 children. Fierce factional fighting erupted in western Herat province 14 August. Clashes between Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and rival local commander Amanullah Khan killed at least 24. Fighting stopped 18 August after deployment of 1,500 Afghan National Army troops and Kabul-brokered ceasefire. Attacks on election workers continued with 9 August ambush of Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) convoy in central Uruzgan province, killing 2. Election registration closed 20 August with 10.3 million registered to vote in 9 October presidential elections. Europe’s multinational Eurocorps took over command of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) 9 August. U.S. forces claimed 31 August strike in eastern Kunar province killed 20 militants, denied local reports of 8 civilian deaths. President Hamid Karzai met Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf 24 August. Musharraf promised Pakistan would not allow Islamic militants to disrupt presidential elections.
Political violence escalated: grenade attack at opposition Awami League (AL) rally in Dhaka 21 August killed 19, including senior AL politician. Little-known organisation, Hikmatul Zihad, claimed responsibility. Violent and widespread protests and strikes followed. AL leader, Sheikh Hasina, accused government of links with militant Islamic groups and agreed with opposition leaders to launch united movement against Islamic radicals and government. Earlier bombing in Sylhet 7 August killed 1 AL supporter. More than 4 million people homeless after July flooding.
Violence erupted in northeast. Twenty-two killed in Assam explosion as India celebrated independence day 15 August. Attack claimed by United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) – sparked violent protests. Several smaller blasts followed throughout region killing at least 6. ULFA among 10 separatist groups that called boycott of independence day celebrations. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and government resumed negotiations in New Delhi. In eastern Bihar state police killed 3 during protests against unfair distribution of relief for flood victims 17 August. Same day ongoing violent protests in Manipur against Armed Forces Special Powers Act – which gives troops right to arrest and shoot at suspected rebels – left 2 dead. Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers due to meet in New Delhi 5 and 6 September. Pakistan called for “strategic restraint” after India’s 29 August successful test-fire of long-range nuclear capable (Agni II) missile.
Clashes between separatists and security forces continued as talks between India and Pakistan stalled. India’s ruling Congress party repeatedly expressed disappointment over what it says is Islamabad’s failure to curb Kashmiri guerrillas. Ten killed – including Manzoorul Islam, head of Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen separatist group – during 19 August visit by Indian President Abdul Kalam to Jammu and Srinagar. Further violence killed at least 18 in separate incidents. Possible talks between Indian government and Kashmiri separatist All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC) faltered at outset as government insisted next round should take place “within” constitution: rejected by APHC.
Government detained 5 members of constitutional assembly 18 August. Week earlier, estimated 3,000 protested in uncommon show of dissent, calling for release of political prisoners and reforms. More than 180 protesters detained.
Maoist rebels suspended week-long blockade of Kathmandu 25 August, gave government 1 month to make concessions including release of jailed guerrillas and public report on missing rebel suspects. Journalists launched protest campaign against excesses of Maoist rebels following murder of reporter and death threats to journalists. Attacks within Kathmandu included killing of 4 soldiers, explosions in luxury hotel, police post and government office and killing of policeman. Maoists forced closure of 12 industries 17 August, and attacked Khalanga in Jumla district, inflicting heavy damage to government infrastructure. Government formed high level peace committee as first step towards institutionalising future peace talks – opposition parties still outside committee. Violent demonstrations 1 September after killing of 12 Nepali hostages in Iraq.
Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz appointed prime minister following resignation of caretaker PM Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Muhammad Yousuf’s convoy attacked 2 August in Khuzdar, killing 2; claimed by Balochistan Liberation Army in protest against ongoing army operation and construction of new cantonments in province. Further violence in Balochistan killed 7. Military operations continued in South Waziristan tribal region in hunt for al-Qaeda suspects and local supporters. Bombs on rail tracks in Peshawar 25 August and Sindh province 16 August narrowly missed disastrous derailing. President Pervez Musharraf and visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed 23 August to enhance cooperation in fight against terrorism.
Risk of escalation in violence remains as politically motivated killings continued. Top Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) politician, along with senior member of Eelam People’s Democratic Party allied with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, among those assassinated. Ceasefire remained hostage to split within LTTE: northern leadership accuses military intelligence of supporting breakaway rebel leader V. Muralitharan, a.k.a. Karuna, in attacks against northern-based LTTE rebels. President Kumaratunga stepped down as leader of ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (while remaining president), reportedly to spend more time on peace process with LTTE. Talks resumed: Norwegian envoy Eric Solheim met LTTE negotiator 31 August; LTTE leaders and military to meet 3 September to discuss security situation.
Run-off vote between incumbent president Megawati Sukarnoputri and former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to be held 20 September. Fighting escalated in Aceh in lead-up to Indonesian national day 17 August. Additional troops deployed to Free Aceh Movement (GAM) strongholds, where they reportedly forced villagers to fly national flags. GAM rebels launched series of grenade attacks 17 August, killing civilians at national day ceremonies as well as security personnel throughout province. Villagers from Wei and Dambo tribes armed with arrows and machetes clashed in Papua’s Keerom district 13 August in dispute over national day commemoration. Approx. 1,000 people gathered in Papua’s capital, Jayapura, for peaceful rally calling for UN to convene Timor-Leste style referendum. Free Papua Movement (OPM) guerrillas ambushed army garrison in Papua’s Puncak Jaya district 17 August; 2 OPM killed. In Ambon, 2 explosions 11 August raised fears after April violence.
Constitutional assembly remained adjourned (since 7 July) with no indication from military government when this first step on “road map to democracy” would resume. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and deputy chairman Tin Oo remain under house arrest. Debate continued as to whether Myanmar should join Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit scheduled for October in Vietnam. ASEM finance ministers’ meeting in July, and September gathering of group’s economy ministers, already cancelled after EU insistence.
Communist National Democratic Front (NDF) asked for postponement of new round of peace talks in Norway after U.S. kept NDF on terrorist list. NDF military wing, New People’s Army, clashed with government troops 6 August; 20 killed. Military helicopters launched assault on kidnapping syndicate “Pentagon gang”, who have ties to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in southern Mindanao 13 August, killing 14 gunmen. Peace talks between Philippines government and MILF delayed over terms for peace monitors. Malaysia (and other Muslim nations) to send 60 monitors to oversee truce between MILF and government. Seventeen Abu Sayyaf members sentenced to death 13 August for kidnappings and beheadings between 2000-2001.
Secretary-General of Timor-Leste’s foreign ministry Nelson Santos urged UN peacekeepers to remain until 2005, citing potentially unstable border with Indonesia and delays training security forces. UN to review 604-strong force in October. Clashes broke out between gangs in Ainaro 16-18 August. Police commander killed and dozens of houses burned. Three Indonesian army commanders and 1 police officer convicted in 1999 of crimes against humanity by Jakarta ad-hoc human rights court had sentences overturned by Indonesia’s Supreme Court.
Sporadic violence continued in restive south. In accordance with Bangkok’s new hardline security policy, General Pallop Pinmanee, previously accused of using excessive force in April violence, re-assigned to south. National Human Rights Commission of Thailand reported rights abuses worsened in Thailand over past 3 years in increasing “culture of authoritarianism” under PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
Former premier Ilir Meta declared his Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) to become third parliamentary force 6 September, and will not cooperate with ruling Socialist Party in 2005 parliamentary elections.
Forensic experts uncovered mass graves 10 August near ethnically-mixed municipality of Foca, 25 miles southeast of Sarajevo – believed to be victims of first wave of “ethnic cleansing” by Serb forces, ex- Yugoslav army and paramilitaries. NATO’s Stabilisation Force in Bosnia (SFOR) detained Milovan Bjelica, former associate of Radovan Karadzic, for second time 31 August.
New head of UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Soren Jessen-Petersen, arrived 15 August. Declared priorities of preparing Kosovo for final status and more transfer of competencies to Kosovo government. Belgrade urged Kosovo Serbs to boycott 23 October parliamentary elections, unless its plan for territorial division of Kosovo accepted. Security Council session on Kosovo 5 August urged Serbs to take part. KFOR dismissed 23 August Serbian security service (BIA) claim that extremists preparing to attack Kosovo Serbs. Contact Group to deliberate on recommendations of UN envoy Kai Eide for institutional transformation and progress towards final status talks.
Controversial decentralisation laws granting greater rights to ethnic Albanian minority narrowly passed 11 August, with 61 votes in 120-seat parliament. Decentralisation deal, which represents final phase of 2001 Ohrid accord (and is crucial to Macedonia’s EU membership bid), has polarised opinion and provoked riots. World Macedonian Congress (WMC) submitted approx. 180,000 signatures to force referendum on decentralisation plans. Parliament to set date for plebiscite – WMC calling for late November poll. Town of Struga, where opposition to plan is strongest, threatened to secede from Macedonia should decentralisation plans go ahead. Former interior minister Ljube Boskovski, suspected of murder of 7 migrants in 2001, arrested in Croatia 31 August, to be tried in Croatia.
Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica continued to deny knowledge of Hague-indictees’ whereabouts. U.S. repeated demands for extradition of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic to Hague Tribunal along with all other indictees. Interethnic tensions in Vojvodina and subsequent Hungarian and Croatian government protests increased pressure on Serbian government to address issue. Montenegro’s governing Democratic Party of Socialists’ leader, Miodrag Vukovic, said 18 August that Montenegrin authorities to formally propose end of union talks in September, although Belgrade Agreement stipulates Serbia-Montenegro must hold parliamentary elections before referendum on future of state union. Milosevic trial resumed 31 August to hear long-delayed defence. Serbian local elections to be held 19 September.
Opposition rejected package of constitutional amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian and endorsed by pro-government majority in parliament. (See also Nagorno-Karabakh below.)
Court upheld government’s July eviction of worshippers from Juma mosque in Baku. Human Rights Watch released report detailing government clampdown on press in aftermath of October 2003 presidential elections. Central Election Commission announced municipal elections to be held 17 December 2004. (See also Nagorno-Karabakh below.)
Fighting between Georgian and South Ossetian forces intensified, leaving around 20 Georgian troops and at least 5 Ossetians dead. Risk of escalation in violence remains, despite announced reduction of Georgian troops in conflict zone to 500 – maximum allowed under 1992 peace agreement establishing joint peacekeeping force. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili lashed out at alleged Russian support to South Ossetia; called for international conference leading to demilitarisation of region and introduction of international peacekeeping force; expansion of OSCE mandate in separatist region; and joint Russian- Georgian border and customs checks at Roki tunnel, major route connecting Russia and South Ossetia. Tensions also worsened vis-à-vis separatist Abkhazia region, as Saakashvili ordered Georgian naval vessels to fire on ships travelling illegally in Georgian territorial waters along Abkhaz coast.
Public statements from Azerbaijani officials continue to indicate hardening of position on Karabakh, while no progress reported after 29 August foreign ministers meeting Prague. Local elections held 8 August in disputed region, sparking angry reaction from Azerbaijan. Opposition candidate victorious in 22 August run-off election for mayor of Stepanakert.
Surge of violence in Russia around 29 August presidential elections in Chechnya raised fears of new phase in conflict. Crashes of 2 Russian jetliners 24 August attributed to terrorism, as Russian investigators announced traces of explosives found in wrecks. Extremist group allegedly linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility, but claim uncorroborated. Investigators focused on 2 female passengers – both apparently Chechens. Moscow suicide bomber killed 9 day after election; 2 days later, gunmen seized school in southern Russia, holding up to 400 hostages. Kremlin favourite General Alu Alkhanov won Chechen election, reportedly receiving nearly 74% of vote. Turnout said to have been over 85%, though observers noted empty polling stations. Dozens killed in rebel offensive in and around Grozny 21 August.
Standoff continued with separatist Transdniestrian region after latter closed local Moldovan schools teaching in Latin script. Sides traded accusations and sanctions, with Chisinau restricting Transdniestrian exports and Tiraspol retaliating with brief blockade of rail links to Moldova. Siege of Benderi orphanage by Transdniestrian security forces continued.
ETA claimed responsibility for series of minor August blasts at northwestern coastal resorts.
Negotiations to restore devolution scheduled for September. Devolution suspended since October 2002, but recent signs of flexibility suggest Sinn Fein-Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreement possible. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams suggested republicans should remove IRA as excuse for unionist stonewalling. DUP said Sinn Fein members with terrorist convictions could not hold key security and justice portfolios. Meanwhile, youth riots rocked Londonderry 10 August. Petrol bomb exploded in Protestant housing estate, causing no injuries.
Turkish police blamed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a.k.a. Kongra-Gel, for 2 bomb attacks in Istanbul’s tourist districts and further gas plant bombing 10 August, which together killed 2 and injured 11. PKK denied involvement and links to group claiming responsibility: Kurdistan Liberation Hawks (TAK). PKK official said it would halt attacks if Turkish government agreed to truce; PKK broke unilateral ceasefire June 2004. In separate incidents violence in southeastern Turkey claimed 14 lives.
Authorities granted 2 leading dissidents – politician Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov and journalist Sergei Duvanov – conditional release from prison (though Zhaqiyanov to remain confined in lower-security settlement in north). Move greeted with scepticism; seen as attempt to clean up country’s international image ahead of 19 September parliamentary election.
Government denied early release request of jailed opposition leader Feliks Kulov, saying latter not eligible for parole until November 2005 – after presidential elections. Kyrgyz civic group launched campaign in support of third term for President Akaev, despite constitution’s 2-term limit.
Tension in Dushanbe after head of Tajik drugs agency and former commander of Presidential Guard Ghafur Mirzoev arrested 6 August and sacked. Mirzoev major political player: dismissal significant move by President Imomali Rakhmonov to consolidate power. Concerns over press freedom deepened after opposition editor assaulted and 2 newspapers forced to suspend operations.
State religious board dismissed country’s chief mufti, citing his “serious shortcomings in carrying out religious work”. President Saparmurat Niazov increasingly dominating religious sphere: ordered collection of his own spiritual writings displayed alongside Koran in mosques.
Court sentenced 15 people to jail in connection with March and April attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara, which killed 47. Government claimed attacks carried out by Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir; also blamed group for 30 July Tashkent suicide bombings at U.S. and Israeli embassies and Uzbek prosecutor’s office. U.S. announced $21 million in new military aid, month after State Department cancelled $18 million in non- military aid due to Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record.
Protests by landless farmers and transport workers against government energy and land distribution policies continued, despite 18 July referendum results in favour of President Mesa’s policies. Bolivia and Peru signed agreement on energy integration 4 August, allowing Bolivia access through Peruvian port of Ilo for gas exports.
AUC paramilitaries issued 12 August communiqué stating intention to demobilise several thousand fighters. Move followed President Alvaro Uribe’s ultimatum for groups fighting in Casanare department to demobilise. Clashes between Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Casanare paramilitaries (not involved in AUC/government talks) and government troops 28 August left at least 21 dead. Uribe offered to release 50 leftist FARC fighters in return for 60 hostages. FARC rejected terms of exchange offer but Bogota hopeful deal still possible. U.S. warned would enforce extradition warrants against imprisoned fighters if released. Ten coca farmers murdered by FARC in Norte de Santander 11 August, as well as town mayor in Casanare province 28 August. Clash between ELN and government troops killed 5 soldiers 7 August in eastern Arauca province, where 2 unionists, accused of being leftist rebels, killed earlier in month.
Relative stability returned to Venezuela as President Hugo Chavez won backing of 58% of voters in 15 August recall referendum. Opponents claimed fraud though international observers endorsed results. Only few isolated incidents of violence. Referendum put end to 2-year struggle of democratic opposition to recall President Chavez through article 72 of Venezuela’s constitution. Next presidential elections scheduled for late 2006; Chavez constitutionally entitled to run for re-election.
Former paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain and former police chief Jackson Joanis acquitted of murder of Antoine Izmery, pro-Aristide activist and businessman. Both face further charges. U.S., OAS and human rights groups expressed concern at verdict. Former members of disbanded Haitian army increasingly visible throughout country, demanding payment of salaries and pensions.
President Alejandro Toledo’s approval ratings doubled (to 15.2 %) after he opened personal bank accounts to public scrutiny, resumed gas extraction and signed agreement with Bolivia to allow Bolivian gas to be exported via port of Ilo, creating special commercial zone for Bolivian companies.
Suicide bombers blew up 2 buses in Beersheba 31 August, killing 16, in worst attack in Israel since October 2003. Hamas claimed responsibility, saying attacks retaliation for killing of its leaders. Yasser Arafat survived challenge to his authority led by former security chief Muhammad Dahlan. In 19 August speech, Arafat acknowledged serious mistakes and pledged reform of Palestinian Authority. But inter-Palestinian violence continued in Gaza as factions struggle for power ahead of planned Israeli pullout in 2005. Gaza intelligence chief wounded and 2 bodyguards killed in attack by unknown gunmen west of Gaza city 25 August. In Israel, PM Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party voted to prevent Labor Party from joining governing coalition, in effect blocking Sharon’s Gaza pullout plan (Labor votes crucial for plan’s approval by cabinet). Sharon, meanwhile, adjusted Gaza plan, saying pullout would occur at one time rather than in 3 phases, and announced expansion of some existing West Bank settlements. Thousands of jailed Palestinians launched hunger strike 15 August to protest Israeli prison conditions.
Court charged 9 militants for alleged role in thwarted April plot to attack Jordanian and American targets in kingdom.
Under heavy pressure from Syria, Lebanese cabinet approved bill to amend constitution to allow President Emile Lahoud to stay on as country’s leader after 6-year term ends in November 2004. Bill likely to be approved by parliament in September, despite strong domestic opposition. Newly re-elected leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said German-mediated talks with Israel on possible prisoner exchange continue.
Israeli army chief General Moshe Yaalon said returning Golan Heights to Syria – key Damascus demand in any peace deal – would not compromise Israel’s security. Syrian Kurds claimed new wave of arrests; said over 180 remain in detention following March riots. (See also Lebanon above.)
Tehran said new IAEA report – expected in coming days – would clear up outstanding issues surrounding its nuclear program, while President Mohammad Khatami promised “guarantees” Iran would not seek nuclear weapons. But U.S., EU, and Israel remain concerned over program’s extent and purpose. Iran successfully test-fired upgraded Shahab-3 ballistic missile following recent Israeli test of Arrow II anti-missile system. Several people reportedly arrested in Iran for spying on nuclear program.
Top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, returning to Iraq after surgery in London, brokered new ceasefire 27 August between U.S. forces and followers of radical cleric Moqtada al- Sadr. Previous ceasefire ended 5 August, with sides blaming each other for breakdown. Fierce fighting between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and U.S. forces raged throughout month in Najaf, with militants concentrating in and around holy shrine of Imam Ali and suffering heavy losses. In Baghdad, after intense debate and backroom deal-making, National Conference selected 100-member Consultative Assembly. Many delegates – particularly independents and representatives of small parties – complained selection process undemocratic. Assembly to oversee interim government until scheduled January 2005 elections. Security situation across Iraq remained poor, with attacks on oil pipelines in south, abduction of 2 French journalists, and killing of 12 Nepalese hostages. 698 Coalition soldiers, including 624 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
In positive step, authorities set November date for nation-wide municipal elections. Newly published election law unclear on whether women to participate. Rare public trial of 3 reformists, arrested in March, began amid disruptions caused by defendants’ supporters. Security forces said top militant Faris al-Zahrani arrested.
Government forces continued mountain offensive against radical Shiite cleric Hussein al-Houthi. Eleven Yemeni soldiers reportedly killed in rebel ambush 24 August.
Editor of French-language daily Le Matin, Mohamed Benchicou, failed in appeal on 2-year prison sentence 11 August, amid media clampdown. Two members of Algerian security forces killed in Bouira, southeast of Algiers, 18 August. Further 7 soldiers killed in ambush east of Algiers 25 August by Group for Salafist Preaching and Combat (GSPC). 4 Islamic militants killed in Algerian army operations.
Israel reopened Rafah border-crossing between Gaza and Egypt 6 August, easing relations. Cairo continued talks with Palestinian groups on Gaza strip security after potential Israeli withdrawal, claiming agreement on deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad; also destroyed 2 tunnels allegedly used to smuggle weapons from Egypt to Gaza. Ruling NDP party-inspired bill to ease restrictions on political party registration to be debated at second annual NDP conference September; viewed as insufficient by opposition.
Compensation deal agreed 10 August for 1986 Berlin disco bombing, further opening way for improved European- Libyan relations. IAEA report on Libyan nuclear disclosure praised Libyan cooperation while warning gaps remained.
Up to 40 officers, including high-ranking members of National Guard, arrested for allegedly planning coup attempt against President Maaouiya Ouid Taya. Islamists apparently not involved; opposition leader Mohamed Jemil Ould Mansour detained, later released. Some accuse government of using coup as pretext to crack down on opposition, purge army. President Taya suggested plot backed by Libya and Burkina Faso.
U.S. President Bush signed Free Trade Agreement with Morocco 19 August. Moroccan intelligence report said 2,000 Moroccan “terrorist elements” under surveillance.
Algerian President Bouteflika restated Algerian support for Western Sahara Baker plan 11 August. Plan rejected by Morocco, accepted by Polisario independence movement.