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
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Democratic Republic of Congo
Political crisis marked by violence, and no progress in peace talks since Palipehutu-FNL fled Bujumbura July. FNL demanded security guarantees and discussions with South African mediator Charles Nqakula on ceasefire implementation. 67 MPs sent letter to President Nkurunziza 17 August requesting dialogue with opposition, inclusive government: homes of 3 signatories and FRODEBU VP hit with grenades 19 August. Nkurunziza resumed opposition consultations late August, but no agreement and intra-party tensions on rise.
Main opposition SDF party won only 14 seats in 22 July legislative elections. Ruling CPDM won at least 140. SDF leader renewed accusations of massive fraud. UN agencies began distributing aid 8 August to some 26,000 refugees from CAR in northern, eastern Cameroon.
UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon presented revised plan 10 August for UN presence in Chad and north eastern CAR, including EU military force (see Chad). February peace deal with 2 main rebel groups FDPC and UFDR still stalled; leaders rejected presidential adviser posts. Insecurity widespread in FDPC stronghold Ouham Pendé Prefecture: 7 kidnapped early August.
Revised plan for UN presence in eastern Chad and north eastern CAR presented 10 August; UNSC 27 August stated readiness to authorise. EU military force to provide “wide area security” and protect civilians at risk, but not to be involved in border area. UN to provide some 300 civilian police to train Chadian police and gendarmes. EU-UN information-gathering mission in Chad, CAR end August. EU decision expected 17 September Council meeting. Government, opposition coalition signed agreement calling for electoral reforms and postponing parliamentary polls to December 2009. Talks with armed opposition still suspended. Renewed clashes between Tama and Zaghawa in east 22 August: 12 reportedly killed.
Month saw troop movements, increased clashes in Kivus; mysterious deaths in presidential circles. Senatorial delegation met insurgent Gen. Laurent Nkunda 17 August; government and MONUC sustained pressure on troops to integrate. Yet positions abandoned 24 August. FARDC mixed brigades suffered attacks 27, 28, 30 August. Troops from Kisangani, South Kivu and Ituri en route to North Kivu 29 August: reportedly under order to launch offensive against Nkunda. Army operations against Banyamulenge insurgents in South Kivu continued. Presidential security adviser Guillaume Samba Kaputo died 1 August; legal adviser Gaston Nawej Katok died 18 August. Opposition MLC president Jean Pierre-Bemba said would travel to Kinshasa before end of parliamentary recess 15 September – no formal consent from Kabila. DDR in Ituri gained momentum: former rebel leader of MRC Mathieu Ngundjolo integrated personal guard. UNSC 10 August extended arms embargo on DRC militias 6 months. FARDC soldiers clashed with Ugandan troops and oil company guards near Lake Albert 3 August; 1 British oil worker dead.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s Parti Congolais du Travail won landslide in parliamentary elections: 124 of 135 seats.
Abolition of death penalty 25 July paved way for extradition agreements for genocide suspects. DRC said suspended “mono-ethnic” Tutsi-led military operations against FDLR rebels to reduce ethnic tensions, but “integrated” brigades to continue. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC army chiefs met Kigali 27-28 August: DRC said joint FARDC/MONUC operations may begin end September; MONUC said more consultation required.
After threats not to attend Boundary Commission meeting on border demarcation if held in New York, Addis confirmed 27 August it would: meeting scheduled 6 September in The Hague.
International Committee of the Red Cross withdrew from restive Ogaden region early August following expulsion order. Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels warned oil companies after tough government crackdown and statement rebel activity “eliminated”. UN fact-finding mission arrived 30 August to investigate alleged human rights abuses. Government blamed ONLF for 2 explosions 5 August in Jijiga killing 1; ONLF denied. Médecins Sans Frontières said 31 August blocked from Ogaden. Government released another 31 opposition members, including 4 journalists, detained after 2005 post- election violence. Ethiopia ordered Norway to withdraw 6 diplomats, citing attempts to “destabilise” Horn; Oslo to cut aid. Ethiopian millennium celebrations due 11 September.
Violence surged, particularly in Mogadishu, despite ongoing National Reconciliation Congress. Talks ended 30 August with 1 delegate, top clan leader, shot dead 18 August. Asmara conference of opposition groups due 1 September postponed. Leader of Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Aweys, vowed to step up insurgency against Ethiopian troops and Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Deadly attacks in capital near daily: local rights group reported 13 August over 31 killed in 24 hours; police officers and stations repeatedly targeted; at least 3 journalists killed. UN warned 13 August over 600,000 suffering severe malnutrition. UNSC approved 6- month extension of AMISOM mandate 20 August: Uganda promised further 250 troops; reconnaissance mission end month for long-awaited Burundian deployment. AU Chair Konare and French FM Kouchner called for speedy transition to UN force; assessment mission to be sent within 30 days. Inter-clan clashes killed over 30, displaced up to 12,000 in central regions Hiiraan and Galgadud. Rift deepened between Puntland Administration and TFG over oil bill.
Somali government suspended flights from Mogadishu to Somaliland 27 August, following Somaliland threat to jail residents applying for new Somali passport. President Dahir Rayale Kahin agreed 22 August to release 3 opposition politicians arrested for forming “unauthorised” party.
Composition of 26,000-strong UN/AU force (UNAMID), authorised 31 July, debated; after meeting with President Bashir, AU Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare said non-Africans not required. U.S. Special Envoy Natsios expressed doubts over AU troop skill-level. 12 rebel groups attended 3-6 August Arusha talks with AU/UN mediators. Most significant absence was SLM faction leader Abdul Wahid. Though full rebel reunification not achieved, attendees reached “common platform” for final peace talks with government; mediators hoping for talks October. SPLM proposed 50/50 revenue sharing with NCP in oil-rich Abyei as interim measure; NCP rejected. Fighting between rival Arab tribes in Darfur continued: Rizeigat and Tarjum signed truce 11 August after clashes killed 140. Amnesty International reported 23 August Sudanese government deploying weapons to Darfur in defiance of arms embargo. UN human rights office 21 August accused government- allied forces of mass abduction and rape in South Darfur December. Khartoum expelled top Canadian and EU diplomats for “meddling in its affairs”, director of CARE for “espionage”. EU envoy returned following “apology”. UN Sec. Gen. to travel to region early September.
July peace talks recess extended. Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) requested $2m to carry out national consultations on mechanisms for reconciliation and accountability. Government and international community initially rejected, but 14 August donors offered $600,000; LRA accepted. Government commenced own consultations 12 August, proposed local war crimes courts 20 August. LRA said proposal premature before consultations complete. Militia disarmament began in Eastern Equatoria in South Sudan, following LRA rebels’ June departure.
Tensions grew between Anjouan island and federal governments over disputed Anjouan presidential election of Mohamed Bacar. Hundreds reportedly fleeing political violence. AU assistance and security mission extended to 31 December. Federal government endorsed interim president Kaambi Houmadi’s “Liberation Government” against Bacar 9 August.
Unions threatened further strikes, continued demands for 2008 elections under multiparty democracy. King Mswati III rejected criticism while Swazi courts considered union application to appoint South African mediator. Police shot dead opposition activist Ntokozo Ngozo 15 August; denied political motivation.
Zimbabwe topped agenda at Lusaka SADC summit 16-17 August. SADC leaders publicly downplayed country’s problems, but reportedly stressed democratic and economic reforms in private. South African President Thabo Mbeki said mediation process with opposition MDC “on track”, expressed confidence in 2008 free elections. 2- month voter registration period ended 17 August, with 80,000 registered; MDC condemned process. Reforms tabled in parliament give Mugabe wide role in choosing successor, government right to nationalise foreign firms. Aggressive July price-cuts campaign eased, but pay rise ban introduced 30 August. China reported to have changed assistance policy, limiting it to humanitarian aid.
President Laurent Gbagbo said elections could be held “as soon as December 2007”. Observers, opposition expressed doubts. Mobile courts to issue identity documents still not operational; yet Prime Minister Guillaume Soro signed order 8 August creating “working group” to oversee them. In 15 August meeting, Soro assured opposition elections would be transparent. Opposition continued criticism of July UN decision to terminate position of High Representative for Elections. Program for voluntary demobilisation of some Forces Nouvelles (FN) combatants began mid-August in Bouaké.
3 civilians sentenced 20 years prison for March 2006 plot to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh. Alleged mastermind, Colonel Ndure Cham, still at large.
Military set 8 September deadline for overdue salary payments: issue unresolved since May military-led riots in Conakry left 2 dead. Interior and Security Minister Mamadou Beau Keita 14 August said legislative elections will go ahead December as scheduled. Yet preparations lag and opposition leaders expressed doubts over PM Lansana Kouyaté’s commitment to free vote. ECOWAS bank applauded government reform efforts, approved $28.5m infrastructure loan.
PM Martinho Ndafa and new judicial police director made separate appeals for international assistance to combat drug traffickers. South Africa pledged help 6 August. Government announced 7 August voter registration to begin October for 2008 legislative elections. Move called into question President Vieira’s July announcement of 1-year postponement.
UN announced UNMIL drawdown plan: 15,000 peacekeepers to 9,750 by December 2010, subject to completion of security benchmarks. President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf put Police Chief Beatrice Munnah Sieh on 3-month probation after panel found her responsible for July clash between 2 police units. First group of Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) military police in training overseen by U.S. Army adviser. Memorandum of understanding signed 23 August for Nigeria to train, assist AFL. Supreme Court 24 August rejected immunity claim of transitional government head Gyude Bryant; embezzlement trial to proceed.
Final results of July parliamentary elections announced following 22 July run-off: President Amadou Toumani Touré’s Alliance for Democracy won 113 of 147 seats, gaining 16. Largest opposition group, FDR coalition, won 15, down from 50. Opposition SADI party called 12 August murder of official “political assassination”, but did not specify evidence. String of militia attacks in remote north east with some 35 Malian soldiers kidnapped and 11 people killed by newly laid landmines. Troops deployed to Tombouctou, Gao and Kida; 9 abductees freed 29 August.
Fighting continued between Tuareg rebel group Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice (MNJ) and government. MNJ released additional 6 soldiers held since June; claimed responsibility for 10 August attacks on fuel depot and electricity supplier to uranium mines: at least 2 civilians killed in cross-fire with soldiers. 4 soldiers killed by MNJ landmine 20 August. MNJ vowed to continue attacks until government takes seriously demands for greater revenue sharing from mining. Government refused talks: requested support from neighbours. President Mamadou Tandja announced 1 August Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi met with MNJ leaders, told them to lay down arms. Tandja declared 3-month state of alert in north 24 August, expanding arrest and detention powers of security forces.
3 opposition Action Congress (AC) officials resigned 7 August to protest party’s refusal to join new government. President Umaru Yar’Adua retained control of energy portfolio: no energy minister named, special adviser appointed 10 August. Courts began hearing challenges to president’s April election victory; former president Olusegun Obasanjo ordered 14 August to testify. Yar-Adua suspended $145m health clinic construction contract to firm owned by Obasanjo aide, saying deal “illegal” 7 August. 22-member electoral reform committee announced 23 August; scathing EU election monitor report released same day - strongly rejected by Independent National Electoral Commission. Rival gang violence paralyzed Port Harcourt early August: at least 15 killed. Heavy fighting between security forces and gangs 16 August; curfew imposed. Kidnappings continued, with Nigerian nationals especially families of local legislators increasingly targeted. MEND said it would renew attacks on oil pipelines by month end because government failed to address Delta crisis. Security forces 1 August demolished Sokoto headquarters of Shiite sect accused of killing Sunni cleric July.
Opposition boycotted 19 August elections for newly created Senate, protesting presidential power to appoint 65 of 100 members. Results declared 28 August: ruling PDS won 34 of 35 seats.
Presidential and parliamentary elections 11 August, first since UN peacekeepers withdrew 2005, generally fair and free of violence. Main opposition APC won 59 of 112 seats, defeating ruling SLPP with 43. Run-off for presidency between VP Soloman Berewa SLPP and Ernest Koroma APC scheduled 8 September. Parties traded accusations of irregularities immediately following vote. Independent Media Commission accused APC-owned radio station of inflaming tensions by broadcasting allegations of vote-rigging. Tensions culminated with violent clashes between SLPP and APC supporters 26, 27 August; police restored order. President Kabbah threatened state of emergency 28 August; further clashes, attack on Koroma’s convoy, 31 August. Trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor by Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) delayed to January 2008. SCSL convicted 2 former leaders of CDF militia 1 August.
Some 200 arrests in Lithang, Sichuan province, after protests triggered by arrest of man calling for return of Dalai Lama and release of Gendun Cheokyi Nyima, second-highest Tibetan leader. 54 local leaders replaced with non-Tibetan cadres since late July.
Seoul and Pyongyang announced plans for bilateral summit – first in 7 years and second since end of WWII – later postponed to 2 October due to flooding in North. Leaked IAEA report offered first confirmation of status of NK’s nuclear program since 2003, confirmed shutdown of 4 nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. Bilateral talks with Washington 1-2 September; removal of NK from U.S. terrorist list may be discussed. Next 6-Party Talks due in early September.
Despite July rejection of Taiwan’s UN bid, Taipei’s diplomatic allies filed motion to add it to agenda of 62nd General Assembly, to be convened 18 September. U.S. deputy secretary state criticised moves by Taipei to organise referendum on renewing bid.
U.S. and Afghan forces launched joint offensive against Taliban in Tora Bora mountains in east mid- month. Significant militant casualties reported there and in Helmand, Ghazni and Kandahar, where fighting with ISAF forces continued. Particularly deadly month for international forces: 33 killed. Pakistan President Musharraf joined President Karzai on 12 August for conclusion of two-nation “peace jirga” in Kabul: delegates agreed to create 50-member standing body. Senior Taliban leader, Mullah Brader, reported killed 30 August. After month of negotiations between Seoul and Taliban representatives, 19 remaining South Korean hostages released 29-30 August; 2 released previously, 2 killed. Seoul agreed to complete troop withdrawal by end of year and bar citizens from travelling to the country. Seoul denied reports of ransom payment. UN drugs office reported opium production up a third on last year, with widening divide between decreasing growth in north and proliferating production in south, highest in Helmand; Karzai criticised West for lack of coordination on anti-drugs effort.
Government imposed curfew in 6 cities 22-27 August after student anti-government protests that began 20 August in Dhaka turned violent, killing at least 1, injuring hundreds. Mobile phone network blocked for curfew and universities shut down indefinitely. In corruption crackdown, head of Awami League Sheikh Hasina, detained since mid-July, lost bail plea; ex-minister Shahjahan Siraj, wife and son jailed 8 years for tax evasion; bank accounts of former PM Khaleda Zia frozen.
Deadly series of blasts 25 August in Hyderabad killed over 40, while separatist violence in north east intensified. Andrha Pradesh state government blamed foreign Islamist terrorist organisations for Hyderabad blasts; roughly 20 unexploded devices also found. Opposition BJP party called day-long strike 27 August in city in response. Strikes also called in Assam state 14 August after week of violence that killed 33, mostly Hindi speakers; ULFA separatist movement suspected. 12 police believed killed in late-month fighting against Maoist insurgents in Chhattisgarh.
Former senior policeman shot dead 31 August north of Srinagar, first high-profile killing of year. Hizbul Mujahedin group claimed responsibility. Indian army reported killing 10 militants in Kashmir and border area 27 August.
Government figures underscored commitment to 22 November poll date after much-denied reports Maoist leader Prachanda mooted 5-month postponement. Maoists threatened protests ahead of elections to secure guarantee new government will declare Nepal republic. King Gyanendra vacated Nagarjuna palace 24 August after government moved to nationalise 20 royal properties.
Escalated suicide attacks targeting security forces in North Waziristan and massive army retaliation followed end of Red Mosque siege. Responding to military reinforcements in tribal belt, pro-Taliban militants in South Waziristan renounced peace deal with military; army claimed 60 troops, some 250 militants killed. Some 100 soldiers missing in region 31 August, after earlier abductions in which 1 beheaded, others released. Fatal strikes by U.S. forces into Pakistan from Afghanistan reported. U.S. commanders first claimed, then denied they had Pakistani permission. At cross-border jirga in Kabul 12 August, Musharraf made rare admission Afghan Taliban fighters receiving support from within his country and pledged to fight against them. Critical shifts in political landscape: power- sharing deal between former PM Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf discussed, stalled; but Bhutto said would return to country soon. Musharraf announced would resign as army chief but only after presidential polls. Supreme Court ruling 23 August allows fellow exiled former PM Nawaz Sharif return: said would contest elections.
Mid-month report by Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission noted shift in military operations from east to north, where violence increased near Jaffna peninsula. Heavy casualties reported in clashes between army and LTTE in north west end August, after weeks of steady fighting in Mannar. 3 suspected LTTE bombs defused near Buddhist pageant in central city Kandy 26 August. At tribute to 17 French aid workers shot 1 year ago in uninvestigated attack, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes called country worst in world for humanitarian workers; government condemned claims.
Clashes in Ternate 21-22 August between police and supporters of local sultan Mudfar Syah, disqualified from gubernatorial race, injured 21. Aceh Governor Irwandi announced plans 15 August for truth and reconciliation committee, but cited as legal basis law struck down by constitutional court December 2006. 2 homemade bombs exploded 1 August near Southeast Aceh parliament; no casualties. Jakarta court heard testimony 22 August alleging National Intelligence Agency involvement in murder of human rights activist Munir Thalib. But 2 of 4 witnesses retracted testimony, claiming statements made under police pressure. New military commander for Papua, Col. Siagaan, infamous for founding pro-Indonesia militias in East Timor in 1999, raised alarm with anti-separatism saying “military not afraid of human rights”.
Government raised fuel prices by as much as 500 percent 15 August, prompting series of small protests in and around Yangon. 13 dissidents from “88 Generation Students” group arrested 22 August; wave of arrests followed as pro-government vigilantes dispatched to suppress protests, prompting international condemnation.
Increased fighting between government and Muslim militants on Basilan and Jolo reported. Government said over 60 soldiers killed; claimed targeting Abu Sayyaf forces, but composition of fighters unclear. Manila-MILF peace talks postponed again to November. Communist National Democratic Front, political wing of New People’s Army, threatened to end long-stalled talks with government after leader Sison arrested in Netherlands on murder charges.
President Ramos-Horta asked AMP alliance (CNRT, PSD, ASDT, PD) to form government 6 August, after AMP candidates elected parliament president, vice-president and secretary end July. Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri called decision unconstitutional and announced parliamentary boycott. Violent protests and arson attacks followed in Dili, Baucau and Viqueque. UN reported 4,000 displaced. Most ministers and some secretaries of state of new government sworn in 8 August: Xanana Gusmao new PM, with additional direct responsibility for defence, security and natural resources. Jose Luis Guterres of Fretilin Mudansa elected vice prime minister. Fretilin returned to parliament 20 August.
New constitution, 18th since 1932 end to absolute monarchy, approved in 19 August referendum. 57% support paved way to 23 December general elections. Vote revealed support for charter weakest in former PM Thaksin strongholds of North and Northeast. Turnout relatively low at 58% as around half of country under martial law and no-vote campaigners intimidated and arrested. Supreme Court issued arrest warrants for Thaksin and wife 14 August; extradition proceedings expected if they fail to show for 25 September hearing. In South, insurgent attacks continued; at least 2 civilians, 1 soldier and 1 rebel reported killed.
PM Sogavare escaped no-confidence vote over controversial nomination of Julian Moti as attorney general after opposition MPs withdrew motion. Moti is wanted in Australia on child rape charges.
High Representative Lajcak warned Republika Srpska (RS) PM Dodik to respect constitution or face possible sanctions after latter renewed comparisons of RS and Kosovo. Lajcak proposed new police reform package to political leaders; swiftly rejected by Bosniak and Serb leaders 30-31 August.
Belgrade and Pristina negotiators met 30 August in Vienna for new round of status talks; both stipulated series of red lines ahead of meeting. PM Ceku threatened to declare independence if talks inconclusive. EU, Russian and U.S. mediators Wolfgang Ischinger, Alexander Botsan- Kharchenko and Frank Wisner visited Belgrade and Pristina 10-11 August; troika to report to UNSG Ban Ki-moon by 10 December, but disagree on whether date should be deadline for resolving status. EU anti-partition stance undermined by Ischinger and Dutch FM Verhagen statements suggesting possibility if sides agreed. Ischinger later retreated; Kosovar negotiators threatened to leave talks if option raised. UNMIK set assembly, municipal and mayoral elections for 17 November. Belgrade spokesman said return of 1,000 Serb security personnel to Kosovo, following Serbian National Council of Northern Kosovo request to Belgrade, would be timely 16 August. Belgrade alleged NATO seeking Kosovo as “satellite state”. Ethnic Serb girl raped by 3 unknown assailants 20 August in second such attack in Gracanica this year.
President Crvenkovski warned against Kosovo partition after National Security Council met 23 August to discuss potential Kosovo security threats. Parliament lifted immunity of former PM Buckovski after police filed embezzlement charges over 2001 arms deal. Authorities described 6 August grenade attack on government building “terrorist attack”; no injuries.
Belgrade remained focused on Kosovo (see Kosovo). In southern Serbia, ethnic Albanian gunman killed after exchange of fire between police and uniformed gunmen robbing cars on road leading to Kosovo 4 August.
President Aliev and Iranian President Ahmadinejad met 21 August in Baku: latter’s first official visit. Cooperation stressed, but undertone of tensions over Islamic Republic’s treatment of Azeri minorities. Civil society “working group” formed to defend journalist Mushfiq Huseynov, arrested on bribery charges 24 July.
Rustam Basayev, associate of separatist leader Doku Umarov, killed in gun battle with local police Grozny 23 August; 2 police also killed. Periodic attacks on soldiers, law enforcement officials continued; 3 civilians shot dead in Tsa Vedeno 4 August.
Georgia-Russia tensions escalated significantly as guided missile fell near South Ossetia (SO) 6 August, and parties traded accusations, including at UN. No explosion or casualties. Tbilisi accused Russia of violating airspace; alleged further incursion 22 August. Moscow denied any involvement, accused Georgia of fabricating incidents to aggravate tensions over Russian role in SO and Abkhazia. SO de facto leader Eduard Kokoity said ready to meet President Saakashvili to sign non-use of force agreement 8 August: non-starter for Tbilisi. Tbilisi’s repeated offers of “widest possible autonomy” rejected by Tskhinvali. Joint Control Commission again failed to meet despite planned 8-9 August session. Abkhaz de facto leader Sergey Bagapsh met Russian Deputy FM Karasin Moscow 6 August. 12 followers of exiled opposition leader, Igor Giorgadze, convicted of plotting coup in 2006.
U.S. co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group, Matthew Bryza, visited Armenia 30 July, Azerbaijan 3 August; pushed for October/November meeting of presidents to agree basic resolution principles. Former Armenian FM Hovannisian submitted parliamentary bill 28 August calling for recognition of NK independence. Armenian soldier defected to Azerbaijani forces 4 August.
In Ingushetia, grenade and gunfire attack on armoured personnel carrier killed 1 Russian soldier 22 August. 3 civilians killed 30 August in second attack on ethnic Russian school teachers since July; 4 police killed in car bomb in Nazran 31 August. Earlier in month Moscow sent 2,500 extra troops to republic in response to recent upsurge to violence. In Dagestan, gunmen fired on elite police convoy 23 August, killing 2. Clashes between insurgents and security forces in republic early August left at least 7 dead.
U.S. expanded travel sanctions on Belarusian officials 7 August. Minsk responded with restrictions on U.S. officials 22 August. 30 opposition activists briefly detained 19 August after police raid on book reading; author and leader of Youth Front, Paul Sevyarynets, sentenced 15 days prison. 50 people detained after 22 August raid on theatre performance. 7 opposition parties face potential suspension following government warnings of legal irregularities.
Transdniestrian media reported Russian shuttle diplomacy between breakaway Tiraspol and Chisinau 31 July-1 August in apparent effort to restart talks.
Campaign for 30 September parliamentary elections began 2 August. President Yushchenko ruled out post-poll ruling coalition of his Our Ukraine bloc with PM Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions. Election officials reversed 11 August decision to bar opposition Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko’s candidates from polls, following 2 days of 1000-strong rallies. Yushchenko announced new constitution would be drafted, but advised against holding referendum on election day.
Van packed with explosives blew up outside police station in Durango 24 August; 2 police injured. Similar explosion 27 August in field near Castellon appeared connected to aborted plans to bomb resort; owners of van abducted, released. ETA suspected in both attacks.
Cypriot President Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Talat to meet 5 September in buffer zone; first meeting in 14 months. New Cypriot FM Kozakou- Marcoullis slammed by Ankara after stating key to solving dispute in hands of Turkish military. Dispute over offshore oil and gas exploration rights in Eastern Mediterranean continued, with Kozakou-Marcoullis threatening could affect Turkey’s EU membership bid after Ankara sent letter to UNSG Ban Ki-moon on issue. Hijacking of plane flying from Turkish Cypriot airport Ercan to Istanbul ended with surrender of 2 hijackers claiming al-Qaeda ties 18 August.
Ulster Defence Association (UDA) told to begin decommissioning weapons within 60 days or lose community project funding following UDA- organised attacks on police in Bangor 1 August.
In victory for democratic process, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul elected president by parliament, after third round of voting, 28 August. Gul approved new cabinet submitted by PM Erdogan next day. Army reiterated ready to act against attacks on secularism 27 August. New parliament, sworn in 4 August, also elected centre right veteran Koksal Toptan as speaker 9 August. 24 Kurdish nationalist deputies formed Democratic Society Party bloc in parliament; leader shook hands with right-wing Nationalist Action Party leader. Iraqi PM Maliki visited Ankara 7 August, signing memorandum of understanding on ending PKK access to Northern Iraq mountain bases. South east clashes continued with at least 5 soldiers and 15 militants reportedly killed. French President Sarkozy appeared to moderate stance against Turkish EU membership process 27 August, linking acceptance of further negotiations to call for EU committee on eventual EU borders.
Presidential party Nur Otan won every contested seat in first Kazakh parliamentary poll to count votes on party, not individual basis 18 August. OSCE observers reported increased electoral violations. Trial began of 30 Hizb-ut-Tahrir members arrested December 2006 on religious hatred charges. Austrian court blocked extradition of Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev’s son-in-law wanted on kidnapping and fraud charges, citing no guarantee of fair trial.
Pressure on opposition groups continued. Opposition leader former PM Feliks Kulov arrested 1 August for role in April protests; 2 protest participants sentenced to 4 years prison. Police raided bank run by People’s Will party leader Bolot Baikojoev, 10 August; Green Party leader Erkin Bulekbaev arrested for filming police raid, sentenced 10 days prison. Rights groups accused police of torturing 3 detainees to death in northern city of Naryn 22 August.
2 former Guantanamo detainees sentenced 17 years by Dushanbe court on charges of serving as mercenaries for Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. President approved new internet libel law; media said would be used to silence dissent. New religious restrictions introduced, including religious tests for imams in Dushanbe and ban of Mavlavi group in east.
President Berdimuhammedov pardoned 11 prisoners serving convictions for treason 9 August, including former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, later appointed adviser at State Council for Religious Affairs. Reports of wave of arrests of former officials close to late President Niyazov.
Border with Tajikistan closed 29 August ahead of 1 September Uzbek independence celebrations.
Mandate of Constituent Assembly (CA) extended 3 August to 14 December. But political crisis deepened after CA proceedings suspended amid growing protests in Sucre over move of country’s capital, and pro-government congressmen’s action to bring breach of duty charges against 4 Constitutional Tribunal judges. Over 1,200 judges threatened 48-hour strike in support of accused colleagues. 6 of 9 provinces carried out general strike 28 August. President Morales accused U.S. embassy of financing opposition.
Little movement on FARC-government hostage swap: FARC rejected President Uribe’s offer for 90-day “zone of encounter” to follow FARC hostage release and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s offer of exchange in Venezuela. Chavez-Uribe meeting 31 August decided Chavez to invite FARC for negotiations in Venezuela; rebels yet to respond. UN said 500 displaced by fighting in Narino province over border with Ecuador. No agreement reached in new round of ELN- government talks in Havana 20-25 August.
Minor clash between members of Movimiento Popular Democrático and Partido Sociedad Patriótica during campaign rally 26 August in Sucumbios province left 9 injured. President Correa blamed Bogotá’s coca eradication for displacement of up to 1,600 Colombians into Ecuador.
President Chávez announced new round of Constitutional changes in 15 August speech to promote “21st century socialism”. Changes approved by parliament include end to presidential term limits and increased government control over central bank and private assets; implementation subject to referendum.
Violent string of over 40 political murders ahead of 9 September presidential elections marked one of bloodiest campaign periods since end to civil war in 1996. OAS and EU observers have warned violence could sway choices at polls. Army set to deploy 8,000 to guarantee security in areas with history of violence. Congress approved 2 August international commission against impunity; organ will investigate political-paramilitary links.
In visit to Port-au-Prince 1 August, UNSG Ban Ki-moon pledged to request 12-month extension of MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission. UN envoy Edmond Mulet condemned moves by opposition senators toward no-confidence vote against PM Alexis, saying they were block to establishment of effective rule of law. Hedi Annabi appointed to replace Mulet.
U.S.-proposed autumn meeting to revive peace process had parties jockeying for position. U.S. Sec. State Rice met Israeli PM Olmert in Jerusalem, Palestinian President Abbas in West Bank early August in first visit since Hamas defeated Fatah in Gaza in June. Abbas, Olmert held talks 28 August. U.S. signed deals for $80m to Abbas government to reform security services, $20bn to Israel for military aid over 10 years. Isolation of Gaza, Hamas increased. EU confirmed 20 August it halted fuel payments for Gaza, leaving thousands without electricity. Israeli incursions into Gaza intensified, with troops killing over 20. Quartet to meet key Arab nations 23 September in advance of U.S.-backed conference.
Army continued bombardment of Fatah al- Islam militants in Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp. 63 women, children evacuated 24 August, some 70 fighters remain. In 5 August by-elections to replace assassinated governing coalition MPs Walid Eido and Pierre Gemayel, coalition won in Beirut, lost in Christian heartland Metn. Camille Khoury, of Michel Aoun’s Hezbollah-allied party, narrowly defeated Gemayel’s father and former president, Amin. UNSC 24 August authorised 1-year extension of 13,000-strong peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) deployed after 2006 Israel- Lebanon war. Netherlands agreed to host UN tribunal on 2005 assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri.
Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki visited Damascus 19-21 August, following restoration of diplomatic ties last year. Discussion included border security and Iraqi refugees. Saudi Arabia and Syria exchanged sharp criticisms over regional roles, highlighting tensions.
Iranian and IAEA officials agreed timetable 21 August to resolve outstanding issues regarding nuclear program. Accord released 27 August said Iran resolved UN questions regarding plutonium testing. U.S. and others criticised deal. Agency also confirmed nuclear program is expanding, but centrifuges operating well below capacity. U.S. disclosed 15 August decision in principle to blacklist parts of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as “specially designated global terrorist” group. Designation – first such against foreign government entity – would cut IRGC off from U.S. financial system, freeze assets and allow U.S. Treasury to move against firms transacting with it. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 12 August replaced oil and industry ministers with caretaker figures, in move seen as consolidating control over oil industry. Iranian- American academic Haleh Esfandiari, detained since May, released on bail 21 August. 8 Iranians detained in Baghdad by U.S. forces 28 August; determined to be part of official delegation, released next day.
Iraq is increasingly unstable, ungoverned and extremely violent. National unity government established June 2006 fell apart early August when largest coalition of Sunni Arab politicians, Iraqi Consensus Front (Tawafuq), pulled out of cabinet citing unfulfilled pledges. Its 44 MPs remain in place. Ruling parties – non-Sadrist Shiite and Kurdish – claimed parliamentary majority with new “moderate” alliance. Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi signed reconciliation agreement with alliance leaders 26 August, but his Iraqi Islamic Party has not joined. 7 months into U.S. “surge”, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents attacked areas outside U.S. focus. 4 coordinated blasts in remote north west Sinjar targeted 2 Yazidi villages 14 August, reportedly killing 500, constituting deadliest attack since 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Mass grave of some 300 reportedly found in Falluja 21 August. 2 car-bombs in Baghdad 1 August killed at least 67. Violence in Shiite areas also on rise: governors of Qadisiya and Muthanna provinces assassinated, both key players in U.S.-driven effort to suppress Sadrists in south. Moktada al-Sadr announced 29 August 6- month suspension of Mahdi Army militia’s operations, following 2 days of clashes with government forces killing 52.
Riyadh “welcomed” U.S. plans for autumn regional peace meeting during 1 August joint visit of U.S. Sec. State Rice and Sec. Def. Gates. Calls for new Palestinian national unity government renewed, but little Saudi intent to facilitate. Riyadh announced plans to send team to examine re-opening Baghdad embassy. Statements followed July U.S. promise of $20bn arms to Gulf states. Riyadh and Damascus traded verbal blows over roles in region. Saudi mediation effort in Lebanon forlorn as ambassador departed for “holiday” amid reported security threats.
Security forces clashed with militants near Marib 8 August, killing 4. Dead included alleged mastermind of 2 July bomb that killed 8 Spanish tourists. Ceasefire between government and al-Houthi rebels in Sa’ada in question as negotiation committee stalled amid accusation-trading, and fighting still reported.
Car bomb in Larba wounded ex-militant leader Mustapha Kertali 14 August. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said member involved without leadership approval. Former head of dissolved Islamic Salvation Army announced new Islamist party supportive of government reconciliation efforts. Anti-insurgency military operations in north; at least 16 rebels reported dead.
Police arrested over 75 suspected Muslim Brotherhood members, including 34 prominent leaders for alleged meetings in Alexandria, Al Sharqiya and Giza. Cairo security court gave life sentences to 4 men for involvement in April 2005 Cairo suicide attacks; 4 more given shorter sentences.
Morocco and Polisario Front negotiators met for UN-led talks near New York 10-11 August. No softening in positions, but agreed to meet again.