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
Central African RepublicZimbabweCôte d’IvoirePakistanSerbiaHaiti
Outlook most promising for many years as leaders of largest Hutu rebel group, FDD, worked with government to implement November peace agreement, although remaining Hutu rebel group, FNL, continued fighting. Disarmament and reintegration of FDD fighters commenced, but progressing slowly. Return of estimated 800,000 refugees in Tanzania and 300,000 internally displaced people could lead to renewed conflict if not handled properly. Vatican's ambassador to Burundi shot dead 30 December in ambush blamed on FNL. Human Rights Watch criticised immunity for fighters from prosecution for war crimes provided in peace agreement.
President Bozize sacked Prime Minister Goumba and government 11 December, and appointed new government with Goumba as vice-president. Changes made after demonstrations in capital against human rights violations by security forces and Bozize’s former fighters. Bozize also sacked number of soldiers for lack of discipline.
New national army formed from existing government soldiers and 2 main rebel groups, RCD and MLC, in accordance with peace agreement. New troops to be deployed in eastern DRC. Donors pledged $3.9 billion for period 2004-2006.
Rival rebel militia factions exchanged gun and rocket fire in capital Brazzaville 13 and 18 December. Police announced 3 month crackdown on “trouble makers” in capital.
Three Rwandan media executives convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for inciting slaughter of Tutsis in 1994. Two jailed for life, other for 27 years.
Border tension eased. Armed forces leaders of both countries pledged to maintain military stability between their countries – agreed in principle to set up joint military commissions to prevent incidents on disputed border from escalating. Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy appointed UN special envoy to help resolve stalled peace process. But at least 50 killed in Ethiopia in clashes over land near Sudan border, with government accusing Eritrea of backing rebels who incited violence.
More than 60 killed and thousands displaced in fighting between rival clan militias in central Somalia mid December. UN Security Council to set up unit to investigate breaches of arms embargo. Increased tension between self declared autonomous republic Somaliland and self declared autonomous region Puntland over territory claimed by both.
Civil war approaching end, but western Sudan conflict continued to worsen. Positive development in continuing negotiations to end 20 year civil war, with government and rebels reaching agreement 20 December on sharing of oil wealth. Remaining issues include administration of 3 disputed central regions and representation in transitional government. But other conflict continues in western Darfur region, with alarming deterioration in human rights and humanitarian situation and international community yet to take action.
Signs that government may launch offensive against LRA soon. Government to amend amnesty law to exclude leaders of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. Law currently provides immunity and resettlement for all rebels who surrender.
President dos Santos re-elected as head of ruling MPLA party – allowing him to run again in national elections to be held after 2004. Six Angolan workers for CARE killed by landmine 12 December.
South Africa’s President Mbeki helped broker agreement 20 December between government and semi-autonomous islands to share power and revenue. Elections to be held around April 2004. Hundreds had protested 10 December against continuing government ban on opposition leader holding public meetings.
Further deterioration. Withdrew from Commonwealth after leaders extended suspension of Zimbabwe for additional 18 months 7 December. IMF moved to expel Zimbabwe 3 December, official inflation now 619.5%. Police shut down independent Daily News day after court allowed it to resume publication. Government backed militias committing widespread rapes and other human rights abuses. South Africa’s President Mbeki met with President Mugabe 18 December to urge negotiations with opposition MDC, but no evidence of progress.
Security continued to deteriorate, despite some positive moves. Commercial capital Abidjan tense. Rebel leaders said 22 December they would rejoin coalition government. Government and rebels commenced pulling heavy armaments from frontline. Rebels divided – one group of fighters declared allegiance to new rebel leader, Ibrahim Coulibaly, 19 December. At least 18 killed in attack by unknown assailants on state television station 12 December, repelled by police. Pro-government protesters attempted to storm base of French peacekeepers 1 December.
President Lansana Conté re-elected in 21 December elections with 95.6% of vote. Government claimed 82.8% turnout – opposition says less than 15% voted. Opposition parties boycotted elections and claimed they were rigged.
Disarmament process in difficulties. At least 9 ex- government militia killed in confrontation with UN peacekeepers in Monrovia 10 December – militia demanding cash to surrender arms. UN responded by suspending disarmament from 17 December to 20 January 2003, to upgrade camp for former combatants. Peacekeepers deployed to rebel-held town 27 December for first time. UN and US to co-host international donors conference in February 2004. Only 5,900 peacekeeping troops had arrived mid-December out of 15,000 authorised.
Handed over 32 border villages to Cameroon 16 December, in accordance with International Court of Justice ruling. Oil-rich Bakassi peninsular still to be returned to Cameroon. Continued fighting between ethnic militias in oil rich Warri region - Human Rights Watch claimed conflict essentially over oil money.
Government troops on alert to prevent Liberian militias moving weapons into Sierra Leone to escape disarmament process in Liberia. Interpol issued warrant for arrest of ex-President Taylor at request of Special Court for Sierra Leone. Unlikely to be accepted by Nigeria, where Taylor remains in asylum.
Government issued wanted list of separatist Muslim individuals and groups, accusing them of using terror in pursuit of independent state in Xinjiang. Pakistan said Hasan Mahsum, leader of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and one of China’s most wanted, killed in October raid on militant hideout near Afghan border.
Negotiations for mid-December six-way talks stalled, but Pyongyang said willing to take part in new talks in early 2004. N. Korea and U.S. failed to agree on talk objectives. Pyongyang insisting complete, irreversible, verifiable dismantling of nuclear weapons not possible without economic aid and security assurances. Economic and energy incentives not included in U.S. proposal. N. Korea accused Washington of delaying tactics. President Bush rejected North Korean 9 December offer to ‘freeze’ nuclear program; Pyongyang rejected U.S. 15 December counter-proposal.
President Chen Shui-ban announced government will hold referendum in March 2004, alongside presidential election, asking China to remove missiles aimed at Taiwan; move dismissed as further political stunt by critics. Parliament voted against government attempt to amend clauses in new referendum bill that restrict conditions in which referendums can be held. President Bush, seeking to calm rising cross-Strait tensions, said U.S. did not support unilateral moves by either side to change status quo. Comments seen as significant rebuke to Taiwan.
Constitutional Loya Jirga assembled 13 December in Kabul amid security fears. Intense debate followed on presidential/parliamentary power balance and regional-ethnic representation – final vote on draft constitution repeatedly delayed, now not until 1 January at earliest. President Karzai, largely supported by Pashtuns, insisting delegates approve draft giving extensive powers to presidency, but opposed by Northern Alliance representatives. Suicide bombing in Kabul 29 December killed 5 Afghan intelligence officers; Taliban claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks. Afghan UN worker killed, several injured in Farah province 4 December; 15 children killed in two separate U.S. airstrikes; Kandahar shopping area blast 6 December injured 18. NGOs reducing work and personnel as foreign workers continue to be targeted: 2 Indian, 2 Turkish, and 1 Afghan worker on Kandahar-Kabul road kidnapped. Safety issues delaying voter registration and education efforts. Disarmament and reintegration pilot scheme achieved first disarming of defence minister’s militia and control over some heavy weapons near Kabul, as well as first regional disarming of 1000 former combatants in Kunduz and Gardez.
Continuing violence in northeast spread into neighbouring Bhutan where military claimed to have wiped out 30 anti-Indian insurgent camps. 150 deaths of mainly ULFA and NDFB Bodoland separatists reported. ULFA separatists blamed for previous month’s violence in Assam: ULFA founder captured in Bhutan, but military chief vowed to fight on. Kuki and Karbi tribal clashes 3 December claimed another 5 lives. Bodoland Territorial Council created allowing Bodo self-rule in parts of state. On 6 December, eleventh anniversary of Ayodhya mosque razing, Hindu-Muslim clashes in Hyderabad left 6 dead. PM Vajpayee’s BJP party made significant electoral gains, unseating Congress-led governments in 3 of 4 states: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh.
In major policy shift, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf offered to drop longstanding demand for plebiscite, conditional on progress in talks with India on Kashmir. Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali Kasuri and Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed noted Pakistan continues to support plebiscite but would consider other options. Ceasefire along Line of Control (LOC) holding as normalisation steps continue. Both sides agreed to resume overflights, air and rail links from 1 January. India accelerating work on security fence along LOC, criticised by Musharraf. Ceasefire not supported by Kashmiri separatist groups, though violence reportedly has decreased: death toll since 26 November truce over 150. Indian PM Vajpayee confirmed attendance at January South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad; not yet known whether bilateral negotiations on Kashmir will take place.
Violence continues unabated. Conflict spread into Terai lowland belt, where Maoist group Madhisey Liberation Front imposed 24-hour strike. U.S. Assistant Sec. State Christina Rocca met with government officials, raised issue of human rights abuses. Army, meanwhile, admitted instances of excessive force, promising to punish offenders. Government announced disarmament and reintegration plans for Maoist rebels, including amnesty, cash rewards for arms and munitions, and shelter and training if rebels surrender before 12 February; government has in past tried similar projects to diminish rebel ranks. Dozens injured in protests calling for all- party government and removal of royalist PM.
Two suicide bombers attacked motorcade of President Pervez Musharraf 25 December in second unsuccessful assassination attempt in under 2 weeks. Pakistani intelligence blamed al Qaeda; security under scrutiny. U.S. security personnel targeted in 7 December rocket attack in Northwest Frontier Province. Commonwealth countries said Pakistan to remain suspended until it undertakes democratic and judicial reforms. Deal between Islamist coalition MMA and Musharraf on Legal Framework Order (LFO), incorporated into constitution as seventeenth amendment, formalises Musharraf’s special powers to sack PM and dissolve parliament.
Political crisis between PM Wickremesinghe and President Kumaratunga continues to disrupt peace process; self-imposed 15 December deadline passed with no resolution to standoff. Wickremesinghe refused to continue peace negotiations with LTTE (Tamil Tigers) without control of security functions, currently in hands of Kumaratunga following latter’s 4 November dismissal of defence, interior, and information ministers and appropriation of their portfolios. Situation unlikely to change before parliament reconvenes in new year. Snap election a possibility.
Senior Islamic clerics ruled suicide bombings forbidden in Indonesia by Islam 16 December. Four of 6 suspected Indonesian Islamic militants, arrested in Pakistan and deported in December, detained under Indonesia's anti-terror laws - included Rusman "Gun Gun" Gunawan, brother of Hambali. More alleged rebels killed in Aceh but no independent verification of military statistics on numbers killed or detained since martial law declared in May 2003. Bomb blast at open air concert in Aceh New Year’s eve killed at least 9 concertgoers – perpetrator unknown. An Indonesian journalist held hostage by Aceh rebels since July 2003 killed in shootout between rebels and army 29 December. Red Cross and some U.N. agencies allowed back to Aceh but international NGOs effectively remained barred. Unrest in Papua following appointment of new police chief indicted by the UN’s East Timor Serious Crimes Unit for human rights abuses in East Timor. Sporadic violence continued in Poso.
‘Informal ceasefire’ agreed between military government and ethnic minority rebels, Karen National Union (KNU), 8 December. 12 nation talks held 15 December in Bangkok to explain government road map to democracy. Myanmar’s ruling council announced intention to hold constitutional conference with all opposition parties in 2004. UN welcomed move but, along with U.S., EU and Japan, continues to view road map as non-participatory, non-transparent and lacking timeline – all demand release of Aung San Suu Kyi and substantive talks with opposition. Suu Kyi refuses liberty until National League for Democracy (NLD) colleagues arrested in connection with 30 May violence released; 14 of 35 remain incarcerated. Nine linked to NLD sentenced to death for treason 3 December.
Election campaigning gathered momentum. Fernando Poe, film actor and close friend of deposed President Estrada, ahead of President Arroyo in opinion polls, but opposition divided. Commander of Abu Sayyaf rebel group, Galib Andang, captured 7 December. Government capture operation provoked gun battles with aligned Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, killing at least 14. Ceasefire with MILF re-established 17 December and formal peace negotiations expected to resume soon after Malaysia sends team of 25 observers to Mindanao. Five killed in clashes between insurgent New People’s Army (NPA) and government troops 7-8 December; immediately followed by unilateral declaration of Christmas ceasefire (10 December – 6 January) by government.
Arrangements finalised 11 December at bilateral summit for Australia to deploy around 300 police, judges and administrators to address growing lawlessness, as condition of U.S.$220 million Australian aid program. Draft constitution, proposed by Bougainville leaders to resolve final status of semi-autonomous province, being considered by Bipartisan National Committee. Third stage of weapons destruction by Bougainville rebels in progress under auspices of UN-chaired Peace Process Consultative Committee; UN political office to be replaced by smaller observer mission mandated until June 2004 to oversee constitutional process and weapons disposal.
Security situation stabilised. Weather Coast region of Guadalcanal officially declared safe; over 200 refugees who had fled fighting earlier in the year returned in December. Australian-led multinational intervention force completed troop withdrawal from Weather Coast November 2003. Rapid reaction force remains on high alert in Townsville, Australia, deployable within 24 hours. Australian PM Howard visited 22 December for discussions with Solomon Islands government and civilian Regional Assistance Mission.
Integration of armies and customs services continued. Bosnian Serb commander Momir Nicolic imprisoned for 27 years by Hague tribunal for role in Srebrenica massacre and Serb General Stanislav Galic to 20 for crimes against humanity and war crimes. European Commission feasibility study gave Bosnia good chance of beginning negotiations for EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2004. One noted shortcoming was lack of cooperation with Hague tribunal. International funding secured for new domestic war crimes court to begin work early 2004.
Document presented to UN Security Council by head of UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Harri Holkeri 10 December spelling out standards to be met in democracy, rule of law, market economy and refugee returns before discussion of final status. UN lamented slow progress in minority returns and integration. Twelve Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) officers suspended for 6 months by UN while investigation conducted into suspected involvement in March bombing. Kosovo’s parliament voted to nullify all laws passed in the province during Milosevic’s rule; move immediately condemned by Kosovo Serb leaders and overturned by UNMIK.
Decade-long foreign military presence in Macedonia ended 15 December as EU operation Concordia was officially replaced by a police support mission, Proxima. Six-week voluntary disarmament program also finished 15 December, yielding about 8,000 illegal weapons. Estimates of number of illegal weapons in the country range from 100– 170,000, but compared with similar initiatives in the region, the campaign was a success.
Parliamentary elections 28 December ushered in period of political instability. Nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj won largest number of seats (82 of 240) in parliamentary elections; Milosevic's SPS won 21 seats. DSS led by Vojislav Kostunica won 53 seats, Democratic Party 37 and G17+ won 34. Neither Radicals not SPS likely to be in new government, but can block reforms. The new government, of whatever composition, likely to be short-lived. Recent ICTY indictments fuelled domestic debate about cooperation with Hague tribunal. SRS vowed not to extradite any more ICTY indictees to The Hague. Highly politicised trial of 44 suspects in March assassination of Premier Zoran Djindjic commenced in Belgrade 22 December, with chaotic scenes as defence lawyers walked out.
Over 100 opposition activists remain jailed for taking part in protests against fraudulent 15 October election. Group of prisoners and their relatives began hunger strike 1 December, demanding release of those still held. Rauf Arifoglu, editor of leading opposition daily, among detainees; OSCE calling for his release. Heidar Aliyev, leader of Azerbaijan for past decade and father of current President Ilham Aliyev, died of heart failure, aged 80.
Suicide bombing of train in southern Stavropol region, near Chechnya, killed 45 on 5 December. Chechen rebel leadership denied involvement. Second suicide bombing 4 days later left 6 dead outside landmark Moscow hotel across from Kremlin; reports said Chechen woman responsible. In Dagestan region, near Chechen and Georgian frontiers, dozens of militants attacked Russian border troops 15 December, killing 9, then took hostages and fled into mountains. Russian troops freed hostages, but clashes continue. Akhmar Zavgaev won lone Chechen Duma seat in Russian parliamentary election 7 December. Unofficial reports indicate extremely low turnout among Chechen voters.
Tbilisi gripped by fears of counter-coup, possibly by military forces loyal to exiled former State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze. Several bomb blasts and other violent incidents reported throughout month. Concern that country could disintegrate or descend into civil war – or both – as result of power games between rival political factions ahead of 4 January presidential elections and secessionist aspirations of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Ajara regions. Russia offering tacit support to breakaway regions; hosted leaders for talks in Moscow, sparking outrage from Tbilisi and rebuke from U.S. Sec. State Colin Powell. Aslan Abashidze, authoritarian leader of Ajara, said will call off planned boycott of January election.
Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan met for first time 11 December, on sidelines of UN summit in Geneva: said fuller dialogue on dispute to begin. Talks in Scotland between Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations said to have been constructive.
Peace efforts in disarray following Chisinau’s last- minute rejection, in November, of controversial Russian proposal for ending dispute with breakaway Transdniestrian region. OSCE annual meeting, in Maastricht, ended in stalemate 2 December, with Russia failing to garner support for its plan, and other OSCE members unable to commit Russia to deadline for withdrawing its troops from Transdniestria. Officials in Tiraspol, Transdniestrian capital, declared suspension of Russian military evacuation in retaliation for Moldovan government’s failure to accept Russian proposal.
Christmas bombing campaign by Basque separatist group ETA foiled – 2 suspected ETA members arrested 24 December, having planted 3 bombs and in possession of another. ETA seriously weakened by 9 December arrests of military and logistical chiefs; weapons and false identity documents also seized in operation. Basque plan to become ‘free-associated state’ (sovereign state associated with Spain) to be debated by regional parliament and if approved, put to referendum in 2005. Central government declared moves unconstitutional, filed appeal 13 November with Constitutional Court and passed law 28 November criminalising calling of referendum without permission of central government.
Crackdown on links between organised crime and nationalist violence announced in September by Interior Minister Sarkozy now underway. Leading Corsican nationalist, Charles Pieri, taken in for police questioning 14 December, placed under formal investigation 17 December for terrorism and misuse of public funds. Corsican separatist group, FLNC, announced unilateral ceasefire in surprise move 14 November after surge of violence since failed July 2003 autonomy referendum.
15 December parliamentary elections in Turkish Cyprus, widely viewed as referendum on UN reunification plan, resulted in stalemate. President Rauf Denktash’s nationalist coalition, who oppose UN plan endorsed by Greece, Turkey and Greek Cypriot government, won same number of seats as opposition parties favouring reunification and EU accession; fresh elections to be held in 2 months if parties unable to form coalition government. Denktash appointed leader of pro-European party, Mehmet Ali Talat, as PM of Turkish Cyprus 29 December. U.S. and EU keen to broker reunification before Greek Cypriot part of island joins EU in May 2004.
No progress in political stalemate as DUP maintained refusal to work with Sinn Fein. Three Assembly members defected from David Trimble’s moderate UUP to ally with Ian Paisley's DUP. IRA and loyalist ceasefires held. Review of the Good Friday Agreement due to start in January. Blair and Ahern met Sinn Fein 17 December to push for further commitments on peace process.
Investigations into November bombings that claimed 62 lives indicated al Qaeda financing. Around 30 arrested including individual suspected of making four bombs used in attacks..
Parliament approved controversial draft media law, criticised by journalists as increasing state’s ability to control press.
Amendment placing restrictions on foreign media coverage of elections passed by parliament, drawing strong criticism, particularly from Russian press. In south, Uzbek police illegally crossed border 10 December in attempt to arrest Kyrgyz citizen. Raid thwarted by citizen’s neighbours. Uzbek raids into Kyrgyzstan reported frequently; targets usually Muslims suspected of extremism.
Mamadruzi Iskandarov, head of Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT), dismissed as head of Tajikgas (a government post). Government blamed him for energy problems, but Iskandarov claimed decision political. Move part of continued pressure on opposition party members; DPT had been critical of June referendum on constitutional changes. Further controversy over decision by state publishing house not to print Ruz-i-Nav newspaper. Speculation that regime marking limits for opposition activity ahead of elections in early 2005.
Authorities cracking down on NGOs. Har- assment of staff reportedly increasing, and new law gives state effective control over all NGO activities. President Niazov runs region’s most repressive regime, limiting population’s access to information, restricting travel abroad, and stifling dissent.
Human rights situation remains bleak. In latest move to muzzle dissent, government forced cancellation of conference on death penalty. President Islam Karimov appointed hardline governor of Samarkand region, Shavkat Mirziyoev, as new PM, replacing Utkir Sultanov. Move seen as serious setback for political and economic reform.
Leftist rebel group ELN rejected conditional offer by government to open peace talks. ELN released remaining 5 foreign hostages kidnapped September. One of alleged leaders of FARC rebel group captured by police. FARC and ELN rebels attacked paramilitary village 30 December, killing 40.
Striking teachers clashed with police in protests on 10 December – police used tear gas to quell 5000 strong protest. Indigenous groups, including umbrella organization CONAIE, planning large January protests aimed at ousting President. Gutierrez.
Opposition claims 3.6m signed November petition calling for referendum to recall President Chavez - well above 2.4m signatures required. Government claimed many signatures fraudulent. Electoral Commission has 30 days from 5 January to determine validity of signatures. Chavez likely to continue to oppose referendum. Chavez met with Cuba’s Fidel Castro in Venezuela 22 December. Border clashes between Venezuelan troops and Colombian paramilitaries raise tensions between the countries – Venezuela tightens security on border.
Former mayor of Guatemala City, Oscar Berger, elected president 28 December in peaceful run-off election – in contrast to violence and intimidation of November first round election. Less than half registered voters cast votes.
Demonstrators protested against Aristide government throughout December, in lead up to 200th anniversary of independence on 1 January. Pro-Aristide gang attacked student protesters 5 December, injuring 20. Eight reported killed in protests 22 December, President Aristide’s supporters blamed. At least 41 killed during protests since mid September. Aristide’s offer to end confrontation rejected by opposition. Some Haitian police, sent to protect demonstrators, reportedly joined protests.
Prime Minister Beatriz Moreno resigned 15 December at request of President Toledo, claiming she was victim of smear campaign. Toledo reshuffled cabinet, appointed Carlos Ferrero as PM. One of new ministers resigned within days after accused of corruption. Toledo claims mafia backed by ex- President Fujimori attempting to destabilise government by making unfounded allegations in media.
Israeli PM Ariel Sharon said in major speech that country will sever links with Palestinians if no progress made toward peace in coming months, suggesting political shift. Bush Administration responded with warning against taking unilateral steps which harm Roadmap. Palestinian leaders failed to agree to full ceasefire with Israel in Cairo talks; failure seen as setback for Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei. UN General Assembly asked International Court of Justice in The Hague for opinion on controversial security fence through West Bank; Court to hold hearings in February. “Geneva Initiative”, offering full blueprint for peace settlement, launched 1 December with widespread support from world leaders. Suicide bombing in Tel Aviv 25 December first in over 2 months; attack killed 4, shortly after Israeli helicopter strike in Gaza killed 6, including militant leader.
Three Iraqi nationals charged with plotting to attack U.S. and Israeli targets in Jordan.
Israeli troops shot and killed 2 Lebanese men carrying hunting rifles along border with Israel 9 December. Lebanese security forces arrested 2 citizens suspected of planning to bomb U.S. embassy in Beirut.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad urged U.S. to help restart talks over Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967 war. Israel reacted sceptically to peace overtures and in late Dec- ember announced plan to double number of settlers in Golan Heights. Elsewhere, Syrian authorities arrested 6 men believed to be al Qaeda couriers and confiscated US$23.5 million.
Earthquake devastated ancient city of Bam, killing at least 28,000 and perhaps many more. Early international response included U.S. government planes landing in Iran for first time in over 2 decades, carry relief. Tehran signed additional protocol of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty allowing IAEA to conduct more intrusive inspections of nuclear sites. Evidence discovered in investigation of nuclear program points to Pakistan as source of advanced technology. Negotiations reportedly ongoing with U.S. over handover – or return to home countries – of detained al Qaeda suspects. U.S. meanwhile deciding whether to expel anti- Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO) from Iraq; Iraqi Governing Council decreed MKO must leave by end of December, though to where unclear. Controversial registration of candidates for February parliamentary elections ongoing; candidates must be vetted by conservative Guardians Council.
U.S. troops captured hiding Saddam Hussein 13 December, setting off both clashes and celebrations in Iraqi streets. Impact of capture on anti-Coalition insurgency still uncertain; at present, attacks continue unabated, with 22 Coalition soldiers killed by hostile fire since capture. Day after capture, car bomb exploded in town of Khaldiya, killing 17 policemen. Attacks in Karbala 27 December killed 12, including 4 Bulgarian soldiers, 2 Thai engineers. U.S. followed up capture with large-scale arrests, claiming better intelligence, including from documents found with Hussein, helping piece together structure of resistance. U.S. says no decision made on whether new Iraqi war crimes court will try Hussein. Anger at U.S. move to exclude countries who did not send troops from bidding on reconstruction contracts; France, Germany, and Russia nonetheless agreed to major write-off of Iraqi debt, as did Britain, Japan, and others. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called 15 January meeting with Governing Council and U.S. to seek clarity about role they thought UN might play; said in 10 December report that security situation made quick return unlikely. 261 Coalition soldiers, including 214 Americans, killed by hostile fire since 1 May, declared end of combat operations
U.S. issued terror alerts and reduced diplomatic staff, saying it continued to receive indications of planned attacks against Western targets.
Security forces reportedly foiled plot to blow up UK embassy in capital, Sanaa. Government walking fine line between cooperating with U.S. in war on terror and appeasing populace strongly opposed to U.S. policies in region.
Court froze activities of main political party after split in party earlier in 2003. U.S. Sec. State Colin Powell, during two-day visit to region, praised Algeria for cooperation in war on terror but urged that April 2004 elections be free and fair. Powell comments bring into question status of Islamic Salvation Front party, currently banned.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher assaulted by group of Palestinians while praying at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Attack apparently triggered by anger at Maher’s earlier meeting with Israeli PM Ariel Sharon on Roadmap. Egyptian government vowed to continue recent mediation efforts between Israel and Palestinians; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also pushing to improve relations between Syria and U.S.
In surprise announcement, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said country would end pursuit of WMD and allow unconditional inspections. Declaration followed months of secret negotiations with U.S. and Britain and visits by American and British inspectors to Libyan sites. Nuclear program reportedly more developed than previously thought; includes advanced uranium enrichment capabilities. Move paves way for possible lifting of U.S. sanctions, in place for almost two decades.
Opposition leader Mohamed Haidalla convicted of treason charges, but given 5 year suspended sentence and fine, and released from jail.
On visit to Rabat, U.S. Sec. State Powell praised Morocco for anti-terror cooperation but voiced concerns over policies adopted at expense of human rights.
Alvaro de Soto, UN Secretary- General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara, and UNHCR officials visited Algeria and Morocco for talks on new confidence building measures aimed at helping Western Sahara’s refugees living in desert camps in Algeria. This followed successful meeting in Geneva earlier in month with Frent POLISARIO officials.