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
All conflict related developments around the world in December 2004 were overshadowed by the devastating natural disaster of the 26 December Indian Ocean tsunami, with a death toll now estimated at over 150,000. The longer term implications of the tragedy for conflicts in the countries most severely hit are as yet unclear. In Indonesia's Aceh, much will depend on how the relief and reconstruction effort is handled: if done well, the central government stands to win major new support, but if poor coordination continues, or serious corruption takes place, the GAM independence movement will be the major beneficiary. In Sri Lanka, despite some reported attempts by the LTTE to politicise aid delivery, early signs are of cooperation between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, and a return to open conflict is seen as unthinkable in the immediately foreseeable future.
Elsewhere, conflict situations deteriorated in six countries in December 2004 according to January's CrisisWatch bulletin. Violence surged in Iraq as insurgents stepped up their efforts to derail the 30 January elections, and fighting between Maoists and the military escalated across Nepal with the approach of a 13 January government deadline for the Maoists to agree to peace talks. The situations in Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe also worsened in December.
In Sudan, the long-awaited signing on 31 December in Naivasha of a final peace accord between the government and Southern SPLA rebels was offset by deteriorating security in Darfur.
Three conflict situations showed improvement in December. Victor Yushchenko's victory in the 26 December re-run of Ukraine's presidential election brought a so-far peaceful conclusion to the month-long political crisis, though challenges remain ahead. Newly elected Afghan president Hamid Karzai appointed a new cabinet, in which the influence of warlords was significantly reduced. And Russia brokered an agreement to end the standoff in the Abkhazia region of Georgia over a disputed presidential election.
For January 2005, CrisisWatch identifies Kosovo as a Conflict Risk Alert, or situation at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month; no new Conflict Resolution Opportunities are identified for January.
Constitutional reform referendum planned for 22 December delayed by electoral commission 14 December citing need for prior publication of register; new date expected January. Reports circulated that President Ndayizeye seeks to alter mode of presidential election and his own eligibility to stand. Demobilisation and reintegration of up to 55,000 former fighters began Muramyva province under UN supervision; Security Council extended UN mission to June 2005. Electoral registration completed, though some without identity cards unable to register. Some 27,000 IDPs began return to Bujumbura Rural province, former stronghold of FNL Hutu rebels. Army attacked FNL based Uvira, DR Congo, 15 December; 3 rebels and 1 soldier killed in clash Bujumbura suburb 28 December.
Constitution won 90% support in referendum 5 December. Presidential and parliamentary elections postponed to 13 February. Fifteen candidates applied to contest presidency, including incumbent, president Bozize; 10, including former president Patasse, disqualified 31 December by constitutional court.
UNHCR warned eastern Chad potentially unable to deal with large influx of Sudanese refugees; some 200,000 already in Chad.
In face of UN and African Union condemnation, Rwanda withdrew invasion threat 20 December; Rwanda claims DR Congo and UN forces (MONUC) unable or unwilling to disarm Rwandan
Threat to invade DR Congo withdrawn 20 December, but DRC alleged Rwandan military incursions had taken place over previous week and blamed Rwanda and proxies for violence eastern DRC. Oft-postponed opening of 8,000 Rwandan traditional courts to try cases from 1994 genocide promised for 15 January.
Eritrea rebuffed Ethiopia’s acceptance “in principle” of 2002 Badme ruling, demanding full implementation; Ethiopia warned Eritrea against taking “military steps”. Ethiopian PM Meles issued 5-point plan, calling for talks while maintaining ruling “illegal and unjust”; UN Security Council called for normalisation. UN Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea announced 550-man reduction in size.
Nairobi-based transitional parliament asserted itself, passing no-confidence motion in government 11 December, claiming ministerial appointments unbalanced. Interim president re-appointed PM Gedi 2 days later; parliament accepted reappointment 23 December. Land disputes in central Somalia killed 100. Attempt to dock first ship since 1995 in Mogadishu prevented by mortar fire. 26 December tsunami killed over 100, hitting President Yusuf’s home Puntland region hard; government attempted to establish credentials through aid coordination.
Final peace agreement ending 20-year civil war between government and southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army rebels signed Naivasha 31 December. But Darfur situation continued to slide: UN Secretary-General said international approach “not working”; U.S. President Bush signed law enabling sanctions. On-off peace talks Abuja ended with agreement to reconvene January 2005 and temporary ceasefire. However, fighting continued, cutting off humanitarian supplies from civilian population. Fighting around Nyala and Labado, south Darfur, forced suspension of relief, while Save the Children suspended operations after 2 separate incidents killed 3 aid workers. Previously unknown rebel group based neighbouring Kordofan state launched 18 December attack on oil installation, citing marginalisation from peace process. Same group claimed responsibility for attack on Gbubeish 27 December; World Food Programme suspended relief convoys to 260,000 as result. Head of African Union (AU) monitoring mission claimed weapons’ inflow made situation “time bomb”; only 1 third of AU mission deployed.
Negotiations between government envoy Betty Bigombe and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) suspended 1 January and limited government ceasefire ended. Interior Minister Ruganda and LRA Brigadier Sam Kolo both had expressed confidence in wider ceasefire agreement; rebels unable to sign due to internal disagreements. LRA rebels subsequently blamed for 1 January attack on army truck near Gulu. Violence continued through month outside ceasefire zone: 30 LRA rebels killed in separate clashes Goma Hills and Kitgum; LRA ambushes killed several in Pader district while church leaders claimed LRA killed 7 civilians southern Sudan 10 December. Moves to allow President Museveni to renege on 2001 promise to stand down 2006 continued with proposals for constitutional reform.
UNHCR announced 50,000 refugees repatriated in 2004, short of 90,000 objective. Human Rights Watch claimed large-scale human rights abuse Cabinda province following defeat of separatist insurgency.
Night of long knives” as information minister removed from central Zanu-PF party body by President Mugabe; move followed opposition from faction allied to Emerson Mnangagwa to Mugabe’s nomination of Joyce Mujuru for vice-president. Zanu-PF moved to ensure March 2005 election victory: restrictive NGO law passed and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) excluded from advertising in state media; breach of regional SADC electoral guidelines. State-appointed electoral commission shifted constituency boundaries to Zanu-PF benefit; MDC said it would announce whether would contest March elections in January.
South African president Mbeki led African Union-backed mediation after November violence, meeting President Gbagbo and Forces Nouvelles leader Soro. Security Council delayed imposing targeted sanctions until 10 January to give time for mediation and meeting of AU Peace and Security Council. Parliament passed citizenship laws 17 December, enfranchising 700,000 – key rebel demand. But Gbagbo insisted that change of constitution Article 35 concerning presidential eligibility be put to referendum; presidential elections planned for October 2005. Improved security encouraged return of refugees from Liberia. But UN force commanders called for more robust mandate and extra 1,000 troops. French troops, also operating under UN mandate, accepted responsibility for November deaths of 20 protesters; Gbagbo supporters questioned figure and French impartiality. Gbagbo called on Security Council to place sanctions on neighbouring countries accused of supporting rebels 28 December. Ethnic violence involving Burkinabe immigrants near Gagnoa killed 11.
President Lansana Conté named loyalist minister Diallo as PM, after 8 months without filling position. Students protesting living conditions clashed with riot police Conakry 13 December; university remains closed. Police shot 1 rioter dead 29 December in Fria, north of Conakry.
Following regional and international consultations new armed forces chief of staff, General Tagme Na Waie, ordered readmission of 65 senior officers purged over last 5 years. Move to provide more ethnic and political balance in army’s upper ranks, recently dominated by Balanta ethnic group.
Electoral reform bill passed 15 December opening way for October 2005 elections. Second tranche demobilisation payments completed same day. However, UN Security Council renewed sanctions 21 December citing fears timber and diamonds could be used to destabilise country.
Renewed violence in Rivers state. Kula community villagers, accusing oil companies Shell and Chevron-Texaco of exploiting resources without sharing wealth, occupied 3 facilities for 3 days, preventing flow of 90,000 barrels per day. Shell in dispute with federal parliament, which has demanded $1.5b pay-out to Ijaw community of Bayelsa state to compensate for oil spills. Newly reinstated governor of Plateau region accused of corruption; supporters claimed vendetta from President Obasanjo.
Proposed 2005 budget included several anti-corruption measures, shifting focus from reconstruction to development. Ten sentenced to death, 4 acquitted after 8-month trial on charges of attempting January 2003 coup; former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council leader Johnny Paul Koroma believed abroad. No progress in Yenga dispute with Guinea.
Government announced new rules enshrining religious belief as basic human right.
Rhetoric continued as progress on nuclear talks remained stalled. Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi pledged to delay sanctions to give Pyongyang more time to respond to demands for truth on abduction issue. North Korea warned if sanctions imposed, would hit back with “effective physical response”. No progress on 6-party talks after North Korea reacted to western media reports on possible regime weakness, calling U.S. “extremely disgusting and hateful”.
In surprise blow to President Chen Shui- bian’s pro-independence policies, opposition Nationalist party and allies won legislative majority in 11 December elections. Beijing reacted cautiously, saying result proved most Taiwanese wanted peace with mainland: later said it intends to pass law banning secession, possibly providing legal basis for military attack should Taiwan declare independence.
Newly-elected president Hamid Karzai appointed new cabinet, with influence of warlords significantly reduced. Karzai sworn in as Afghanistan’s first popularly elected president 7 December - promised peace and end to economy’s dependence on narcotics. New cabinet confirmed 24 December: Pashtun technocrats in key security and financial posts; Northern Alliance influence greatly reduced. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan announced successful disarmament of 20,000 militia fighters under campaign led by Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Program. Violence continued in southern and eastern provinces: 4 police killed in Kandahar drive-by shooting by suspected Taliban 20 December, days after roadside bomb killed 4 policemen in southern Khost province.
Opposition supporters in mass demonstration 11 December against ruling BNP-Jaamat coalition. More demonstrations expected in run-up to 13th SAARC summit to be held in Dhaka 9 January. NGO report described condition of nearly 300,000 Biharis living in 66 Bangladeshi camps as “humanitarian nightmare”. Approx. 300 Biharis staged hunger strike Dhaka 22 December to protest conditions. Rapid Action Battalion blamed for 6 more deaths in their custody bringing death toll to 80 since operations started in April.
Separatist groups United Liberation Front of Asam (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) blamed for co-ordinated 14 December grenade attacks in northeastern Assam that killed 4, wounded 85. ULFA turned down PM Manmohan Singh’s offer of dialogue; NDFB agreed to ceasefire with Assam government. Ceasefire between southern Andhra Pradesh state and leftist People’s War Group (PWG) expired 16 December, day after landmine blast wounded 4 policemen. Southeast coast, Andaman and Nicobar islands devastated by 26 December tsunami.
Indian and Pakistani officials met Islamabad 14-15 December to discuss confidence building measures related to nuclear and conventional arms - no formal agreement reached to notify each other of missile tests (practice currently followed informally). Foreign secretaries met 27-28 December with no sign of progress over Kashmir. Pakistan test-fired medium- range surface-to-surface “Hatf-IV Shaheen-I” missile 8 December. India tested surface-to-surface version of its supersonic “Brahmos” missile 21 December. Talks 7-8 December on emotive issue of bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad failed to reach agreement - discussions to continue. Spate of violence in run-up to talks left over 20 dead.
Parliamentary elections planned for 31 December postponed until 22 January after 26 December tsunami caused widespread devastation. Free and fair elections doubted by Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party due to intimidation and refusal to register political parties by Gayoom government. EU diplomats in Maldives called upon government 13 December to ensure democratic elections. Treason charges against 4 prominent opponents of Gayoom dropped in post-tsunami conciliatory gesture.
Serious escalation in violence ahead of government’s 13 January deadline for Maoists to agree to peace talks. At least 100 killed as fighting intensified in eastern and western districts, while bomb attacks targeted government offices in Kathmandu. Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal (a.k.a. Prachanda) vowed to sabotage elections if government goes ahead without meeting Maoist demands for talks leading to constituent assembly. Two-day strike called by Maoist Newa National Liberation Front 20-21 December followed by blockade of Kathmandu valley and parts of east and west Nepal. Blockades lifted 29 December. King Gyanendra’s visit to Delhi postponed indefinitely at last minute due to death of former Indian PM P.V. Narasimha Rao. Visits to Nepal by EU Troika and UN working group and Kofi Annan statement of 24 December underlined growing international concern at deteriorating situation.
Quetta blast 10 December killed 10; claimed by Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) as targeting army personnel as warning to government against construction of Gwadar port and new military bases. President Pervez Musharraf announced intention to remain as army chief 18 December, reneging on January 2004 deal with Islamist coalition (MMA) to retire by 31 December. Asif Ali Zardari, husband of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, briefly re-arrested, ostensibly for failing to appear at court hearing, but in fact prevented Islamabad party rally. Violence continued in South Waziristan as local Pashtun politician shot dead 29 December.
Devastating 26 December tsunami killed estimated 30,000, mainly in disputed north and east. Longer term implications for conflict as yet unclear, but despite some reported attempts by LTTE to politicise aid delivery, early signs are of cooperation between government and LTTE, and return to open conflict seen as unthinkable in immediately foreseeable future. Pre-tsunami, Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim pessimistic after meeting head of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam political wing 15 December. Hardline Sinhala Marxist JVP party and coalition partner of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government main obstacle to talks with Tamil rebels on permanently ending civil war. Grenade attack at Colombo concert 12 December killed 2; LTTE denied responsibility.
Devastating impact of 26 December earthquake and tsunami left as many as 100,000 dead, most in Aceh: much of conflict-wracked province in ruins, including local government structures. Free Aceh Movement (GAM) declared unilateral ceasefire, but longer term impact of disaster as yet unclear, with much depending on how relief and reconstruction effort handled: if well, central government stands to win major new support, but if poor coordination continues, or serious corruption takes place, GAM independence movement will be major beneficiary. Restrictions on access by international aid agencies and foreign media lifted. Vice-President Jusuf Kalla elected head of Golkar, auguring better relations between executive and legislative branches. Corruption Eradication Commission arrested Aceh governor Abdullah Puteh 7 December, pending trial for alleged involvement in 2002 graft case. Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono announced government to take over military business enterprises with assets worth U.S.$550,000 or more. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government announced multi-agency intelligence teams to be set up throughout Indonesia to boost security. Five injured in 12 December attacks on 2 churches in Palu, Central Sulawesi province.
National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s conditions of house arrest reportedly deteriorated, leading UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to issue statement of concern. Tsunami caused by 26 December Indian Ocean earthquake reportedly killed at least 90.
Powerful bomb exploded 12 December in General Santos city market southern Mindanao region, killing 14, injuring 70. No claim of responsibility. Government and New People’s Army (NPA) announced ceasefires for Christmas celebration from 16 December to 5 January. Soldiers and NPA rebels clashed in Negros Occidental province in central Visayas region 20 December; 1 rebel and 1 soldier killed. Moro Islamic Liberation Front reportedly agreed to resume peace talks with government in February after talks ended in Malaysia 22 December.
Joint Indonesian/Timor-Leste Commission on Truth and Friendship unveiled by foreign ministers 21 December. Likely to supersede UN plans for own enquiry.
In major humanitarian catastrophe, at least 5,000 killed by 26 December tsunami along western coast, but unlikely to have effect on unrest in south. Violence continued in south despite peace stunt by government which saw air-drop of millions of paper doves. Independent human rights commission into 25 October Tak Bai deaths absolved security forces of wrongdoing but accused army commanders of negligence. Four Muslim private Islamic school teachers arrested on charges of treason, inflaming tensions. Almost daily shooting, arson and bombings; security forces fear escalation of violence as insurgency anniversary (4 January) approaches: 2,000 additional police deployed from 1 January. General election scheduled for 6 February.
Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia agreed 28 December on construction of $1.2bn oil pipeline to pass through Balkan peninsula.
Political crisis as Bosnian Serb PM Dragan Mikerevic resigned 17 December, followed by foreign and justice ministers, after High Rep. Paddy Ashdown sacked 9 officials to punish Bosnia’s Serb Republic for failing to arrest war crimes suspects. EUFOR took over from NATO 2 December in EU’s largest military operation to date.
Alliance for the Future of Kosovo leader Ramush Haradinaj appointed prime minister 7 December under cloud of possible ICTY war crimes indictment. Belgrade furious, international community uneasy with appointment, though Haradinaj’s government made confident, popular start. Indictment would likely spark dangerous political crisis, and insurgency from Haradinaj’s native west Kosovo. Further economic responsibilities to be transferred to Kosovo institutions, as local media increasingly focused on rising poverty, and Kosovo Electricity Corporation (KEK) cut power to many (mostly Albanian) bill-defaulting villages. Serbian government refused to deal with Haradinaj or engage with decentralisation on UNMIK’s terms. Belgrade officials and media displayed agenda of provocation: made troop redeployments towards Albanian-inhabited areas of southern Serbia abutting Kosovo; wrongly portrayed KEK power cuts to non-bill-paying Serb villages as ethnic discrimination; backed threats to repeat highway-blocking protests that had attracted Albanian violence in March.
Social Democrat leader Vlado Buckovski formally elected prime minister 17 December. Armed Albanian group left Skopje village of Kondovo 17 December after Democratic Party of Albanians and bitter opponents Democratic Union for Integration party reportedly negotiated end to standoff. Incident in Tetovo 24 December reportedly between ‘Tigers’ rapid reaction force and same armed group from Kondovo left 1 dead.
U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper blamed PM Vojislav Kostunica for “zero cooperation” with ICTY. President Tadic’s call for early parliamentary elections criticised by other parliamentary parties. Heightened tensions with international community over High Rep. Paddy Ashdown’s moves against Bosnia’s Serb Republic and Kosovo Serb electricity cut-off. Army moved combat units south and transferred ground forces HQ unit from Belgrade to Nis. Hard-line Army Chief of Staff Branko Krga replaced by Dragan Paskas. Poll carried out by Montenegrin NGO indicated 73% of voters would vote in independence referendum, 2 thirds of them in favour. World Bank approved new 3-year arrangement for Serbia-Montenegro, worth $550m while International Monetary Fund approved 9th $95m instalment of current arrangement for bolstering hard currency reserves and balance of payments.
Former president Ter-Petrosian attempting apparent political comeback: plunged forcefully into Armenian politics since 25 November press conference. In 9 December meeting of his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), Ter- Petrosian called for Western-oriented foreign policy and argued Armenia had suffered for not taking softer line on Nagorno-Karabakh. Country’s military spending to increase by 23% based on 2005 budget.
International observers said 17 December municipal elections did not conform to democratic standards. Elections boycotted by 3 largest opposition parties. 2005 budget passed with 33% increase in defence spending.
Election crisis in Abkhazia defused after Russia brokered deal between rival presidential candidates Sergei Bagapsh and Raul Khajimba, ending 2-month standoff. Crisis resolved hours before Bagapsh’s planned inauguration 6 December, as candidates signed agreement “freezing” disputed 3 October election results and promising to participate in new elections as single team, with Bagapsh running for president and Khajimba vice-president. But situation in South Ossetian conflict zone remained fragile; neither side fulfilled demilitarisation pledges made in November. Relations with Azerbaijan deteriorated after Azeri resident of Georgia’s Kvemo Kartli region, which is heavily populated by Azeris, was killed in land dispute. President Saakashvili announced second cabinet reshuffle in 6 months; 2005 budget approved with 38% increase in defense spending.
Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met twice early December, but no significant progress reported.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said would welcome German and EU involvement in helping resolve Chechnya conflict.
OSCE, Russia and Ukraine expressed concern over growing tension between Chisinau and Tiraspol after 20 December fire in Bendery-Tighina in building housing Russian peacekeepers and Moldovan police; sides blamed each other. Members of Transdniestrian opposition under increasing pressure: attempt to recall Transdniestrian opposition MP Alexander Radchenko by popular vote in his constituency failed 19 December, but due to alleged “irregularities” will be repeated 9 January; meanwhile, home of another Transdniestrian opposition leader, Oleg Horjan, hit with arson attack 21 December. OSCE meeting Sofia 6-7 December concluded without agreement on President Voronin’s Declaration on Stability and Security for Moldova.
Victory of opposition candidate Victor Yushchenko in 26 December repeat of flawed November presidential election brought peaceful conclusion to month- long political crisis, though challenges remain ahead. Official results gave Yushchenko 52% of vote, with former PM Victor Yanukovich receiving 44%. International observers declared vote considerably more free and fair than previous poll. Yanukovich filed complaints with election commission and Supreme Court alleging election-day violations, but claims dismissed; later resigned as PM, said would appeal Supreme Court decision despite having little hope of success.
ETA claimed responsibility for small explosions Madrid and 7 other cities early December. Government officials said bombings sign of desperation and ETA in-fighting. Members of Basque parliament voted 20 December in favour of Ibarretxe Plan for greater autonomy.
Turkey must recognise Cyprus by bringing it into customs union before October 2005 if EU-Turkey accession talks to proceed. Greek Cypriot foreign minister suggested willingness to negotiate reunification with Turkish Cyprus 22 December, on basis of earlier version of plan put to failed referendum April 2004.
British-Irish government peace proposals released 8 December; strong consensus between Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein on previously contentious issues. But Sinn Fein refusal to accept DUP demands for photographic proof of IRA decommissioning forestalled clinching deal to restore devolution, suspended since October 2002.
Agreed 17 December to open EU membership negotiations 3 October 2005; accession talks expected to last up to 15 years, with no guarantee of entry. Clashes between security forces and rebels southeast Turkey left 3 dead: Kurdish rebel killed by security forces 11 December Hatay province, while 2 guerrillas belonging to Maoist Communist Party killed 10 December Tunceli province.
Officials launched investigation into 28 November blasts outside ruling Otan party headquarters in Almaty, which injured 2. Police initially blamed “hooligans”. Government demanded George Soros-funded Open Society Institute (OSI) pay back-taxes and fines worth $600,000; OSI said charges politically motivated.
President Akaev criticised events in Ukraine and showed concern they could occur in Kyrgyzstan; government proposed draft law limiting right to protest. Opposition groups, inspired by Ukraine opposition, began seeking ways to unite ahead of 2005 elections.
Opposition leader Mamadruzi Iskandarov, head of Democratic Party of Tajikistan and former chief of state gas company, arrested in Moscow 9 December on extradition warrant. Tajik prosecutor said charges include corruption, murder and terrorism. Opposition claimed move intimidation tactic ahead of February parliamentary elections.
Government declared “triumph of democracy” following 19 December parliamentary elections, despite absence of opposition candidates. Moscow-based opposition cited low turnout as sign of discontent with regime. UN General Assembly adopted resolution condemning human rights situation. Turkmen ambassador in Brussels arrested on return to Ashgabat.
Parliamentary elections held in tense atmosphere 26 December. No opposition candidates permitted to stand. Elections took place against backdrop of increasing number of protests over economic situation after major November disturbances, and confrontations between police and protestors over power cuts in some parts of country.
Political tension over hydrocarbons law and Constituent Assembly continued. Armed forces reaffirmed support for President Carlos Mesa to protect natural gas. Preliminary municipal elections results showed Movimiento al Socialismo party obtained most mayoral posts, followed by Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario. Attorney General Gareca announced plan to request extradition of former President Sanchez de Lozada from U.S.
Progress in demobilisation of paramilitaries continued: 1,400 fighters of Catatumbo Bloc handed in arms 10 December in largest ever demobilisation; further 550 of Calima Bloc disarmed 18 December. Reintegration strategy still lacking. President Uribe said 16 December would not extradite AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso if he remains in talks with government and stops illegal activities. FARC leader Ricardo Palmera (a.k.a. Simon Trinidad) extradited to U.S. after FARC failed to release 63 hostages before 30 December deadline. FARC rebels reportedly killed at least 17 in northeast Arauca province on New Year’s Eve in retaliation for cooperating with paramilitaries.
Congress backed President Gutierrez’s dismissal of entire 31-member Supreme Court. Move strongly criticised as unconstitutional and interfering with separation of powers. Referendum on appointment of judges and other questions to be held in first half of 2005.
Army announced troop increase and helicopter patrols of Colombian border. Police clashed with rioting street vendors in Caracas 8 December, leaving 42 injured in worst street violence for months. President Chavez appointed 17 new magistrates to Supreme Court – opposition accused government of attempting to control judiciary. New TV/radio law threatened press freedoms, restricting displays of violence over airwaves.
UN peacekeeping force, approaching full strength, began more assertive campaign to quell continuing political and criminal violence. Following 2-day stand-off with Haitian ex-soldiers occupying ousted President Aristide’s home, UN forces stormed compound 17 December; soldiers agreed to leave unarmed, in their first major political blunder since beginning of armed uprising in February. Peacekeepers fought way into Port-au-Prince slum 14 December in attempt to end pro- and anti-Aristide gang war and establish permanent presence. Operation successful, though several injured and some reportedly killed; denied by UN.
President Alejandro Toledo dismissed commanders of army and air force, raising questions about irregular promotions within armed forces. President has been criticised for allowing too much decision-making autonomy to armed forces high command. State of emergency declared in southern town of Andahuaylas as armed group led by radical former soldier stormed police station, holding 10 officers hostage.
Optimism surrounding peace process highest in years, but tempered by absence of significant progress on ground, political fragility ahead of 9 January Palestinian presidential elections and renewed violence in Gaza Strip. UK PM Tony Blair, in visit to region, announced will host conference on Palestinian reform February/March 2005 - international donors declared willingness to significantly increase funding to Palestinian Authority. But conference will not address peace process. Israel said will not attend. PLO Chairman and likely next Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas signalled moderate stance with explicit condemnation of armed uprising; meanwhile, Israeli PM Sharon and his Gaza pullout plan received major boost with deal to form coalition government of Sharon’s Likud party and opposition Labour party. Abbas repaired strained Palestinian-Arab relations in visits to Syria, Lebanon and Kuwait; Israeli-Egyptian relations also thawed noticeably. Violence in Gaza continued: Israeli incursions into Khan Younis refugee camp following rocket attacks left dozens of Palestinians dead. Palestinians killed 5 Israeli soldiers in Gaza checkpoint bombing 12 December.
Opposition groups from across religious and political spectrum called for end to Syrian interference in country’s domestic affairs, forming united front for first time since civil war began 1975. Syria redeployed troops from northern town Batrun and Beirut’s suburbs and airport to Bekaa valley, closer to Syrian-Lebanese border. Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas and PM Ahmed Qurei made 8 December visit, first by senior Palestinian officials to Lebanon since 1982 Israeli invasion drove PLO out of country.
Relations with U.S. deteriorated as President Bush denounced alleged Syrian support for insurgency in Iraq and threatened new sanctions. In second troop redeployment since September UN resolution, Syria withdrew forces from northern town Batrun and Beirut’s southern suburbs and international airport to Bekaa valley, closer to Syrian-Lebanese border. Car bomb, wounding 3, exploded Damascus 14 December; alleged Hamas member Mesbah Abu Hweileh narrowly escaped blast. Syria blamed Mossad; denied by Israel.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said 14 December Iran would accept U.S. involvement in nuclear talks provided Washington treated it as equal partner. Conciliatory comments came day after EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) opened new talks with Iran aimed at reaching long-term agreement on Tehran’s nuclear activities.
Violence surged toward end December as January elections drew nearer. Suicide bomber killed 22, including 18 Americans, in 21 December attack on U.S. army base Mosul. Two days earlier, twin suicide attacks in holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala killed 60, while in Baghdad 3 Iraqi election workers dragged from car and executed in broad daylight. Campaigning for 30 January elections officially began 15 December: 22 Shiite political parties announced broad-based coalition backed by leading cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Coalition to run 228 candidates under banner of United Iraqi Alliance. Predicting Sunni Arab absence from polls, Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from elections process, joining other Sunni Arab parties. French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot freed after 4 months in captivity. 1,018 Coalition soldiers, including 933 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
Gunmen stormed U.S. consulate Jeddah 6 December, killing 5 non-U.S. staff and 4 of 5 attackers; al- Qaeda off-shoot claimed responsibility. Twin suicide bombings 29 December targeted interior ministry and special forces base, leaving 5 bombers dead; government said one of country’s most wanted men, Abdullah Saud al-Sebaie, killed in attacks. Security crackdown 16 December thwarted anti- monarchy protests planned in main cities after exiled dissident Saad al-Faqih called for demonstrations. UN Security Council placed al-Faqih on list of those thought linked to al-Qaeda after requests from Saudi Arabia, U.S. and UK.
At least 25 killed in inter-tribal fighting Al-Jawf province eastern Yemen 2-3 December. One killed in further clash Zamar province southern Yemen 15 December.
Human rights commission appointed as part of reconciliation process said security services abducted 5,200 civilians 1992-2000. Police chief Tounsi said 300-500 militants remained committed to overthrow of regime; 75 were under sentence of death or prison in absentia. Man and 2 daughters killed by Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat at Khraissia, near Algiers, 28 December. Rioters clashed with police over housing shortages near Oran; city hall attacked in Bou Saada. Government promised $50bn development plan.
Relations with Israel continued to improve with possible restoration of full diplomatic ties. Egypt, Israel and U.S. signed trade pact 14 December sparking riots in Cairo. Israel released 170 Palestinian prisoners 19 December in goodwill gesture; this followed exchange of alleged Israeli spy for 6 Egyptians held in Israel. In rare defiance of ban, 500 protested against possible fifth 6-year term for President Mubarak after October 2005 presidential referendum. Man killed in Christian-Muslim clashes in southern Egypt.
Ringleader of series of coup plots, Major Salih Walad Hananna, pleaded guilty in Mauritania’s largest-ever trial (191 suspects); charge carries death penalty. Police arrested 5 on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks against Paris-Dakar rally participants.
Exiled Saharawi officials claimed hundreds took part in demonstrations against Moroccan rule Dakhla, Western Sahara’s second largest city. Similar recent action in El Aaiun, S’mara and Assa referred to as “Intifada”; appeared limited in scope and timed to coincide with World Human Rights Day and UN debate.