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
Longstanding political divisions within South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the military (SPLA) escalated into factional fighting between army units that has brought the country to the brink of civil war (see Crisis Group’s recent statement and open letter to the UN Secretary-General). Violence rapidly spread beyond the capital, with armed groups targeting civilians based on their ethnicity; reports of over 1,000 dead are likely to be underestimates. Over 75,000 civilians are sheltering in UN compounds and the UN Security Council has approved the deployment of 5,500 additional troops. Significant parts of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states are under the control of armed groups not loyal to the government – Unity State oilfields have been shut down as a result, though Upper Nile’s fields remain operational. The two major armed factions, under pressure from the regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), began talks on 2 January, but clashes are ongoing and the situation remains extremely volatile.
Democratic Republic of CongoSouth SudanChina/JapanKorean PeninsulaThailandRussia/North CaucasusLebanonYemenEgypt
Central African RepublicSouth SudanBangladeshThailand
Sectarian violence escalated in Central African Republic as anti-balaka groups launched a number of offensives against ex-Seleka in Bangui and the north east (see our recent commentary). CAR risks becoming ungovernable – despite the deployment of French and regional troops, religious killings and retaliations continue to rise and there have been reports of massacres, including the discovery of 30 bodies near a military camp in Bangui. President Djotodia’s efforts to restore calm have thus far gone unheeded. Crisis Group identifies a conflict risk for CAR (see our recent report on the Central African Republic).
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo supporters of pastor Gideon Mukungubila, a former presidential hopeful, attacked state and military buildings in Kinshasa with the purported aim of ousting President Kabila. The attempted coup was rapidly quashed by security forces, with over 40 attackers reportedly killed and scores arrested. In the east, the Congolese government, M23 rebels and the Ugandan government reached a peace agreement that includes limited amnesties for M23 fighters. Focus has now turned to other armed groups operating in the region, including the ADF-NALU, a Ugandan group believed responsible for a number of attacks in North Kivu throughout December.
In Thailand the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led by former Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Thaugsbhan, ramped up its protests in an effort to overthrow the government and oust the “Thaksin [Shinawatra] regime”. The PDRC is demanding that the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, step down to allow for an appointed council to reform an electoral system it says is corrupted by populist policies and vote buying. Yingluck dissolved parliament and elections are scheduled for 2 February, but the Election Commission has urged a delay and the PDRC is threatening to block the polls and seize Bangkok unless their demands are met. The Democrat Party will boycott the election and has thrown its support behind the protest movement.
Bangladesh’s political crisis continues to intensify as the country heads for a general election on 5 January which the main opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) has vowed to boycott. Political violence has brought the country to a virtual standstill as the BNP has enforced blockades and strikes, demanding the ruling Awami League stand down and form a neutral caretaker government to supervise the polls. More than 100 people have died in political violence since the BNP announced its boycott on 2 December. The boycott, which is supported by other parties, could see over half of parliamentary seats going uncontested – raising the prospect of polls which are widely viewed as illegitimate and setting the scene for further political violence and deadlock.
Relations between China and Japan, already severely strained, sunk further after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where several war criminals are enshrined. His visit drew a swift rebuke from China, whose foreign minister, Wang Yi, said Abe’s action created a new and major political barrier to Sino-Japanese ties. Earlier in the month Japan adopted a new National Security Strategy and increased military spending over the next five years, citing as justification its concerns over China.
A high-level political purge in North Korea prompted widespread international concern over political stability there, after Kim Jong-un’s uncle by marriage and political guardian Chang Sŏng-t’aek was stripped of his positions of power and executed on 12 December. Meanwhile Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine has killed any immediate prospect of improvement in bilateral ties between South Korea and Japan – scuppering U.S. efforts to strengthen trilateral security cooperation to counter perceptions of North Korea’s threat to regional security. (See our latest report).
In Lebanon a car bomb in downtown Beirut on 27 December killed Mohammad Chatah, former finance minister and a senior figure in the March 14 alliance. Chatah, a high-profile political moderate, was strongly critical of the Syrian regime and Hizbollah. The March 14 alliance and others accused the Syrian government and Hizbollah of being responsible for the attack, which left seven others dead and scores wounded; both denied the claims. The assassination raises fears of further security deterioration as the March 14 alliance renewed its calls to the president and prime minister-designate to form a non-partisan government without prior agreement of political parties. Hizbollah for its part warned against such a de facto government describing it as a “threat to Lebanon”.
Security in Yemen rapidly deteriorated after armed forces killed Saad bin Habrih, a prominent Hadrami sheikh, at a military checkpoint in early December. In response, the Hadrami tribes, supported by southern separatist movement Hiraak, called for security responsibilities in Hadramout to be transferred to them, and for those responsible for the sheikh’s death to be handed over. The killing further prompted a violent response in the South, as protesters attempted to seize several cities and clashed with the armed forces. On 23 December several political parties signed an agreement granting a measure of autonomy to the South, although there is still no agreement on the number of federal regions. The capital was also struck by violence, as al-Qaeda attacked a defence ministry complex in Sanaa killing over 50 and injuring hundreds.
Egypt’s interim government formally labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation – despite lack of evidence of its involvement in a series of recent bomb attacks, the ostensible justification for this decision. The move, which effectively rules out the possibility of reconciliation with the group, the largest and most effective party in the country, significantly complicates Egypt’s political scene and could poison political life for some time to come (see our latest report).
Concerns over security in southern Russia and the North Caucasus ahead of the upcoming Sochi Olympics increased after two suicide bomb attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd in late December. Islamist militants from the North Caucasus are widely suspected of being responsible for the bombings, in which at least 31 people were killed. (See our recent commentary and latest report).
National Assembly held consultations with civil society and political parties 19-20 Dec to discuss constitutional review. Protest against constitutional amendment planned 9 Dec cancelled after 5 Dec arrest of prominent FRODEBU politician Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira on charges of attempted corruption; opposition denounced arrest as politically motivated. National Assembly 28 Dec passed controversial draft law on national commission on land and properties.
Nigerian Islamist Sect Boko Haram (BH) 14 Dec attacked Kousseri town, leaving 2 dead; far-north governor imposed curfew in border areas, especially Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga, Logone and Chari subdistricts. Armed groups from CAR 5 Dec perpetrated separate attacks in Ondiki and Bombe-Bakary, injuring 3 Rapid Intervention Battalion soldiers. Govt 18 Dec deployed troops to reinforce MISCA in CAR. Nigerian military 20 Dec confirmed army barracks attacked by BH in Bama, Borno came from cells located across border in Cameroon. French priest Georges Vandenbeusch abducted Nov by BH freed 31 Dec.
Scores killed in cycle of religious killings and retaliations in Bangui: “anti-balaka” militias 5 Dec attacked ex-Seleka; Amnesty International reported over 1,000 killed in ensuing sectarian clashes. UNSC 5 Dec passed resolution authorising French military intervention as violence continued to escalate; 1,600 French troops deployed. Violence continued throughout country: 38 killed, 9,000 displaced by anti-balaka offensive in Bozoum, NW; French soldiers deployed. 30 bodies found 26 Dec close to military camp in Bangui. Interim President Djotodia reportedly offered anti-balaka role in govt 14 Dec in attempt to contain fighting; several anti-balaka elements expressed desire to overthrow Djotodia, oust Seleka. French forces focused on disarmament; 2 French soldiers killed early Dec. EU FMs 16 Dec stated intent to explore possibility of EU civilian or military mission; France urged EU partners contributing logistics aid to increase support, deploy troops. MISCA peacekeeping mission officially transferred from ECCAS to AU 19 Dec; 850 additional Burundian troops deployed. U.S. President Obama 10 Dec authorised use of up to $100mn to support MISCA; U.S. Ambassador to UN Samantha Power 19 Dec visited Bangui. Political tensions increased as Djotodia fired security, finance and livestock ministers without consulting with PM Tiangaye, violating constitutional charter.
Chadian and Burundian soldiers in CAR MISCA peacekeeping force exchanged fire 23 Dec; Deby’s nephew appointed new commander of Chadian contingent.
Security deteriorated with attempted coup by reported supporters of pastor Gideon Mukungubila 30 Dec: armed youths attacked state television, airport and military camp in Kinshasa; 46 attackers reportedly killed, 20 arrested by security forces. Congolese govt, M23 and Ugandan govt 12 Dec agreed to end fighting in East; agreement included amnesty for those not responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and demobilisation of M23 soldiers. UN report leaked mid-Dec said M23 continuing to recruit in Rwanda, accused Congolese army of rights abuses and profiting from illegal mining in eastern provinces. 21 killed mid-Dec in series of attacks on villages near Beni, N Kivu; perpetrators unknown but some reports suggest Allied Democratic Forces behind attacks; UN deployed additional forces to province. At least 40 killed 25 Dec in reported ADF-NALU attack on Kamango village, N Kivu.
Conviction of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire upheld on appeal, jail term increased from 8 to 15 years.
Water ministers from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt met 16 Dec, failed to reach agreement on disputed Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. FM Tedros Adhanom 5 Dec said over 100,000 Ethiopian citizens repatriated from Saudi Arabia since Nov following latter’s crackdown on migrant workers. 5 additional suspects in Nov suicide bomb plot, which Ethiopian authorities linked to Somali Al-Shabaab militants, arrested mid-Dec.
Inter-ethnic clashes in north increased: dozens killed, thousands displaced by clashes between Borana and Gabra communities in Marsabit. Parliament 5 Dec approved deployment of army to Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot and Samburu. Madrasa teacher believed to be former Al-Shabaab militant working with Kenyan security forces to fight terrorism beheaded 2 Dec in Malindi. Hundreds of Muslim youths from controversial Masjid Musa mosque, widely viewed as centre of Islamist radicalisation, invaded Sakina mosque in Majengo, forcefully evicted Imams, vowed to introduce jihad sermons at all mosques in Mombasa and act against those working with state agencies; police arrested 18. At least 4 killed 15 Dec in suspected Al-Shabaab grenade attack on bus in Nairobi.
PM Shirdon stepped down 2 Dec after losing confidence vote in parliament; President Sheikh appointed Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed new PM, approved by parliament 21 Dec. Al-Shabaab carried out series of attacks including on Mogadishu intelligence base 4 Dec; suicide bomb targeting Puntland troops 5 Dec killed at least 7 and wounded 37 including civilians in Boosaaso; gunmen killed 8, including 5 Kenyan policemen, in Liboi border town 10 Dec. MP Mohamed Warsame Faisal killed 6 Dec by car bomb. At least 10 killed 27 Dec in suspected Al-Shabaab bomb attack targeting govt forces in Mogadishu. Jubaland President Sheikh Ahmed Madobe 7 Dec appointed new cabinet as part of Nov reconciliation agreement; opponents not included. Heightened inter-clan fighting in Lower-, Middle-Shabelle and Hiiraan regions sparked by land disputes and representation struggle; 2 senior Jubaland officials killed 12 Dec in Kismayo, 10 killed 12 Dec in Al-Shabaab attack in Baido, Hiiraan. All 21 presidential opposition candidates 25 Dec approved Puntland President Farole’s appointed vetting committee which will determine outcome of 8 Jan Puntland presidential elections.
S Sudan on cusp of civil war after President Kiir accused former VP Riek Machar of attempted coup 17 Dec; UN reported over 1,000 killed, 180,000 displaced by escalating violence. Clashes began in Juba, rapidly spread to Unity and Jonglei states. Violence particularly heavy in Bor, Jonglei, where AU 23 Dec said “war crimes” had been committed: Machar claimed Ugandan jets backing Kiir’s forces bombed Bor 21 Dec; Bor has changed hands 3 times, currently under control of rebel forces “loyal” to Machar. Machar 19 Dec reportedly called on army to oust Kiir; rebel troops 22 Dec took Bentiu, capital of oil-rich Unity state. Regional FMs 20 Dec, mediators 21 Dec met with President Kiir to discuss crisis; Rebecca Garang, John Garang’s widow, met with Kiir 21 Dec but no breakthrough. Govt 27 Dec pledged to observe immediate ceasefire; Machar agreed to talks mediated by regional peace and security body Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); talks began 2 Jan in Ethiopia. UNSC 24 Dec increased peacekeeping force to 12,500, called for “immediate cessation of hostilities”, dialogue. UN evacuated all non-essential staff; 2 UNMISS peacekeepers killed in attack on Aboko UN base.
Reshuffled cabinet unveiled 8 Dec; new appointees primarily from army and security services, as well as President Bashir’s Ja’ali tribe; VP Ali Osman Mohammed Taha replaced by Major General Bakri Hassan Saleh from president’s old guard. AU-UN joint chief mediator and UNAMID head Mohammed Ibn Chambas held consultations in Addis Ababa 9-11 Dec; rebels reiterated need for joint approach on Darfur, Blue Nile and S Kordofan. Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels 1 Dec claimed over 100 Sudanese security personnel killed in attack on 3 military convoys in Jebel Abu Domou, near border between N and S Kordofan. Army 21 Dec said 17 areas in S Kordofan retaken from rebels. 2 UNAMID peacekeepers killed 29 Dec in S Darfur. Govt expressed concern over S Sudan violence including impact of oil flow disruption on Sudan economy, welcomed S Sudan President Kiir’s acceptance of IGAD mediation.
Lord Mayor of Kampala and Museveni critic Erias Lukwagoearly secured high court order reinstating him to office after Nov impeachment and removal; reinstatement not acted upon, raising possibility of by-election. President Museveni 30 Dec called on S Sudan rebels to accept ceasefire, said East African nations agreed to unite to “defeat” rebels; Ugandan soldiers deployed to S Sudan. Army 3 Dec reported senior LRA commander killed in SE CAR, 11 Dec said 19 LRA rebels surrendered to Ugandan authorities. Dissident General David Sejusa 14 Dec launched opposition party “Freedom and Unity Front”. Controversial anti-homosexuality law passed 20 Dec.
Second round of presidential election 20 Dec; Jean- Louis Robinson and Hery Rajaonarimampianina both claimed victory, alleged fraud and vote-rigging. SADC, EU observers noted some irregularities but praised polls as “free, credible and democratic”. Electoral commission 30 Dec released partial results showing Rajaonarimampianina, who is close to transitional President Rajoelina, took lead with 53.13% of votes against 46.87% for Robinson, seen as close to deposed President Ravalomanana; final tally due 7 Jan.
RENAMO gunmen 17 Dec attacked bus on main N-S highway, killing 1 and injuring 5. RENAMO 10 Dec reiterated demand for presence at dialogue table of national and foreign mediators, threatened not to take part in further meetings unless observers present; govt 21 Dec accepted presence of local observers. Ruling FRELIMO’s 160-member Central Committee 22-24 Dec met to choose successor to President Guebuza for Oct 2014 presidential polls, shortlisted 3 candidates, all 3 are from northern/central provinces, representing shift from traditional southerner dominance.
Following chaotic ZANU-PF provincial elections in Nov, VP Joice Mujuru’s faction of party in control of 9 out of 10 provinces; elections declared free and fair by politburo. Results theoretically pave way for Mujuru to succeed President Mugabe as party leader. ZANU-PF’s 14th Annual National People’s Conference adopted resolutions on reestablishment of Special Economic Zones, public-private partnerships and mining sector 13-14 Dec. Finance minister 19 Dec presented 2014 budget likely to further undermine confidence given reiteration of commitment to indigenisation. Worsening liquidity crisis in Zimbabwe with some banks limiting cash withdrawals by customers. Growing anxiety ahead of 1 Jan deadline for foreign-owned shops to close; indigenisation minister 29 Dec said no evictions will take place.
UN Panel of Experts on Liberia 11 Dec announced it received information Ivorian govt sent hit squads to Ghana to kill followers of former president Gbagbo, made payments to Liberian mercenaries in bid to avoid attacks aimed at destabilising President Ouattara; Ghana govt told UN experts it “foiled” at least 2 missions by Ivorian agents to kill/abduct pro-Gbagbo hardliners. Rally of Republicans and Ivorian Popular Front met 9 Dec for first time in decade, kicked off political dialogue. ICC 16 Dec dismissed Prosecutor’s appeal against adjournment of hearing until confirmation of charges against Gbagbo.
Leading opposition parties, with exception of Hope for National Development (PEDN), 12 Dec announced they would sit at newly elected National Assembly; parties nevertheless maintained criticism of 17 Dec presidential decree to reconvene National Transition Council (interim legislative body), Supreme Court’s rejection of appeals against Sept elections results. Killing of local footballer Balla Conde 5 Dec sparked protests in Kankan, ruling Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) stronghold; at least 3 killed, 20 injured when police opened fire on crowd. EU 12 Dec announced full resumption of development cooperation, suspended since 2008 coup.
Electoral census began 1 Dec; govt 4 Dec announced 10-day extension beyond 21 Dec deadline as census going very slowly; National Assembly 10 Dec recommended suspending census but govt refused. President Nhamadjo 7 Dec met with political forces, agreed to renew transition beyond end-Dec until formation of new elected govt. UNSC 9 Dec condemned rights violations, encouraged ECOWAS to reinforce military mission in Bissau and pressed for elections, warning stakeholders of sanctions for deliberate obstruction of transition. UN SRSG Ramos-Horta 31 Dec said received green light from President Nhamadjo to start comprehensive national political dialogue. Former President Yalá 6 Dec announced run for presidency, 1 Jan announced withdrawal from race, political life.
UNSC 10 Dec extended arms embargo imposed in 2003, extended mandate of Panel of Experts. Fayah Gbollie, former presidential candidate and Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader, found murdered in home 6 Dec.
Legislative elections held 15 Dec without major incidents but with low turnout (37%); president and allies retained comfortable majority in parliament. Violence and insecurity in north contin- ued; 3 Fulani herders killed in Goundam 4 Dec; 6 ethnic Arabs allegedly abducted Feb by Malian army in Timbuktu found dead 9 Dec. Militants launched several attacks including bombings in Menaka 1 Dec against MINUSMA Nigerien contingent, 1 killed. French troops 10 Dec killed 19 Islamist militants near Timbuktu; car bomb in Kidal killed 2 MINUSMA Senegalese soldiers 14 Dec. Authorities 4 Dec found mass grave in Diago near Bamako, believed to be “red beret” soldiers who participated in April 2012 counter-coup. Govt 27 Dec announced plans to investigate former president Touré for high treason. Chadian, French MINUSMA soldiers 28-29 Dec discovered nearly 6 tonnes of explosives in arms cache 150km SE of Tessalit. French Defence Minister 31 Dec visited Gao, said Mali almost secure, but pockets of fragility remain in Libya, N Niger and Chad.
French forces in Mali late Nov arrested Cheibani Ould Hama, who escaped from Niamey prison during June attack by Islamist militants; extradition expected. Police late Nov arrested man linked to Cheïbani allegedly preparing terrorist attacks in Niamey. Govt, AREVA still negotiating renewal of contracts over uranium extraction, which expire end-Dec; over 1,000 protested in Niamey 21 Dec demanding AREVA pay more taxes.
Islamist sect Boko Haram (BH) attacks continued including: 2 Dec attack on military facilities in Maiduguri, Nigerian military said 24 killed when militants repelled; at least 12 killed 28-29 Dec in attack on 5 villages in Hawul area, Borno State, military reported 56 insurgents killed. Gunmen 18 Dec attacked market in Mubi, Adamawa State; army reported 12 gunmen killed. Defence authorities 30 Dec said multinational Joint Task Force killed 7 insurgents on Lake Chad islands. UN OCHA 16 Dec said over 1,200 killed in 48 “BH related” attacks since May 2013. AFP 12 Dec reported video obtained of BH leader Abubakar Shekau taking responsibility for Maiduguri attack, warning BH not confined to Nigeria; Shekau 28 Dec said sect under instruction from Allah to “kill, decapitate and mutilate” non-Muslims. Communal violence resulted in 5 killed in Plateau State 18 Dec, 15 in Benue State 23 Dec, 5 in Adamawa State. Crisis in ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) continued as 37 PDP legislators defected to opposition All Progressives Congress.
Local authorities reported police shot dead 14 people during riot near Kashgar city in Xinjiang 15 Dec; 2 police also killed. Follows Nov clash in which at least 9 civilians, 2 police reported killed. State media reported 8 people killed in clash with police in Yarkland county 30 Dec.
Japanese PM Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine 26 Dec drawing a swift rebuke from Beijing. Chinese FM Wang said Abe’s action erected a new and major political barrier to already severely strained Sino-Japanese relationship. U.S. VP Biden’s 2-7 Dec Asia trip dominated by talks over China’s new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ); Biden reiterated that U.S. does not recognise zone, urged China and Japan to establish channels of communications, reaffirmed U.S. alliance with Japan, asked China’s President Xi to “show restraint”. S Korea 8 Dec announced it would expand its air defence zone (ADZ) for first time in 62 years, meaning China, Japan and ROK ADIZs overlap in East China Sea; China expressed “regret”. Referencing China’s ADIZ but avoiding naming it directly, Japan and ASEAN countries agreed to “enhance cooperation in ensuring freedom of movement in the skies” during mid-Dec summit in Tokyo. Japan 17 Dec adopted new National Security Strategy and increased military spending over next 5 years, citing as justification concerns over China; China strongly critical. Japan and S Korea conducted long-planned combined naval drill in area 11 Dec. Chinese FM Wang 16 Dec outlined China’s 2014 diplomatic priorities including “striving to settle territorial and maritime disputes with neighbouring countries” while safeguarding sovereignty.
Chang Sŏng-t’aek, uncle by marriage and political guardian of Kim Jong-un, stripped of positions of power 8 Dec, arrested and executed 12 Dec; 2 of his close allies executed mid- Nov. International community expressed concern over stability of DPRK following execution; S Korean President Park said purge is part of “reign of terror” that could inflame tensions on peninsula. DPRK 3 Dec threatened to build up nuclear deterrence capabilities. ROK expressed “regret and anger” over Japanese PM Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine 26 Dec (see China/Japan). ROK, U.S. and UK held previously planned combined naval drills around Korean Peninsula 8-9 Dec. ROK 10 Dec decided to increase maritime combat capabilities against “possible provocation”’ from DPRK. ROK intelligence official 17 Dec said there are signs DPRK is preparing to conduct 4th nuclear test and long-range missile test. U.S. tourist and Korean War veteran detained during Oct visit released 7 Dec. Delegations from N and S Korea met to discuss normalisation and expansion of Kaesŏng Industrial Complex (KIC), which hosted visit by delegations from G-20 countries and international financial institutions 19 Dec, part of ROK effort to “internationalise” KIC. U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman 19-23 Dec made 3rd visit to DPRK in 2013 to train N Korean players. Russia tightened sanctions against DPRK 2 Dec.
President Karzai continued to refuse to sign Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with U.S.; Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-e-Islami insurgent faction, said group would stop fighting if Karzai continues to refuse to sign. Several leading political figures, civil society groups urged Karzai to sign BSA quickly. Pakistan National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz 15 Dec said Taliban not ready for talks with Afghan High Peace Council, emphasised need for informal discussions. Leading presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah 14 Dec accused certain groups of stoking linguistic, ethnic and sectarian tensions. Security services 10 Dec said it had foiled 9 coordinated explosions in Kabul, detained 22 Haqqani militants. Hundreds protested 11 Dec in Kabul on “National Victims’ Day”, called for justice for war criminals, criticised NATO and U.S. forces for civilian deaths.
Tensions and violence intensifying amid continued political deadlock ahead of general election scheduled for 5 Jan, with opposition promising blockades until election day, violence bringing country to standstill. Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-led opposition 2 Dec announced it will boycott elections, continues calling for ruling Awami League (AL) to stand down and form neutral caretaker govt to supervise polls: blocked rail, road and waterways. BNP 18 Dec labelled 5 Jan polls “one-party elections”. Opposition boycott would mean 154 out of 300 seats could go uncontested. BNP head Khaleda Zia’s house surrounded by police 29 Dec; party vice chairman among BNP leaders arrested. AL-led alliance continued election process, 15 out of 40 registered parties 2 Dec filed nomination papers. AL-alliance suffered setback when coalition member Jatiya Party (JP) joined election boycott. Deadlock exacerbated by 12 Dec execution of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) leader Abdul Quader Mollah, convicted by International Crimes Tribunal for atrocities committed during 1971 liberation war. JeI supporters 12-15 Dec protested execution, enforced nationwide blockade, attacked houses of 4 AL ministers, clashed with police and AL supporters; at least 25 killed. More than 100 dead in political violence since BNP announced boycott.
6 police killed in landmine blast 3 Dec in Aurangabad district, Bihar State, blamed on Maoist rebels. Revolutionary Communist Party, breakaway section of Communist Party of India (Maoist), 20 Dec declared its abandonment of Maoist armed struggle.
Pakistan PM Sharif 3 Dec reportedly said failure to resolve Kashmir problem could trigger war “anytime”, PM’s office later denied statement; Indian PM Singh 5 Dec warned Pakistan would lose in event of war. Pakistani and Indian security forces meeting in Lahore agreed to reduce LoC ceasefire violations, boost joint security mechanisms.
Official results of 19 Nov elections for new Constituent Assembly (CA) 3 Dec: Nepali Congress Party (NCP) won largest share of CA seats (196 out of 601); Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) won 175 seats, United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) 80 seats. 8 major political parties reached deal 23 Dec to bring UCPN-M-led par- ties into CA. 4-point deal includes: parliamentary committee to investigate “questions raised” about CA election (response to UCPN-M and others alleging fraud); new constitution to be drafted in 6 months in spirit of Oct 2005 12-point agreement, Nov 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, 2007 Interim Constitution, promulgated in a year; high-level political mechanism to help complete peace process, constitution-writing; Truth and Reconcili- ation and Enforced Disappearances Commissions to be formed. CPN-UML 5 Dec formally demanded election of presidential and vice-presidential posts, NC said president’s term not negotiable under interim constitution. Splinter communist group Commu- nist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) 17 Dec declared “12-point Agreement in 2005 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2007 stand annulled”, said “new understanding” must be reached.
Military officials refuted claims by residents that scores of civilians were killed in ongoing military operations in N Warizistan agency, launched after 18 Dec suicide attack on army checkpost; claimed some 30 militants, mostly Uzbeks, killed. Sectarian violence continued in Karachi, threatens to spread to Lahore: 15 killed 3 Dec, including deputy SG of Shia Majlis-e- Wahdat-e-Muslimeen and 3 members of Sunni Tableeghi Jamaat; Sunni extremist Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Punjab head Shamsur Rehman Muawiya shot dead 6 Dec in Lahore; Tehreek Nifaz-e-Fiqa Jafria Shia organisation leader in Multan killed 15 Dec in Lahore. 4 killed by suicide bomber outside Shia mosque in Rawalpindi 18 Dec. 6 Dec Balochistan local elections boycotted by Baloch hardliners; predominantly Pashtun Islamist Jamiat Uleme- e-Islam won largest number of votes, followed by independents. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry retired 11 Dec, succeeded by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani.
Tensions between newly elected northern provincial council and central govt continued with provincial governor Ret. Gen. Chandrasiri blocking council attempts to establish transport and housing departments; chief minister Wigneswaran repeated council’s call for governor’s removal; no formal response from President Rajapaksa. Chandrasiri with civilian governor. Pro-govt thugs 10 Dec violently disrupted protest by families of disappeared in Trincomalee, NW. Harassment of Muslims continued: Buddhist nationalists resumed campaign to remove Muslim residents from Debanagala village; police mid-Dec visited 3 Colombo-district mosques, demanded they cease religious activities; 2 Muslim- owned shops in southern Galle district set alight 19 Dec; mosque in Colombo stoned 18 Dec. Govt 17 Dec announced considering South African-style truth and reconciliation commission; U.S. and UK officials early Dec renewed threat of international investigation into alleged 2009 war crimes. Police inquiry began into mass grave found in Mannar 23 Dec. French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF) accused security forces of killing 17 employees at office in Muttur in 2006, demanded international inquiry.
Papuan independence activists flew pro-independence Morning Star flag at govt building in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to mark national day 1 Dec; Port Moresby governor accused govt of bowing to pressure from Jakarta as 3 PNG activists arrested. 3 suspected terrorists arrested in Java 15 Dec.
Next round of govt-ethnic armed group dialogue, planned for late-Dec, postponed until Jan/Feb to give both sides time for further technical-level discussion of key issues. Authorities 26 Nov announced they had charged 93 people in connection with Oct anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine State town of Thandwe that left 7 dead, many homes destroyed. Opposition NLD 25 Nov proposed quadripartite talks (NLD, President, legislature, military) on amending constitution; rejected by President Thein Sein, who indicated he did not want to overstep legislature, and that outcome of its constitutional review committee, due to report end-Jan, should be awaited. NLD 28 Dec announced it would contest 2015 general election even if constitution is not amended to remove article disqualifying candidates whose spouse or children are citizens of a foreign country from becoming president/VP, which would bar NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi; ruling USDP 30 Dec submitted recommendations to constitutional review committee, reportedly including suggestion to amend article. Govt 10 Dec pardoned 41 political prisoners, leaving an estimated 44 in prison; President 31 Dec issued pardon releasing people charged under several old repressive laws. U.S. 17 Dec blacklisted Myanmar army officer and 2 military-linked companies it accused of continuing illegal arms trading relations with DPRK.
Govt, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 8 Dec signed 3rd of 4 annexes to complete peace agreement for Muslim- majority areas in south; agreement outlines powers of national govt and proposed autonomous Bangsamoro govt. Both sides “confident” of signing final annex on normalisation, decommissioning MILF forces in Jan; UNSG Ban praised progress. MILF attacks reported during month, including several people abducted 5 Dec, 1 person killed 6 Dec in attack on police station in Marawi City; MILF leadership pledged to punish perpetrators. Reports of clashes between MILF factions in Maguindanao. Communist New People’s Army (NPA) leader killed in clash with army in Camarines Sur 5 Dec. NPA rebels 12 Dec killed policeman in Bukidnon. NPA and govt announced holiday ceasefire 18 Dec. 2 soldiers killed in suspected NPA attacks 24, 26 Dec. Abu Sayyaf leader killed resisting arrest in Sulu 23 Dec. 4 people including mayor of southern Labangan town shot dead at Manila airport 20 Dec. U.S. announced $40mn in maritime security assistance for Philippines, said “firmly committed” to security there.
Political crisis escalated with major protest movement demanding Yingluck govt step down and allow appointed council to reform electoral system, threatening to block general election scheduled for 2 Feb and seize Bangkok. People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led by former Democrat Party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsbhan, continued anti-govt protests, staged massive marches 9, 22 Dec. Criminal Court 2 Dec charged Suthep with sedition. Protesters 2 Dec attempted to breach police barricades at Govt House and Metropolitan Police HQ. Opposition Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse 8 Dec. PM Yingluck dissolved House 9 Dec, general election scheduled for 2 Feb. PDRC seeking to oust Yingluck’s caretaker govt, derail election, “eradicate Thaksin regime”; calling for establishment of 400-member People’s Council to implement political reform. Democrat Party 21 Dec announced election boycott, support for PDRC protests. Protesters blocked Bangkok candidate registration site 23-24 Dec, attacked police 26 Dec; 1 policeman, 1 protester shot dead, many injured. Election Commission 26 Dec called for delay of poll. Army chief 27 Dec refused to rule out coup. Suthep threatened to shut down Bangkok starting 13 Jan. Protester killed in shooting at protest site 28 Dec. Militants stepped up attacks in Deep South including 5 soldiers killed in IED attack in Kapho District, Pattani Province 11 Dec. Coordinated bombings 22 Dec targeted 3 towns in Songhkla’s Sadao District injured at least 27; first attack in district. Police 22 Dec found two 50kg IEDs inside truck parked at police station on tourist island Phuket.
Run-off elections for 25 of 38 municipalities 1 Dec; no incidents reported, amid heavy security in North Mitrovica; some irregularities. Democratic Party of Kosovo won total of 10 municipalities in elections; Democratic League of Kosovo 9; Belgrade-backed “Srpska” 8. During 19th round of EU-mediated talks, Serbian and Kosovo PMs 5 Dec agreed that a Serb will com- mand regional police in Serb-majority northern Kosovo.
European Council 17 Dec again postponed discussion on opening Macedonian EU membership talks until June 2014, due to Greek position on name dispute.
EU FMs 17 Dec agreed Serbia can start EU membership talks Jan following implementation of April 2013 EU-mediated agreement with Kosovo.
Russian President Putin visited Yerevan 2 Dec for meeting with President Sargsyan, agreed deal on low-cost Russian gas; around 1,000 protested visit. Turkish FM in Yerevan for meeting of Black Sea Economic Cooperation group 12 Dec, met with Armenian FM, first high-level Turkish visit since 2009.
Border officer killed in shoot-out along Iranian border 1 Dec, latest in sporadic incidents along border; countries’ relations strained over Baku’s charges of Iranian sponsorship of fundamentalist Islamists in Azerbaijan. Hundreds protested rising food, fuel prices 15 Dec; govt 2 Dec announced petrol price hike. Authorities arrested Anar Mammadli, head of Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre, questioned on tax evasion, illegal business activity. FM denounced U.S. criticism of rights issues as “blackmail”. 2 disabled Karabakh war veterans committed self- immolation 25, 28 Dec; first died.
26th round of Geneva talks involving Tbilisi govt and Abkhazia and South Ossetia (SO) authorities ended in another deadlock 18 Dec, after previous round saw sides express cautious optimism on possible “non-use of force” agreement. Entity representatives blocking discussion of other issues including fate of Georgian IDPs unless such an agreement is reached, but Tbilisi insisting that Russia also signs agreement, pledge non-use of force; Russia refuses. Tbilisi again raised issue of “borderisation” of SO administrative boundary line by Russian troops, emphasising resulting hardship for local residents. European monitors early Dec reported almost 50km of heavy fortifications erected by mid- Nov, some 1km into Georgian-held territory, also Russian drone activity. European Council President Van Rompuy said EU willing to speed up signing of Association Agreement with Georgia by Aug 2014. Russian President Putin raised possibility of lifting visa requirements for Georgians. New series of charges and questioning of political figures from former governing UNM party began mid-Dec, including Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava charged with misappropriation of funds; former Deputy Prosecutor-General Davit Chkhatarshvili detained, charged with abuse of power and other charges over alleged role in 2012 prison abuse scandal. Former PM Merabishvili, arrested in May on charges including abuse of power, claimed authorities pressuring him to inform on former President Saakashvili.
Following Nov meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijan presidents, countries’ FMs met in Kiev 4 Dec, agreed to continue talks on resolution of N-K conflict. In attempt to sustain resumed talks, OSCE Minsk Group representatives visited both countries mid-month, part of increased diplomatic activity by U.S. and Russia. Armenian President Sargsyan told state media meeting with Azerbaijan President Aliyev involved serious discussions, proposals to make progress on ending 25-year conflict. Baku and Yerevan say next presidential meeting scheduled March. Both sides accused other of continued ceasefire violations. Armenian officer killed 14 Dec along front lines, Azerbaijani soldier killed 29 Dec, according to defence ministries.
Southern Russian city Volgograd hit by 2 terrorist attacks late Dec: 17 killed in suicide attack on main train station 29 Dec, at least 14 killed in suicide attack on trolleybus next day. Kabardino-Balkaria governor Arsen Kanokov unexpectedly replaced by former head of Federal MIA’s anti-extremism department Yury Kokov 6 Dec, supposedly related to security concerns over upcoming Sochi Olympics. Repression, harassment of activists in and around Sochi continued. Counter-terrorist operations in Kabardino-Balkaria saw insurgent leader Arsen Khandokhov and 3 associates killed mid-Dec in Elbrus district; 4 suspected militants killed 5 Dec in Baksan district; attack on Department of Federal Penitentiary Service (UFSIN) 10 Dec left 2 officers dead; folk healer killed in Baksan district 24 Dec. In Dagestan, leader and member of local terrorist group killed during special operation in Shamil disctrict 10 Dec; 5 alleged insurgents killed in Khasavyurt district 5 Dec. Head of Teletl village found dead 6 Dec; 2 militants allegedly involved in his murder killed. Senior FSB officer shot dead in Khasavyurt, Dagestan 9 Dec. 3 police killed in clash with militants in Tsuntinsky district 16 Dec; 1 policeman killed, 2 civilians taken hostage by insurgents, later released in Akhvakhsky district 13 Dec. Pressure on moderate Islamists continues, with mosque-goers detained in Chontaul village and Untsukul district. Makhachkala- based Salafi Children’s Club Amanat searched by police 4 Dec, asked to stop activities. At least 10 Salafis detained in Leninkent 20 Dec. 52 suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir detained 9 Dec during police raid in Makhachkala, 3 leaders arrested.
Pro-Europe protests continued following govt’s 21 Nov decision against signing association agreement with EU in favour of ties with Russia. Hundreds of thousands of people protesting in largest rallies since 2004 Orange Revolution. European Commission continued negotiations with govt over possible agreement, but 15 Dec announced it was suspending talks due to contradictory signals from President Yanukovych. Violence broke out 11 Dec as govt deployed thousands of riot police to remove protesters’ barricades, drawing international condemnation. Russia 18 Dec announced $15mn aid package to help faltering economy, including lowering Russian gas price.
Attempts to restart reunification talks reached impasse over definition of “single sovereignty” in proposed joint statement that would set goals for talks. During visit to Athens Turkish FM Davutoğlu 14 Dec echoed Turkish Cypriot view of future bizonality as sovereignty divided between 2 constituent states; Greek Cypriots insist on single sovereignty as precondition to resume talks. Greek and Turkish FMs reportedly agreed to simultaneous visits by Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator to Athens and Greek Cypriot chief negotiator to Ankara, but process held up by disagreement over content of joint statement from FMs.
In perceived proxy battle within AKP, more than 50 people detained 17 Dec for alleged involvement in corruption ring, including sons of 3 cabinet ministers, 1 municipal leader, prominent busi- nessmen, more than 24 formally arrested; 4 ministers implicated replaced in 25 Dec 10-minister cabinet reshuffle. Separate probe delayed after govt reassigned hundreds of police, prosecutor says unable to order detentions for questioning. Peace process between govt and Kurdish insurgency PKK remains fragile, with occasional flare-ups of violence in SE: protests 6 Dec against alleged vandalism of PKK militants’ graves in Yüksekova, Hakkari; 2 protesters killed in clashes during police crackdown, 3rd died later. Further clashes at funeral for killed protesters 7 Dec in Şırnak and Yükse- kova, several wounded, including police. PKK 8 Dec kidnapped 4 soldiers in retaliation, released 9 Dec. PKK leader Cemil Bayık 2 Dec said peace process heading off course due to governing AKP delaying tactics, signalled PKK would take up arms again if process not accelerated by spring 2014. Continued tensions along Syrian border: 1 Syrian child killed 3 Dec by Turkish soldiers firing warning shots to stop group illegally crossing back to Syria. Committee to Protect Journalists 18 Dec announced Turkey “world’s leading jailer of journalists”, some 40 journalists imprisoned, mainly Kurdish. Turkey and EU 16 Dec signed readmission agreement obliging Turkey to take back illegal immigrants who enter EU via Turkey, in exchange for start of visa exemption talks.
Ata Jurt supporters 2 Dec stormed regional govt HQ in Osh demanding release of Ata Jurt MP Akhmatbek Keldibekov, arrested 22 Nov. Osh mayor Melis Myrzakmatov, ally of former president Bakiev, offered support to protesters; summoned to Bishkek and sacked 5 Dec. Myrzakmatov called dismissal “political decision”; around 3,000 supporters 7 Dec demanded his return to mayoral office. Bishkek mayor Isa Omurkulov, under investigation for alleged abuse of office, resigned 4 Dec. Protests calling for nationalisation of country’s largest gold mine Kumtor continued: protesters 10 Dec declared state of emergency, curfew in Saruu. Parliament 11 Dec finally approved sale of natural gas company Kyrgyzgaz to Russia’s Gazprom. Sporadic violence continued on Kyrgyz-Tajik border: several roads closed after alleged arson attack 17 Dec. Deputy PM for Security warned Afghan Taliban has Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek wings.
Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) prosecutor’s office 6 Dec opened criminal case into 29 Nov clashes between security forces and some 20 gunmen in provincial capital Khorog, prompted by attempt to arrest drug control official accused of weapons smuggling. Incident perceived as move by recently re- elected President Rahmon to assert control over restive GBAO. Russian ambassador in 10 Dec media interview said Russian troops from 201st military base ready to help Tajikistan defend border with Afghanistan should situation deteriorate following NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. 5 students sentenced to 2 years’ jail for fighting alongside rebels in Syria.
Democratic Party re-elected in 15 Dec parliamentary elections, winning 47 out of 125 seats; newly-formed Party of Industrialists, loyal to President Berdymukhamedov, won 14 seats. Turnout reportedly 91%. Rights groups said polls marked by complete lack of opposition.
Speculation over power struggle within govt fuelled by 16 Dec appointment of Adkham Akhmedbayev as interior minister, interpreted as boost for Tashkent political clan over rivals from Samarkand, Jizzakh regions. FM visited U.S. 9-11 Dec for talks on regional stability, rights, economic development. Row continued between President Karimov’s daughter Gulnara and her family, as Gulnara in interview said she was pushed out of country. Power and gas shortages continued across country.
Peace talks between govt and FARC continued with discussions centred on illegal drugs; FARC 3 Dec presented 10 “minimal proposals” for counter drug policy, calling for immediate halt of areal fumigation, adoption of public health focus and stimulation of traditional, medical and industrial uses of coca leaf, marihuana and poppy. Talks concluded for year 20 Dec, set to resume 13 Jan. FARC 8 Dec announced unilateral 30-day ceasefire effective 15 Dec-15 Jan; 4 alleged violations occurred by 23 Dec. President Santos declared military offensive against guerrillas “will continue” following 7 Dec attack on police station in Inzá (Cauca) which left 9 dead, 40 injured. Prosecutor General 9 Dec dismissed Bogotá mayor and former M19 guerrilla member Gustavo Petro over allegations of “incompetence” and violating free enterprise principles in 2012 row with private garbage collectors; Petro also banned from holding public office for 15 years. FARC 10 Dec slammed decision as “heavy blow” for peace process. Talks with ELN again appeared to move closer; ELN 1 Dec released engineer abducted in Antioquia dept July 2012, 24 Dec released kidnapped oil worker in Arauca dept. ELN commander Gabino said group had accepted as “challenge” to negotiate without ceasefire, but later retracted. Ombudsman’s Office 11 Dec said clashes between ELN and NIAG Urabeños in Chocó dept could cause displacement of 1,900 residents. Police closing in on Urabeños leader Otoniel with 12 Dec detention of cousin and sister. Security forces 27 Dec killed at least 10 FARC, including regional commander Jhon 26, in Meta dept. UN 30 Dec accused FARC of continuing to recruit children.
8 Dec municipal elections saw opposition MUD alliance make important advances, especially in big cities; MUD held metropolitan Caracas and Maracaibo and won Valencia and Barquisimeto, now controls 9 of 23 state capitals, plus greater Caracas including 4 of 5 Caracas municipalities. But controversial bid to turn election into plebiscite on President Maduro’s govt via national vote total backfired: ruling PSUV obtained almost 49% of votes, MUD less than 41%. MUD leadership insisting country split and govt lacks mandate for radical political and economic programs, also pointed to unfair election conditions and Maduro’s Nov move to force down retail prices.
Head of Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) Ivan Velásquez 5 Dec said commission will initiate investigations of corruption in customs and political campaign financing; means commission will take on new cases despite assertions by president and VP that it should devote last 2 years of its mandate to training prosecutors and investigators. Elite Tecún Umán Task Force began operations in west 16 Dec; President Pérez Molina said joint military/police force will combat drug traffickers and other smugglers operating along Pacific coast and Mexican border, said plans to create 2 more task forces operating along borders with El Salvador and Honduras. Pérez Molina 17 Dec announced govt studying possibility of legalising and regulating cultivation of opium poppies for medicinal use, would allow “controlled plant- ing” while offering alternative crops to farmers now involved in illegal production. Authorities 27 Dec arrested Edgar Rolando Saguil, lieutenant of Felix Pimentel Lopez, himself arrested 8 Dec, on suspicion of links to Sinaloa cartel.
Attorney General revealed names of 69 top drug traffickers arrested or killed in President Peña Nieto’s first year of govt from list of 122. Human Rights Commissioner Raúl Plascencia 17 Dec warned local vigilante groups gaining strength in Pacific state of Guerrero, armed groups operate in over half of state’s municipalities. New guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces-People’s Liberation (FAR-LP) appeared in Guerrero early month, demanded release of “political prisoners”, asked people to take up arms against “oppressive govt”. Authorities continued to find bodies buried near border between Jalisco and Michoacán states; 64 bodies found so far in search initiated to find 2 federal agents who went missing early Nov; 10 burned bodies found 14 Dec inside car in indigenous community troubled by land disputes in Oaxaca state; 5 decapitated bodies found in Michoacan state 28 Dec, believed to be victims of Jalisco New Generation drug cartel. 4 municipal officers from Arcelia town, Guerrero killed in clash with army 6 Dec. Mayor-elect of San Pedro Totolapan town, Oaxaca state killed by gunmen outside city hall 5 Dec. Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza, alias El Macho Prieto, high-ranking leader of Sinaloa Cartel killed 18 Dec in shoot-out with security forces in northern Mexico resort.
U.S. Sec State Kerry intensified diplomatic efforts to resolve impasse in peace negotiations, 5 Dec presented security proposal purportedly entailing demilitarised Palestinian state, Jordanian border crossings under joint Israeli-Palestinian con- trol, limited Israeli military presence in Jordan Valley. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas 13 Dec rejected continued Israeli military presence in Jordan Valley. Israel 27 Dec issued instructions for construction of 1,400 West Bank units in advance of late Dec Palestinian prisoners’ release; met with strong criticism from U.S., EU, PA. Gaza humanitarian situation deteriorated due to fuel shortage, aggravated by extreme winter weather, floods; Qatar provided funds for fuel; over 5,000 evacuated from N Gaza, Gaza City 13 Dec. UNRWA called for end of Israeli blockade to allow recovery efforts, Israel opened Gaza crossing to allow entry of gas, water pumps. Bomb exploded in Tel Aviv bus 22 Dec shortly after vehicle evacuated; Palestinian militants suspected. Several killed in shootings, retaliatory attacks between Israeli forces and Palestinians. Lebanese soldier 15 Dec shot dead Israeli soldier at border near Rosh Hanikra; Israel retaliated shooting 2 Lebanese soldiers. Gunmen 2 Dec fired from Syria on Israeli soldiers in Quneitra, prompting retaliation. Roadside bomb attack on IDF jeep on Israel-Syrian Golan border 6 Dec; perpetrators unknown. French and Russian inquiries ruled out poisoning as cause of death of ex-PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Car bomb in Beirut 27 Dec killed senior “March 14” figure and former finance minister Mohammad Chatah and 7 others: March 14 alliance accused Syrian regime and Hizbollah, both denied. Assassination derailed cabinet formation process: March 14 alliance 28 Dec rejected unity govt, called for cabinet excluding Hizbollah. 13 killed, dozens wounded in sectarian clashes between Sunni Bab al-Tebbaneh and Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighbourhoods of Tripoli 30 Nov-2 Dec; govt ordered army to preserve security in city. Lebanese troops fired at Syrian military aircraft violating its airspace in Bekaa Valley 30 Dec. Saudi Ara- bia 29 Dec granted Lebanese army $3bn. President Suleiman 7 Dec again called on Hizbollah to withdraw from Syria, abide by Baabda declaration. Prominent Hizbollah commander Ali Bazzi and 3 militants killed in firefight with Syrian rebels near Nabuk on Syrian Qalamoun front 8 Dec. Gunmen 4 Dec assassinated Hizbollah commander Hassan al-Laqis in Hadath. Armed men and suicide bomber 15 Dec attacked 2 army checkpoints in Sidon, killing 1 soldier; army detained 5 suspects, claimed men part of al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Unidentified militants 29 Dec fired 5 rockets from Hasbaya toward Israel, 2 exploded near Kiryat Shmona; Israel blamed Hizbollah, shelled Rachaya border area in retaliation, no injuries reported. Lebanese sniper 16 Dec killed Israeli soldier on border, army said soldier acted alone (see Israel/Palestine). Residents of Qsar Naba village near Syria 2 Dec torched ad hoc Syrian refugee camp, forced hundreds of refugees from campsite. Authorities arrested head of group that claimed Nov Iranian embassy bombing.
Rebel forces in disarray as increasingly powerful Islamist groups moved to marginalise Western-backed militias: largest rebel alliance Islamic Front (IF), created late Nov, 3 Dec rejected authority of Supreme Military Council (SMC), 7 Dec seized SMC arms depots and HQ in Babisqa, 11 Dec captured SMC-controlled Turkey border crossing near Bab el-Hawa; U.S. and UK 11 Dec suspended non-lethal aid to SMC out of fear it could no longer protect equipment provided to it. U.S. Sec State Kerry 17 Dec said U.S. negotiations with IF “possible” to convince its militias to join 22 Jan Geneva II peace talks, IF rejected offer. Following recent losses against Kurdish militias, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) 5 Dec kidnapped over 50 Kurdish civilians from Minbej and Jarablus towns near Aleppo. Month saw most significant clashes yet between ISIS and Ahrar al-Sham Islamist group. Syrian army and allied militias continued advances in Qalamoun mountains amid rebel disorder: 9 Dec regained control of key Damascus-Homs highway after capture of Nabak, 10 Dec started offensive towards Yabrud, last rebel stronghold in Qalamoun region. IF, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra 11 Dec attacked town of Adra, near Damascus; ISIS beheaded at least 3 Alawites there, pro-regime media accused rebels of killing dozens of Alawite and Druze civilians. Syrian army and allied militias recaptured parts of town 13-16 Dec. Regime’s recent momentum on Aleppo front appearing to lag; army 15 Dec dropped “barrel bombs” on Aleppo, hundreds reported killed; Aleppo activists called scale of raids “unprecedented”. Syrian govt 4 Dec said Assad will lead any transition agreed at Jan Geneva peace talks; opposition National Coalition remains divided on whether to attend talks, to meet early Jan to make final decision. UN rights chief Pillay 2 Dec said “massive evidence” implicates regime in war crimes and crimes against humanity, UN humanitarian chief Amos 3 Dec said govt should allow greater access to trapped civilians.
Courts handed series of prison sentences to Shiite activists. Govt denied entry to UK rights lawyer who was to observe trial of opposition Al-Wefaq leader Khalil Al-Marzooq. Govt 29 Dec detained Al Wefaq leader Ali Salman on charges of “inciting hatred”, imposed travel ban after his release. Homemade bomb wounded 2 police near Manama 17 Dec.
Govt, P5+1 and IAEA 9-13 Dec met to discuss technical details of 24 Nov Geneva nuclear deal, but Iran pulled out of talks after U.S. 12 Dec blacklisted 19 companies linked to Iran’s nuclear program; Tehran said new sanctions “violated” the spirit of Geneva agreement. Talks further jeopardised after bipartisan group of U.S. senators 19 Dec introduced new sanctions bill that would strengthen existing sanctions if Iran breaks interim deal; President Obama threatened to veto bill if it passed. 100 hardline Iranian parliamentarians 25 Dec introduced bill obliging govt to increase uranium enrichment to 60% if U.S. introduces new sanctions. Head of Iranian negotiating team 1 Jan said sides had proposed 20 Jan for Geneva deal to go into effect. IAEA 8 Dec inspected Arak nuclear plant; govt and IAEA 12 Dec agreed to meet 21 Jan to discuss “practical steps” to improve transparency of nuclear program. Public row erupted between President Rouhani’s govt and Revolutionary Guards commander Ali Jafari: FM Zarif 3 Dec said U.S. could eliminate Iran’s defensive systems “with one bomb”; Jafari called comments “incorrect”, said govt “infected by Western doctrine” and “fundamental change must occur”. Nuclear chief Salehi 1 Dec said govt in talks with Russia to build another nuclear plant at Bushehr, construction to begin in 2014. Govt 5 Dec announced it executed 4 Ahwazi Arab political activists on charges of enmity against God and threatening national security. Upsurge in violence on Iran’s eastern and western borders: gunmen killed 15 Iranian and 3 Iraqi workers on gas pipeline near Balad Ruz village NE of Baghdad 13 Dec; 3 Revolutionary Guards killed in SE by roadside bomb believed to be planted by Baluchi Sunni separatist group Jaish al-Adl 18 Dec.
Daily violence continued with UN reporting over 700 killed including over 661 civilians: at least 42 killed, 84 injured in series of bomb attacks 25 Dec; series of bombings in Baghdad Shia neighbourhoods 30-31 Dec killed 23; over 70 killed 16 Dec; at least 18 military personnel killed 21 Dec in ambush by Islamic State of Iraq. UN reported at least 7,818 civilians killed in 2013, marking deadliest year since 2008. Security forces 28 Dec raided home of Sunni lawmaker Ahmed al-Alwani, arrested him on terrorism charges; 7 killed in ensuing gun-battle. At least 10 killed 30 Dec when security forces dismantled Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, al-Anbar province, calling for removal of PM Maliki. 44 MPs resigned 30 Dec over demolishing of camp, arrest of Alwani. U.S. reportedly shipped Hellfire missiles, reconnaissance drones to help govt combat militants. Govt 25 Dec closed border with Syria following start of military operation against al-Qaeda in western desert.
Security deteriorated after armed forces early-month killed prominent Hadrami sheikh; Hadrami tribes, supported by Hiraak, set 20 Dec as deadline for handing over killer, transferring governorate security responsibilities to them. Thousands protested in South, including Qaten, Seiyun and Tarim cities in Hadramout, and clashed with armed forces. Army 27 Dec struck funeral of southern separatist in al-Dalia, killing 19 including 4 children. Tribal attacks on oil pipelines continue: unknown assailants 27 Dec blew up main oil pipeline from Masila field. At least 56 killed, 215 injured 5 Dec in al-Qaeda attack on defence ministry complex in Sanaa. At least 4 soldiers killed 31 Dec in suicide bombing of security HQ in Aden. 15 killed 12 Dec in U.S. drone strike on reported wedding convoy; parliament 15 Dec issued non-binding agreement banning drones. In north, fighting between Huthis and Salafis continued. Several political parties 23 Dec signed agreement granting some autonomy to South and supporting federalism as basis of new state structure. New as-yet undrafted constitution to decide on number of regions and their authorities.
Security forces 4 Dec killed leader of AQIM Ennour brigade Khalil Ould Addah (aka Abou Bassen) and 4 terrorists in Tamanrasset desert; 6-8 Dec continued combing operations near Ghardaïa in effort to root out “important AQIM group”; 13 Dec killed 2 alleged terrorists near Tizi Ouzou; 15 Dec shootout near Tizi Ouzou left 1 soldier injured. Intelligence services mid-month reportedly contacted Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghali to seek his assistance in liberating hostages abducted by MUJAO in Gao in April 2012. PM Abdelmalek Sellal 7 Dec said country will bolster security cooperation with Libya to stem arms proliferation. Govt 17 Dec said 220 terrorists killed since Jan 2013. Intercommunal clashes in Ghardaïa 25-27 Dec between Chaâmbis (Arabs) and Mozabites (Berbers) left dozens injured, including 40 policemen; govt deployed gendarmerie; president 31 Dec called for calm, dialogue.
Govt 25 Dec formally declared Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a terrorist group, made MB membership and participation in anti-coup protests a crime; move effectively rules out possibility of reconciliation with MB, further complicating political scene. Declaration followed bomb explosion at govt building in Mansura 24 Dec in which at least 12 killed, scores injured; govt blamed MB despite lack of evidence of its involvement. Political transition roadmap moved ahead as constitutional committee 1 Dec finalised controversial draft constitution. Committee president 15 Dec said draft gives unprecedented rights to women and removes religious clauses included in Dec 2012 constitution. MB 2 Dec and Islamist Alliance for the Support of Legitimacy (ASL) rejected draft. April 6 Movement criticised draft over powers granted to military and defence minister, inclusion of military trials for civilians; Coptic church, Salafi Nour Party and Tamarrod movement voiced support for draft. Interim President Mansour 14 Dec said referendum on draft constitution scheduled 14-15 Jan; April 6 movement and ASL announced boycott. Secret talks between authorities and ASL faltered. Govt 18 Dec charged ousted President Morsi with treason, espionage, sponsoring terrorism, collaborating with Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas. Sweeping arrests against Islamists continued; govt crackdown on dissidents expanding to include rights groups, secular political activists. Anti-govt protests ongoing on near-daily basis, several killed in clashes with police late-month. Police 8 Dec staged rare protest demanding higher wages, defying new protest law. Militant attacks continued: in Ismailia suspected Islamists shot dead policeman 17 Dec, car bombs exploded 12 Dec killing 1 policeman; car bomb in Cairo 17 Dec; suspected al- Qaeda-affiliated militants shot dead soldier during clashes in Sinai Peninsula 20 Dec. 5 injured in Cairo bomb attack 26 Dec. Army 17 Dec shot dead alleged Islamist militant Abou Khaled wanted for Aug 2012 terror attack in Sinai Peninsula.
General National Congress (GNC) “roadmap” committee held consultations on length and modality of extension beyond Feb 2014; UNSMIL hosted several closed-door meetings; GNC 23 Dec voted to extend transition one year, set deadline for drafting constitution by Aug 2014. UNSC 19 Dec expressed concern over worsening security, political divisions, called on all parties to end violence and support democratic transition. GNC 4 Dec voted to make Sharia law foundation of national legislation. Militia blockading oil export terminals in east again called for autonomy of region, right to profit from oil exports, refused to end blockade; leader Ibrahim Jedran 15 Dec said he will begin selling oil outside govt channels and redistribute revenues to provinces according to pre-Qadhafi law; Libya Revolutionary Operations Room (LROR) 16 Dec said will liberate terminals by force. Assassination of security force members continued in east: at least 13 soldiers killed 21 Dec in car bomb explosion on checkpoint in Barsis, outside Benghazi. Benghazi military intelligence chief shot dead 21 Dec in Derna; army officer killed 26 Dec in Benghazi.
Electoral commission 3 Dec announced results of legislative and municipal results held 23 Nov, said ruling party Union for the Republic (UPR) won landslide victory with 53 seats in national assembly; Islamist party Tawassoul came second with 12 seats. Thousands of Coordination for Democratic Opposition (COD) supporters protested 18 Dec in Nouakchott against “unilateral” elections.
Authorities 26 Dec announced arrests of terrorist cell operating in multiple cities, citing link with Syrian conflict.
National Dialogue between governing Troika and opposition parties 14 Dec reached agreement on industry minister Mehdi Jomaa as technocratic caretaker PM to construct interim govt replacing Troika led by an-Nahda, and lead caretaker administration until elections. Jomaa 18 Dec said consultations on forming new interim govt “ongoing”. Compromises still needed on other issues including new constitution, new elections and reviewing some of an-Nahda’s public administration appointments. Land- mine exploded 2 Dec during military operation against Islamist militants in Mount Chaambi, killing 1 soldier. President Marzouki provoked outrage with early Dec publication of “black book” detailing collaboration of public intellectuals, journalists and others with ousted Ben Ali regime. National Constituent Assembly 14 Dec adopted draft law on creation of transitional justice authority.
Polisario Front 10 Dec declared that approval of new Protocol to EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) amounts to EU support for Morocco’s “illegal claims” on W Sahara; protests against agreement same day in Laayoune violently dispersed by police and army. UNGA 11 Dec adopted resolution reasserting support to negotiation process “to reach solution which allows Saharawi people to exercise right to self-determination”. Morocco, Polisario 1 Jan confirmed new round of talks will be held Jan in Sweden and Morocco.