CrisisWatch is our early warning and global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Democratic Republic of Congo
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Fourteen conflict situations around the world deteriorated in February 2005, according to the new edition of CrisisWatch,* released today. In Nepal, the situation has turned increasingly grim since King Gyanendra's 1 February coup: violence increased, a state of emergency has been declared, politicians arrested, and total censorship imposed on the media. The possible deployment to Somalia of a peacekeeping force composed of troops from Somalia’s neighbours risked destabilising its fragile transitional government.
Cote d'Ivoire's rebels declared mediation efforts "dead and buried" after a pro-government militia attacked them across the supposedly demilitarised "zone de confiance". And there was heavy fighting in Colombia as FARC insurgents struck several regions of the country simultaneously. Situations in DR Congo, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, the Philippines, Tajikistan and Thailand also worsened in February.
Seven conflict situations improved in February. In the Middle East, outrage over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri sparked huge protests in Beirut against Syria's military presence and political role in Lebanon, leading the pro-Syrian government to resign; Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak unexpectedly announced a constitutional change to allow for multi-candidate presidential elections; and Saudi Arabia held reasonably successful municipal elections. The situations in Bolivia, Burundi, Kashmir, and across the Taiwan Strait also showed improvement last month.
For March 2005, CrisisWatch identifies Nepal as a Conflict Risk Alert, or a situation at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month. The only Conflict Resolution Opportunity identified for March is Uganda.
Army accused of continuing human rights abuse in oil-rich Cabinda province.
First democratic vote in 12 years - to approve power-sharing constitution - passed off peacefully 28 February. President Domitien Ndayizeye quashed speculation he would attempt last-minute changes to draft constitution, saying would not run in presidential elections. Most parties (but not Tutsi- dominated UPRONA) agreed to accept result of referendum. Three Tutsi-dominated parties, including UPRONA, recommended “no” vote, but “yes” vote appeared on course. Sole remaining rebel group, Forces nationales de libération (FNL), said it would not disrupt vote; peace negotiations believed imminent. FNL rejected possible role for South African Deputy President Zuma - Burundi’s principal peace mediator - preferring UN Special Representative Carolyn McAskie.
Eleven presidential candidates signed electoral code of conduct and accepted Mixed Independent Electoral Commission for March parliamentary and presidential elections, formalising January Libreville agreement.
Embattled PM Faki resigned and several ministers were replaced 4 February amidst civil servant strikes. Chad continued mediation efforts on Darfur with 18 February meeting N’djamena; over 200,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad.
Forces Nouvelles (FN) said mediation efforts were “definitively buried” by pro-government militia attack on FN in Logouale 28 February, north of UN-protected “Zone de Confiance”. Army chief had earlier warned of possible government offensive; head of UN peacekeeping mission, General Fall, called for strengthened mandate to take account of tension and allow for disarmament, amidst rumours President Gbagbo may call for UN withdrawal if FN not disarmed. UN Security Council resolution noted Secretary- General’s call for troop increase; earlier in month President Chirac said 4,000-strong French force would withdraw if requested by African leaders; France to withdraw 600 troops for “budgetary reasons”. Gbagbo sought to replace South African mediation with Moroccan; Morocco rejected role. Two died in clashes between police and Gbagbo-loyalist militia in Abidjan’s Adjame suburb.
Deteriorating security in Ituri, with renewed fighting between Hema and Lendu militias in Djugu territory, and between Mai-Mai and RCD- Goma; 9 Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers killed in ambush 25 February. Some 10,000 refugees now believed in Uganda while 56,000 IDPs receiving emergency UN aid around Lake Albert, northeast DR Congo. Government said would deploy police brigade to Djugu and could revoke militias’ political role. DR Congo court condemned 21 Congolese soldiers to death for atrocities committed eastern DR Congo December 2004; International Center for Transitional Justice called for trials of higher-ranking generals. Lack of progress and transparency on army integration and security sector reform has led to doubts over viability of 30 June election date.
Absolute monarch King Mswati III spent $820,000 on new cars for his 10 wives. World Food Programme said food insecurity worsening.
Concern over alleged military build-up and cross-border incursions. Ethiopia claimed 2 killed near Bure, 20km within Ethiopia, were Eritrean soldiers; Eritrea denied. President of UN Security Council called for UN mission to boost political dialogue; EU suggested development assistance could be “directly influenced” by political situation.
Since 19 January attack on President Conté’s convoy PM Diallo’s reform proposals shelved, with army mounting roadblocks across country. Following article comparing Guinea to Togo, Benn Pépito, editor of La Lance newspaper, arrested and held for 3 days.
Electoral commission announced 11 October date for elections, with registration from mid-April to mid-May. Refugees in Guinea called for speeded-up repatriation to allow them to take part; 100,000 estimated Liberian refugees in West Africa. Despite fears reintegration of ex-combatants incomplete, U.S. announced DynCorp to train new 4,000- strong Liberian army, to allow eventual wind-down of current UNMIL force. Liberia’s Governance Reform Commission criticised corruption and long-term contracts awarded by transitional government.
President Obasanjo opened national constitutional conference 21 February; opposition leaders criticised agenda as too narrow, attendance as dominated by presidential nominees, and stayed away, promising parallel conference. Violence continued in oil-rich Delta province, with 1 person killed in group occupation of Warri oil terminal, 12 killed in boat ambush - locals claimed 33 dead in army raid on Odioma. At least 30 reported dead after clashes between herdsman and farmers in eastern Adamawa state in land disputes.
Regional ministers meeting Kigali agreed implementation of stability pact signed November 2004; called for donors to help turn region into “haven of peace”. Trials in “gacaca” courts for crimes committed during 1994 genocide delayed until March; suspects have until then to confess. Six Rwandans accused French troops of complicity in 1994 genocide; French court must decide whether to hear case.
Government weakened oversight of newly- launched anti-corruption strategy. President Kabbah warned Anti-Corruption Commission against public allegations before full investigation, citing risk announcement of investigation into 6 ministers would prove destabilising; reversed donor commitments, announcing central role for discredited Attorney General’s office. Investigative journalists intimidated by arrest of anti-corruption journalist Olu Gordon. Special Court for Sierra Leone continued trials, but hit by incarceration of Chief Investigator Halloran on molestation charges. Freetown student demonstrations marked risk of growing civil unrest.
Crisis deepened over possible deployment of foreign peacekeepers to help transitional government (TG) return to Somalia (from Nairobi) and disarm warring factions. Bomb likely intended for African Union (AU) security team killed 2 in Mogadishu 17 February - a week after street protests against proposed AU/IGAD force, with some threatening “jihad” against troops from neighbouring countries with history of intervention. Ethiopia reaffirmed its interest in sending peacekeeping troops. Several warlords – now TG ministers – released joint statement 27 February rejecting contingents from Ethiopia or Djibouti. Transitional government PM Ghedi and President Yusuf delayed 10-day trip to Somalia amidst security concerns; eventually arrived in separate planes 24 February.
Situation in Darfur remained dire, with inadequate international response. Long-awaited UN commission concluded atrocity crimes had been committed in Darfur, but insufficient evidence of genocide; named 51 war crimes suspects and urged referral to International Criminal Court (ICC). U.S. resisted referral, preferring to finance addition to Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; EU and others said ad hoc courts overstretched and time- limited, and urged U.S. to abstain on Security Council vote. Breaches of ceasefire ongoing with rebel attacks - leading to possible exclusion of Justice and Equality Movement rebels from future talks - and continued government and militia attacks. N’djamena Joint Ceasefire Commission suggested AU-backed talks could recommence mid-March; Sudan Liberation Movement called for enforcement of no-fly zone and government withdrawal from captured areas as precondition; Vice President Taha said Sudanese forces withdrawing from western Darfur. Meanwhile, UN said up to 4 million may soon be in need of famine relief. Following January north-south peace accord, discussions continued on 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to be deployed southern Sudan within 6 months.
Fast-moving crisis sparked by Faure Gnassingbé’s unconstitutional seizure of power with army backing 6 February following death of father, General Gnassingbé Eyadema; parliament subsequently rubber-stamped coup. EU and U.S. criticised move; African Union suspended Togo; and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions. Having initially banned political rallies and said he would see out term until 2008, Gnassingbé accepted elections by April, then resigned, amidst strike actions and protestors’ march on Lomé, prompting ECOWAS to lift sanctions. Gnassingbé elected leader of ruling Rassemblement du peuple togolais 25 February; expected to run as candidate in elections.
Peace moves to end 18-year Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency edged forward: opportunity for resolution exists, but will require international engagement. Eighteen-day limited government ceasefire announced 4 February in areas between Gulu and Kitgum. Government subsequently said talks would continue beyond ceasefire expiry; LRA attack following expiry killed 10 civilians. LRA Brigadier Sam Kolo defected to army following dispute with deputy leader Vincent Otti, who will replace him as chief LRA negotiator. Ugandan President Museveni said defection showed success of army campaign; some MPs said Museveni undermining chief government negotiator Betty Bigombe. Referendum on amending constitution to allow return to multi- party politics scheduled for 30 June.
President Mugabe announced election date of 31 March. Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reversed earlier threat to boycott elections, saying would participate “under protest”. Domestic situation unimproved with media repressed (most foreign media pushed out and newly opened Bulawayo Weekly Times shut down) and MDC meetings harassed (in contravention of SADC electoral guidelines); MDC campaign chief Ian Makone detained, then released. Information minister Jonathon Moyo, sacked from cabinet and from Zanu-PF following internal dispute, to stand as independent candidate. South African trade union delegation deported 2 February; similar mission by South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance refused entry 18 February. South African President Mbeki, while suggesting Zimbabwe’s land reform policies were “incorrect”, criticised U.S. approach of classing Zimbabwe as “outpost of tyranny”. EU renewed targeted sanctions 21 February - up for review after elections.
UN announced delay of parliamentary elections originally set for 21 May for security and organisational reasons; final decision over voting system and electoral boundaries yet to be made. Delegation of ex-Taliban officials led by former ambassador to UN, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, held amnesty and reconciliation talks with government. Renewed violence Helmand, Khost and Kandahar provinces killed at least 22. Long-delayed westward expansion of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - led by Turkey as of 14 February - finally progressing: U.S. agreed transfer of 2 existing Provisional Reconstruction Teams in west to NATO control; Spain and Lithuania to add further 2, and 1 Forward Support Base to be created. First-ever Afghanistan Human Development Report showed economy, education improving, but poverty, inequality and instability threatening progress.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit planned for Dhaka 6-7 February postponed after Indian cancellation citing political turmoil in Nepal and security concerns in Bangladesh. Several aid organisations targeted in firebomb attacks by suspected Islamist extremists. Fifteen suspected leaders of radical Islamic groups charged with sedition in northwestern Natore district. Border tensions continued with India as 2 civilians reportedly shot dead by Indian forces 28 February.
Sporadic violence continued in northeast, north and south. Curfew imposed in northern city of Lucknow after 20 February sectarian violence killed 3. Unrest following breakdown of peace talks between Andhra Pradesh state and Maoist groups continued; 8 killed by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) in Andhra Pradesh 1 March; in neighbouring Karnataka state 6 policemen killed in CPI-M attack following earlier killing of Maoist leader. Second round of provincial elections held in northern states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana; at least 30 killed in poll violence blamed mainly on Maoist rebels. Four soldiers killed in northeastern Manipur state in 17 February attack by suspected separatists.
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri announced confidence-building measures after 16 February Islamabad talks, including bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad (to start 7 April) and agreement on cross-border Iran-India-Pakistan “peace pipeline”. Local elections held for first time in Jammu and Kashmir, voter turnout low due to separatist boycott calls. Some violence despite considerable security presence. Al-Mansurain militant group claimed responsibility for 24 February suicide attack on Srinagar government complex, killing 7.
Second round of talks between Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and government in Helsinki described as “constructive” by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, chief mediator. Indonesian government claimed GAM dropped independence demand, but this denied by GAM spokesman, Bakhtiar Abdullah. Both sides agreed to discuss “self- government” but not clear any common ground. Next round of talks scheduled for 12 April. Corruption in aid distribution remains major concern, while army claimed GAM attempting to infiltrate IDP camps. Army killed 7 suspected rebels 7 February. Charge dropped against radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir of planning or inciting terrorist acts, requested sentence of 8 years for lesser charges. U.S. State Dept. restored Jakarta's eligibility for International Military Education and Training program in significant step towards restoration of full military ties - cut in 1991 due to rights concerns.
Set-back to nuclear talks with Pyongyang’s most explicit public announcement that it had nuclear weapons and intended to pull out of 6-party talks. Justification for hard-line stance given as response to “brazen-faced, double-dealing tactics” of Bush administration. U.S., Japan and South Korea envoys met in Seoul 26 February; insisted there be no incentives in advance of 6-party talks, suggesting NK raise issues of concern once dialogue is revived. After meeting envoy from China, Kim Jong-il announced would return to talks when situation “mature”.
National Convention to draft new constitution resumed 17 February with notable absentees: National League for Democracy (NLD) Vice-Chairman Tin Oo’s detention extended for another year under State Protection Law; 7 political activists from Shan political groups arrested 8/9 February; NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi also remains under house arrest.
Situation increasingly grim after King Gyanendra’s 1 February coup: state of emergency imposed; senior politicians arrested; media subjected to total censorship; and new 13-member cabinet appointed. Daily reports emerged of Royal Nepalese Army killing “Maoists” while vigilante actions against Maoists reported in Kapilvastu district, with at least 20 suspected Maoists beaten to death by local resistance squad and houses torched - retaliatory strike by Maoists reportedly killed 4 civilians. Maoists reacted to coup with strikes and 14-day transport blockade of all major roads into country, bombed electricity station in mid-western Banke district 20 February and increased attacks on security forces. Major clash in Bardiya district 28 February reportedly killed at least 50 Maoists. Five political parties, including that of deposed PM Deuba and arch-rivals Nepali Congress, announced common forum to wage non-violent protest against royal coup. U.S., UK, France, India recalled ambassadors for consultations. UK froze planned military assistance worth U.S.$2.5 million, India announced military aid on hold, World Bank suspended budgetary support worth $70m.
Situation worsened in Balochistan while internal political dispute destabilised Sindh provincial government. Baloch parties - with support of major Pashtun party - called province-wide strike 12 February, describing strike as referendum on Musharraf government. Two Islamic extremists blew themselves up after gunbattle with police in Quetta 18 February while attacks on infrastructure increased. In Sindh accusations of corruption between chief minister and his revenue minister continued after latter dismissed, destabilising ruling party and provincial government. Peace agreement signed between government and South Waziristan militant leader Baitullah Mehsud and supporters: militants pledged to end attacks on government installations and support for foreign groups in return for exemption from legal and punitive action for past activities - no pledge to end cross-border attacks against Coalition and Afghan government.
Situation in southern islands deteriorated with further violent clashes and bombings. Incidents between soldiers and supporters of Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari killed at least 25 soldiers, 100 rebels in 2 weeks on island of Jolo. ICRC estimated 27,000 civilians displaced by conflict. Bombs in Manila, General Santos City, and Davao 14 February killed at least 8. Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility: 2 members arrested for Manila bombing said to have been trained by JI operatives in Lanao del Sur; 10 Abu Sayyaf rebels killed 24 February when troops captured Jolo camp.
Peace process again under threat after early optimism aid talks would lead to enhanced government/Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cooperation. Top LTTE political leader E Kaushalyan and 4 others killed 7 February (most senior Tiger killed since ceasefire began February 2002) - LTTE blamed killings on “paramilitary” forces. Government soldier subsequently killed on 3rd anniversary of ceasefire and top female LTTE leader attacked 1 March.
Some warming of Cross-Strait relations, with conciliatory statements on both sides and continuing interest in direct flights between island and mainland. Beijing proposed closer economic ties 26 February, day after Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and opposition politician James Soong said in joint statement they “do not rule out any possible model of relations” with Beijing. U.S. and Japan announced peace in Taiwan as “common strategic objective” after talks 19 February, angering Beijing. EU arms embargo on China likely to be lifted in coming months, but U.S. remains concerned over possible transfer of sensitive technologies: intense lobbying on embargo issue during Bush visit to Europe.
PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party scored overwhelming victory in 6 February polls, but failed to win single seat in 3 southernmost provinces. Violence flared in south immediately after election with 6 bombings in 3 days, including apparent assassination attempt on Narathiwat’s governor 10 February. Car bomb in Narathiwat border town 17 February killed 6 in deadliest attack since insurgency flared January 2004. Widespread opposition to Thaksin zoning plan to withhold development funds from villages deemed sympathetic to Muslim separatists prompted government rethink.
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan completed official visit pledging support for NATO membership. EU warned of “lack of sufficient progress” in preparations for mid-year general elections.
Opposition factions “Justice” and “National Unity” declared extension to year-long boycott of legislature. Armenia’s ruling coalition sidestepped opposition-proposed compromise on constitutional amendments, calling instead on opposition to take part in constitutional reform in parliament rather than outside it.
Presidential spokesman said 7 opposition leaders and others arrested during post-election protests in October 2003 may be pardoned in March; statement follows OSCE report critical of their trial. But repression of opposition and media continued. Man serving 3-year sentence for involvement in 2003 election-related violence found dead in prison cell 17 February; investigation reportedly underway. Prison riot in Baku involving some 100 inmates caused injuries among police and prisoners.
Regional Basque premier Ibarretxe, having narrowly gained regional parliamentary support December 2004, failed to convince Spanish parliamentarians to back his autonomy plan; Spanish MPs voted 313-29 against, citing lack of majority support in Basque Country and threat to Spanish unity. Ibarretxe said would press ahead with regional referendum regardless; elections planned for April. Madrid car bomb 9 February injured 43 near building to be visited by Spanish king and Mexican president. Judges began investigation into separate royal assassination plot 16 February; 2 ETA suspects arrested following day Valencia. Two Basque parliamentarians accused of illegal membership of ETA by anti-terrorism judges.
High Rep. Paddy Ashdown suggested Bosnia’s progress with economic, judicial and security reforms created basis for future EU and NATO recognition as viable state. EU may decide to launch Stabilisation and Association Agreement talks in May if cooperation with UN war crimes tribunal improves sufficiently. Former commander of Bosnian Muslim army Rasim Delic and former Republic of Srpska generals, Radivoj Miletic and Milan Gvero voluntarily surrendered to Hague tribunal.
Turkish Cypriot PM Mehmet Ali Talat won northern Cyprus’ parliamentary elections, pledging to work toward reunification of Cyprus and integration with EU.
PM Zurab Zhvania found dead in acquaintance’s Tbilisi apartment 3 February. Official investigation blamed carbon-monoxide poisoning from faulty gas heater; some observers questioned cause of death. Loss of one of country’s most experienced politicians likely to weaken Saakashvili administration. Saakashvili nominated Zhvania's close associate, former Minister of Finance Zurab Nogaideli, as PM. Car bomb exploded outside police headquarters in Gori 1 February, killing 3 policemen and injuring 23. Authorities launched investigation, cautioned against blaming South Ossetians. Tbilisi-Moscow relations continued slide, with no progress in bilateral talks on framework agreement. EU mission traveled to Georgia in response to government's request to start border-monitoring mission to replace OSCE monitors. Sergei Bagapsh inaugurated president of de facto republic of Abkhazia 12 February.
Election strategy (presidential elections due end-2005) threatened to split main opposition party, Ak Zhol. Meanwhile, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, extremist - but purportedly non-violent - Islamist party, faced hardening crackdown, with string of arrests, and 9 February parliamentary approval of new law criminalising extremist activity. Group already banned in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Serbian President Boris Tadic made first visit by head of state to Kosovo since 1999 war, touring Serb enclaves. Avoided meeting interim government and repeatedly stated Kosovo independence unacceptable. For first time EU Council (foreign affairs ministers) stated Kosovo will not return to pre-1999 situation, but stopped short of explicitly ruling out partition - Head of UN Mission in Kosovo Soren Jessen- Petersen fully opposes partition. Kosovo government objected to UN Secretary-General Annan’s 24 February report to Security Council that Kosovo Serbs “live in fear”. Jessen-Peterson more upbeat; reported “tangible progress” on minority rights, praised PM Haradinaj, and castigated Belgrade’s representative for painting Kosovo black. Haradinaj launched decentralisation program, calling upon Serbs to return and for Albanians to be tolerant. Kosovo Serb official Oliver Ivanovic’s car blown up 8 February in Serb-dominated North Mitrovica; no casualties.
Parliamentary elections marred by government crackdown on media and opposition. Protests in Naryn region and elsewhere over exclusion of candidates threatened to escalate, while prominent independent printing house suffered mysterious power cut and broadcasts of Radio Free Europe’s Kyrgyz service halted. Over half of 75 single-seat constituencies to be decided in 13 March run-off after candidates failed to win majority.
Tensions grew ahead of 6 March parliamentary poll. Opposition and NGOs complained of police harassment and government use of public money to fund ruling Communists’ campaign; EU and U.S. voiced similar concerns. Chisinau warned of Transdniestrian military mobilisation - denied by Tiraspol - but agreed to suspend restrictions on foreign diplomats travelling to Transdniestria after Russia and Ukraine protested. EU announced would appoint special representative to help settle Transdniestria dispute.
Serbian President Boris Tadic visited Kosovo, insisting Serbian sovereignty. General Vladimir Lazarevic and Bosnian Serb generals Milan Gvero and Radivoj Miletic surrendered to ICTY. Term of state union parliament to expire 3 March, with no date for elections and disagreement between Serbia and Montenegro over how to proceed. Montenegrin government proposed alliance of 2 independent states: although rejected by Belgrade, no signs state union will collapse. BIA chief Rade Bulatovic accused of handing classified documents to CIA. President Tadic returned Labour Law to parliament following irregularities in final text.
OSCE fact-finding mission completed week-long visit to occupied territories surrounding NK to evaluate Azerbaijani claims Armenia settling territories. Though final report yet to be completed, mission apparently found little organised settlement except in strategic Lachin corridor. Next talks between Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers scheduled for 2 March.
Local elections for municipalities - now with greater powers due to decentralisation - planned for 13 March. PM Vlado Buckovski in Brussels presented answers to EU Questionnaire assessing Macedonian readiness for accession process. 25 February 2005. Macedonia has made significant progress in the past year, but the cycle of frequent short-term crises could endanger decentralisation, a fundamental aspect of the peace process. With key local elections set for 13 March 2005, tensions stirred up by last year's referendum over the subject have yet to evaporate, and various nationalist elements remain poised to exploit opportunities. The failure of the opposition-backed referendum handed the coalition a fresh chance to put mistakes behind it. It now has to confront rising unemployment and a weak economy, as well as corruption allegations, while the local elections mean the decentralisation process remains a priority. The government must explain to citizens why and how decentralisation improves their lives. A mismanaged process, coupled with unrealistic expectations, would be a dangerous recipe.
Independent Monitoring Commission report on December 2004 £26.5m Northern Bank raid said IRA responsible for widespread criminal activity with Sinn Féin (SF) knowledge. SF leader Gerry Adams denied involvement claiming SF has never controlled IRA. IRA further implicated in January murder of Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney. Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, said SF would face financial sanctions. Meanwhile, agreement on cross-border policing originally recommended in Patten report signed between Northern Irish and Garda forces.
Chechen rebel president Aslan Maskhadov declared temporary ceasefire 1 February in purported goodwill gesture. Maskhadov said had ordered all rebel forces to halt offensive operations; warlord Shamil Basayev, who has previously operated independently of Maskhadov, announced would abide by ceasefire. Russian officials dismissed truce as ploy to increase international pressure on Moscow. Russian NGO met Maskhadov envoy Akhmed Zakayev in London; signed ‘peace memorandum’. But heavy fighting reported in eastern Chechnya, where 70-90 rebels reportedly surrounded. Meanwhile, instability continued to spread across North Caucasus: for 2nd time in 2 months, Russian forces in Nalchik (republic of Kabardino-Balkaria) attacked apartment block housing suspected members of “Yarmuk” Islamic extremist group, killing 2 militants; clashes with militants also reported in republics of Karachaevo- Cherkessia and Dagestan.