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
Six conflict situations around the world deteriorated in January 2006, according to the new issue of CrisisWatch,* released today. Nepal’s political turmoil continued ahead of planned 8 February municipal elections and amid a major escalation in violence between security forces and Maoists. The situation in Sri Lanka is approaching outright civil war: January was the deadliest month since the signing of the 2002 ceasefire. Côte d’Ivoire was shaken by four days of violent rioting. Security deteriorated in Nigeria with a series of apparently politically motivated attacks on oil production in the Delta region. Kyrgyzstan’s breakdown gathered force as a string of political murders continued. Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program increased with Tehran’s breaking of UN seals on three nuclear research facilities and subsequent international efforts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.
Three conflict situations showed improvement in January 2006. Somalia’s peace process saw a breakthrough with the signing of the Aden declaration in Yemen on 5 January uniting rival factions of the transitional government. There was cautious optimism for Liberia after the inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president. And Kuwait became the first Gulf state to democratically replace a leader using a constitutional process.
For February 2006, CrisisWatch identifies Nepal and Sri Lanka as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month. Conflict Resolution Opportunities are identified in Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka.
Sri LankaNorthern Ireland (UK)
Government negotiations with last remaining rebel group Front National de Libération (FNL) remained stalled by internal FNL divisions. In northwest, security forces killed 10 FNL in clashes; 5 civilians died in attacks blamed on rebels. Government provisionally freed 700 political prisoners involved in 1993 assassination of President Ndadaye and resulting ethnic reprisals; those released to face questioning by truth and reconciliation commission and possible reincarceration.
Security situation remained “precarious”, according to January report by UNSG Annan. Security forces backed by French army launched operation against armed gangs in north who have displaced thousands. Civil servant strike ended after President Bozize promised to pay 3 months’ salary arrears.
Relations with Sudan remained tense over Khartoum’s alleged support to Chadian rebels operating in Darfur. Chad offered to talk if Khartoum agreed to disarm rebels. Leader of United Front for Change and Democracy, alliance formed by 8 Chadian rebel groups in December, admitted to “friendly” relations with Sudan, but denied receiving assistance; later arrested in Khartoum by Sudanese authorities. Deteriorating security situation in eastern Chad prompted UN to reduce staff after armed men attacked town of Guereda and kidnapped 5 local officials. World Bank suspended loans to Chad and froze bank account used to collect oil revenues in response to new law granting government access to oil profits allocated to fight long-term poverty.
Government set first multi-party parliamentary and first round presidential elections for 29 April. Main opposition party UDPS to participate in polls, despite calling for boycott of December 2005 referendum. UN and DRC troops continued operations against militants in east: 8 Guatemalan UN peacekeepers killed in clashes in Garamba National Park 23 January while searching for Ugandan LRA rebels. 55,000 civilians reportedly fled homes after 4-day offensive by fighters led by renegade former general Laurent Nkunda in North Kivu. Fighting between government forces and Mai Mai militias increasingly destructive in Katanga region. European leaders discussed UN call for EU rapid reaction force to assist over-stretched mission.
African heads of state chose ROC as 2006 African Union chair following controversy over Sudan’s bid for leadership. Security situation in Pool region worsened due to spate of attacks by “Ninja” rebels, forcing Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières to suspend operations.
5 new multi-ethnic provinces replaced previous 12 as part of government decentralisation plan to weaken ethnic divisions. Elections for governor of Kigali province to be held February; other 4 appointed by government. National Electoral Commission sworn in to oversee 6 February local elections.
Tensions along disputed border eased as Ethiopia reduced force levels, but Eritrean restrictions on movement of UN peacekeepers remained in place. High- level U.S. mediation team arrived Ethiopia 19 January in effort to move border dispute forward; visit to Eritrea cancelled after access to border area refused. Eritrea accused U.S. of bias towards Ethiopia; agreed early January to accept December Claims Commission ruling that blamed it for starting 1998-2000 war.
UK suspended $88 million in direct aid over human rights concerns following November 2005 unrest related to disputed May 2005 elections; called for independent investigation into abuses in Oromia region. Government freed another 3,000 prisoners jailed during violent November election protests, after earlier release of 9,000. 129 opposition members facing charges including treason and genocide denied bail; defence lawyers boycotted proceedings, claiming government preventing them from meeting clients. 6 soldiers killed in clashes with Oromo Liberation Army.
Breakthrough for peace process as President Abdullahi Yusuf and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan signed Aden declaration in Yemen 5 January to unite Jowhar and Mogadishu-based rival factions of transitional government; later agreed parliament should meet in Baidoa 26 February. Mogadishu MPs endorsed deal but PM Geedi continued to favour Jowhar. AU urged UN to make exception in arms embargo to allow foreign peacekeepers to help interim government following foreign minister’s request at Khartoum AU summit. 2 former colonels and senior police officer killed in separate Mogadishu attacks, raising fears of new wave of assassinations. Various clashes between rival clans in Galguduud and Jubbada Hoose districts killed 34.
Somaliland formally applied for AU membership. Parliament approved agenda for first session and established subcommittees including anti-corruption.
Continuing insecurity in Darfur threatened peace talks while UN announced probable re-hatting of AU mission. African leaders said would welcome UN support if mission African-led. UN-appointed expert panel recommended Security Council impose sanctions on those accused of blocking Darfur peace process. 2 main Darfur rebel groups, SLA faction led by Minni Minawi and JEM, agreed 20 January to combine political and military forces in joint “Allied Revolutionary Forces of Western Sudan”. Security situation in Darfur remained volatile: UNSG Annan condemned major fighting in Jebel Marra region, including SLA attack on Golo. UN reduced staff near Chadian border, following buildup of forces in region and rising tensions between Sudan and Chad. In East, crisis temporarily averted as government forces withdrew after clashing with Eastern Front troops in SPLA and Eastern Front-held Hamashkoreb; talks to resolve situation to be held in February. Khartoum hosted AU summit dominated by controversy over 2006 chair: Republic of Congo president chosen over Sudan’s due to fears of human rights record harming AU credibility.
Campaigning underway in run-up to 23 February presidential election. Supreme Court ruled President Museveni’s main challenger, Kizza Besigye, cannot be tried for terrorism by military but still faces rape and treason charges in civilian court; earlier ruled his continued detention illegal and Besigye released on bail. Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels killed 4 in attack in Adjumani District 10 January. Museveni repeated offer that Ugandan military ready to “deal with” LRA in DR Congo if invited by UN and DRC government.
UNITA president, Isaias Samakuva, told European Parliament human rights abuses in Angola now routine and troubled Cabinda province merits special attention.
New constitution, maintaining absolute powers of King Mswati III, theoretically came into effect 26 January after statutory 6-month period after ratification; no official confirmation given. Arrests of pro-democracy campaigners continued. 16 members of banned People’s United Democratic Movement appeared in court on charges of high treason; seen as attempt to silence critics of monarchy.
Internal split in opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) now permanent: Gibson Sibanda, who led “pro-Senate group”, declared himself leader in opposition to current MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai ahead of February MDC leadership congress. Both factions appealed increasingly to ethnic loyalties rather than political principles. Desertions of mid-ranking army and police officers added to overall political and economic crisis. Government harassment of media continued with arrest of banned Daily News journalist. Report by AU’s Human Rights Commission criticised government for abuses.
Situation grew extremely volatile after 4 days of widespread rioting by pro-President Gbagbo youths 16-19 January, which reportedly left 11 dead. Protesters demanded UN leave after foreign mediators announced National Assembly’s expired mandate should not be extended. Opponents accused president of complicity in unrest while UN said protests “orchestrated”. UN troops and agencies withdrew from Guiglo after peacekeepers killed 4 protesters who attacked UN base 18 January. Same evening Nigerian President Obasanjo held emergency talks with Gbagbo, releasing joint statement that National Assembly not dissolved. Security situation calmed 19-20 January and FPI announced return to peace process 23 January (reversing 17 January withdrawal). UN infrastructure damaged in west and nearly 400 workers evacuated, disrupting aid operations, ahead of possible imposition of targeted sanctions by UN. UN Security Council extended peacekeeping mission (UNOCI) until December 2006. Opposition leader and former PM Alassane Ouattara returned from 3 years exile 25 January.
Union of Progress and Renewal, only opposition party in parliament, announced withdrawal from legislature in protest of December municipal elections it described as “electoral robbery”.
Supreme Court approved PM Aristides Gomes, appointed by presidential decree in November 2005. PAIGC, main party in parliament that had challenged constitutionality of appointment, denounced court decision.
Cautious optimism after inauguration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her appointment of first 9 of 22 new ministers 16 January. New legislature elected Edwin Snowe, former son-in-law of Charles Taylor, as speaker of House of Representatives. Snowe and 3 other parliamentarians blocked from leaving country earlier in month in enforcement of UN travel ban on those with ongoing ties with Taylor. Parliament approved measures for audit of transitional government andtravel block on senior officials until audit completed. Recruitment drive for new national army began 18 January.
Security deteriorated with series of apparently politically motivated attacks on oil production in Delta region. Several attacks on foreign companies and oil infrastructure while 4 foreign workers held hostage 11-30 January; at least 30 reported dead and oil output cut amidst threats of further assaults. Previously unknown Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for 11 January attacks, made political demands including release of Niger Delta leaders Mujahid Dokusu Asari and Diepreye Alamieyaseigha. Army deployed extra troops as oil company Shell evacuated workers from 4 sites and unions threatened withdrawal.
UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone began mandate 1 January to help consolidate peace and prepare for elections, after UNAMSIL departure. Former rebel Revolutionary United Front spokesman Omrie Golley arrested and charged with treason; case adjourned to 7 February.
Beijing admitted policy of land seizures is “historic error” that led to increased rural unrest. Community in Guangdong Province claimed 2 killed by police during protest.
Kim Jong-il’s China visit 10-18 January led to speculation North interested in emulating Chinese economic reforms. South President Roh Moo-hyun appointed Lee Jong- seok, strong supporter of engagement with North, as new minister for unification.
President Chen Shui-bian appointed Su Tseng-chang as prime minister, replacing Frank Hsieh, who resigned following ruling DPP’s December defeat in local elections. Hsieh warned Chen’s hardline stance on China alienating DPP voters. Taiwan’s latest bid for observer status at World Health Organisation blocked by China.
5-year “Compact for Afghanistan” focusing on security, governance, development and counter narcotics due for signature by donors and Afghan government at London conference 1 February. Violence continued to escalate, with suicide attacks in south and east: victims included senior Canadian diplomat in Kandahar and 23 Afghans in Spin Boldak near Pakistani border. Additional 3,300 UK troops to be sent for NATO-led ISAF force expansion to south ahead of limited U.S. withdrawal: possible deployment of Dutch contingent delayed by domestic debate. Total export of opium in 2005 estimated at U.S. $2.7 billion (52% of GDP), down from $2.8 billion in 2004.
Leader of banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen group, Shayek Abdur Rahman, accused of orchestrating wave of bomb attacks since August 2005, reportedly arrested in India. Clashes erupted in northwest between security forces and villagers protesting arrest of leaders accused of attacking local power installations due to failing supplies, 6 killed. Nationwide strike organised by opposition Awami League held 22 January protesting election commission’s lack of impartiality. EU delegation on 2-day visit discussed election issues, extremism and corruption.
Instability in northeast continued. National Democratic Front of Bodoland rebels called on government to hold peace talks or risk end of ceasefire. 8 National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) K faction rebels killed in attack by Indian and Myanmar forces along border; NSCN I-M faction extended ceasefire with government for 6 months. United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), suspected of series of bombings 22 January that killed 2 policemen and destruction of oil pipelines, to hold peace talks with government 7 February. ULFA and other northeast separatist groups called general strike to boycott Republic Day 26 January. Attacks by Maoists in eastern Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states 26 January killed 2. Highway blockade followed police killing of 12 tribe members in Orissa state during 2 January land protest.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Mohammad Khan, met in Delhi for third round of bilateral normalisation dialogue 17 January and agreed to sustain process. Cross-border travel links increased with additional bus and truck services; further bus link between Sikh holy cities of Amritsar and Nankana Sahib, and rail link between Rajasthan state and Sindh province to start in February. Indian troops reportedly shot dead senior leader of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba responsible for series of blasts in New Delhi in October 2005. Clashes between Indian security forces and militants crossing Line of Control into Indian-controlled territory killed 14.
Political turmoil continued ahead of planned 8 February municipal elections. Major escalation in violence between security forces and Maoists left at least 90 dead. Royal government insisted vote will go ahead despite widespread resistance. Maoists and mainstream parties continued boycott call. EU called planned elections “another step backwards for democracy”, while former PM K.P. Bhattarai urged King Gyanendra to relinquish power and cooperate with parties. Assassination of royalist mayoral candidate Bijay Lal Das 23 January blamed on Maoists. Despite restrictions and house arrest of senior political leaders, mass protests held in Kathmandu 21 January, resulting in several hundred arrests. In significant move, China, having not previously engaged publicly, issued statement of concern over recent political developments and called for dialogue.
Major military operations and militant activity continued in Waziristan tribal region and Balochistan province. Clashes in North Waziristan killed at least 37. Government claimed 12 militants killed in attack on Balochistan gas field 11 January. Baloch opposition claimed 12 custodial deaths by Frontier Constabulary. U.S. air strike killed at least 18 villagers in Bajaur tribal agency bordering Afghanistan, prompting widespread protests.
Situation approaching outright civil war after deadliest month since 2002 ceasefire. Attacks on military killed at least 80; LTTE supporters claimed over 40 Tamils killed by security forces or gunmen since early December. Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim arrived 23 January in last-ditch effort to avert full-scale conflict: LTTE and government agreed to talks in Switzerland early February but killing of senior LTTE officer and abduction of 5 Tamil aid workers end January dampened optimism. Norway-led Monitoring Mission temporarily suspended in Trincomalee after grenade attack amidst escalation of violence.
Fears of return to authoritarian rule as PM Hun Sen continued to target political opponents with defamation lawsuits. Charges dropped against 4, but exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy still faces 18-month prison sentence.
Peace process entering difficult phase after smooth GAM decommissioning and withdrawal of “non-organic” security forces. Divisions appeared in GAM over reintegration funds not reaching lower ranks. Government submitted draft of new Aceh governance law to parliament on 26 January: degree to which final law adheres to Helsinki agreement will be crucial test of good faith. Vice President Kalla met GAM leadership in Finland to evaluate implementation of peace process. EU announced extension of Aceh Monitoring Mission until 15 June 2006. Police arrested 10 suspected of assisting terrorist mastermind Noordin M. Top; 6 formally charged. Apparent failed assassination attempt against Poso police chief second direct attack on police in Poso since October. 8 suspects arrested 11 January in Timika, Papua, for involvement in August 2002 fatal attack on convoy of American-owned mining company. Security forces fired on civilians in Paniai, Papua, killing 1, 20 January; National Human Rights Commission conducting investigation.
UN special representative Razali Ismail resigned, after his entry to Myanmar refused for 2 years. Convention to draft constitution adjourned till end 2006.
Optimism surrounded talks with Muslim groups while army chief vowed not to negotiate with communists. Military and Moro National Liberation Front, based on southern island of Jolo, agreed to truce 21 January. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said confident of agreement for ancestral homeland on Mindanao within first 6 months of 2006. Next round of informal peace talks between MILF and government to start 6 February in Malaysia despite reported clashes between MILF and government troops in south. Internal MILF dispute led to factional fighting 25 January. Clashes reported between Communist New People’s Army and soldiers in northern Tarlac province 31 January.
Border patrol shot dead 3 Indonesians, reportedly former militia members, sparking protests. President Gusmao presented report on Indonesian occupation to UNSG Annan, which attributes 183,000 civilian deaths to Jakarta.
Emergency decree extended until 19 April amid sustained militant attacks in south. Forced surrenders and arbitrary arrests continued to alienate locals. Insurgents torched over 100 phone installations across 4 southern provinces 18 January, contradicting government claims situation under control. Train station in Narathiwat province attacked by insurgents 29 January leaving 2 dead, same day as Muslim preacher in Yala and employee of National Reconciliation Commission in Pattani killed. Court sentenced police officer to 3 years for illegal detention of Muslim human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit, before he disappeared March 2004. PM Thaksin Shinawatra announced government officials involved in Somchai’s death; called for further enquiry.
Fears faded after army chief Bainimarama backed down from coup threat. Bainimarama opposes controversial bill giving amnesty to perpetrators of 2000 coup.
World Bank and IMF announced new 3-year deals; former urged Tirana to manage aid better.
Leading parties failed to agree on new constitution in final round of U.S.-sponsored talks. First round of negotiations with EU on Stabilisation and Association Agreement started 25 January. Republika Srpska government fell after no-confidence vote in Parliament: Milorad Dodik of SNSD to try to form new government. High Rep. Paddy Ashdown confiscated funds from Serbian Democratic Party for failure to locate former leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. Former German minister Christian Schwarz-Schilling succeeded Ashdown 31 January. EUFOR shot dead wife of Serb war crimes suspect during arrest. Argentine judge ordered extradition of Milan Lukic to ICTY.
President Ibrahim Rugova, longstanding advocate of Kosovo independence, died 21 January. Rugova’s party, Democratic League of Kosovo, moved quickly to fill vacuum, indicating it will nominate party stalwart Fatmir Sejdiu for president, to be elected by Assembly after mourning period. First round of status discussions covering decentralisation in Kosovo postponed to February. Contact Group met at ministerial level in London 31 January; agreed negotiated settlement to be reached in 2006 must be acceptable to people of Kosovo - a nod toward independence.
EU suggested Macedonia not ready for full membership negotiations, warning process may take years.
EU warned association talks could be suspended if fugitive war crime suspects Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic not caught. Albanians in southern Serbia issued “Presevo Declaration” calling for inclusion of Presevo in Kosovo future status talks. EU envoy for Montenegro Miroslav Lajcak visited Podgorica for series of talks between officials and opposition on referendum; fourth round began 31 January.
Unexplained explosions on Russian gas pipeline to Armenia and Georgia 22 January cut supplies from Russia. Negotiations with Russia on price for gas continued without agreement; PM Margarian hinted Russia’s demand for price increase could affect strategic relations.
Council of Europe Assembly conditionally ratified credentials of Azerbaijani delegation; called for improvements in May 2006 parliamentary election re-runs. Court extended pre-trial detention of 3 former senior officials accused of attempted coup; all reported to have health problems. Shootout in religious Nardaran Baku suburb left 2 police, 1 civilian dead 25 January, with conflicting accounts of who instigated clash.
At least 16 soldiers and several militants, including senior rebel commander Supian Abdulayev, reported killed in clashes and landmine explosions.
Unexplained explosions on Russian gas pipeline and electricity line 22 January sparked major energy crisis: power restricted to essential services, though situation returned to near normal at month-end. Georgian government suggested Moscow masterminding crisis for political aims; Moscow accused Tbilisi of “hysteria”. Security situation in Gali region of Abkhazia remained tense as Georgian media reported kidnappings, death of power plant worker, while Abkhaz media reported renewed Georgian guerrilla activity. Tbilisi and Abkhaz authorities continued negotiations on security guarantees, agreed to intensify crime prevention cooperation in conflict zone. Joint Control Commission meeting on South Ossetian conflict cancelled after disagreement on location. UN Security Council extended mandate of UNOMIG peacekeeping force in Abkhazia until 31 March, but Russia withdrew support for plan based on greater Abkhaz autonomy within Georgia.
Hopes raised of possible signing of “framework agreement” at 10-11 February Paris meeting between Azeri and Armenian Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian. OSCE High-Level Planning Group toured areas under NK occupation 21-28 January. OSCE chairman in office held NK talks in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia; said ready to aid potential peacekeeper deployment.
Security forces launched operations against Daghestan militants: at least 3 police and 9 rebels reported killed including 2 senior rebel commanders. Further rebel killed in operation in Ingushetia. Ingush Supreme Court banned 2 European NGOs working with Chechen refugees for operating without authorisation.
Increasingly restrictive and intimidating climate for opposition presidential candidates in run-up to 19 March election. Candidate Sergei Skrebets, on trial for fraud, withdrew from election claiming would not be free and fair. Opposition leader and candidate Alexandr Milinkevich met with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, who warned Belarus of possible sanctions if election rigged. Government invited international observers to monitor poll; OSCE agreed, said sending team of experts for preliminary inspection of pre-election conditions.
Deal reached with Russia over gas prices 16 January after supply cut 1 January. No progress in multilateral talks on Transdniestria in Chisinau 26-27 January.
Repercussions of gas dispute with Russia spread to domestic politics. Parliament voted 10 January to dismiss government over 4 January gas price deal with Russia. President Yushchenko challenged constitutionality of vote. Parliament then voted to cancel deal and dismiss ministers involved. Month ended with uncertainty as Yushchenko refused to recognise government dismissal and signing of deal delayed. Bilateral tensions over the Crimea increased after Ukrainian officials took possession of Russian-operated lighthouse in Yalta 13 January. Trial of 3 former policemen charged with 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze began 9 January; adjourned until February.
Supreme Court ordered retrial of Arnaldo Ortegi, leader of outlawed Batasuna party and convicted in 2004 for promoting terrorism. Local court banned party’s rally planned for 21 January; Otegi addressed “impromptu gathering” held same day. Bombs exploded at hotel in Zaragoza province 5 January and in 2 Basque towns 26 January after ETA warnings. Bomb in Bilbao injured policeman 29 January.
Turkish FM Gul announced 10-point action plan 24 January: proposes opening of Turkish ports and airspace to Greek Cypriots, end to international blockade on traffic to Turkish Cypriot ports and airport, “practical inclusion” of Turkish Cypriots in EU Customs Union, and high-level meeting under UN auspices to finalise plan by June 2006. Proposal dismissed by Greek Cypriots and Greeks, welcomed by U.S., UK and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos refused to meet UK FM Jack Straw 25 January, objecting his meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in his office promoted “symbols” of North. Talat accused Greek Cypriots of “escalation of intransigence”. UNDP established fund to aid Turkish Cypriots.
Hopes raised of substantial progress in 6 February planned resumption of talks with political parties; talks announced after British and Irish PMs Blair and Ahern met in Dublin 26 January. Independent Monitoring Commission Report due to be published 1 February. Earlier in month, Northern Ireland Sec. Peter Hain announced dropping controversial fugitive amnesty bill after Sinn Fein rejection. Dublin also suspended plan to pardon IRA fugitives wanted in south. Police Historical Enquiries Team began re-examination of 3,268 unsolved murders committed 1968-1998, process expected to take 5-7 years.
Istanbul court dropped high-profile case against writer Orhan Pamuk 23 January but concerns remained over series of similar cases due in February. Separate court released sergeant accused of opening fire on crowds during November Semdinli incidents pending March trial. 5 injured in bomb attack on Turkish-U.S. association in Adana 30 January.
Prominent dissident Galymzhan Zhakiyanov released from prison 14 January. President Nazarbayev sworn in for new 7-year term.
Political breakdown gathered momentum. Sports hero and leading contender for head of National Olympic Committee shot dead, latest in string of political murders: previous head killed September 2005. Interior Ministry detained operative of National Security Service (NSS) in connection with killing and accused NSS of links with organised crime. Ryspek Akmatbayev, organiser of October Bishkek protests demanding PM Kulov’s dismissal, acquitted of murder after prosecution dropped charges. PM Kulov publicly blamed Akmatbayev and NSS chief Aybayev for rise in criminality, as parliament demanded Aybayev’s resignation. President announced governors of Jalalabad and Talas provinces to trade places, after attempt to sack Jalalabad governor - key figure in March 2005 “tulip revolution” - led to protests in both provinces.
President Rakhmonov fired 20 top government officials in major reshuffle 30 January. Head of Defence Ministry’s Military Institute shot dead days earlier in Dushanbe. Armed men attacked prison in north killing 1 and freeing suspected member of banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Supreme Court upheld conviction of opposition Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov on terrorism and corruption charges. Closed trial began of Ghaffor Mirzoyev, former head of Presidential Guard and counter-narcotics agency. Meanwhile, prosecutors said police had arrested 99 alleged members of banned Hizb ut- Tahrir extremist group in 2005.
President Niazov visited Moscow 22-23 January for talks on energy issues, including shipment of Turkmen gas to Russia and Ukraine.
Activist arrested after speaking out against May 2005 Andijon massacre reportedly tried and sentenced in secret. Trials of opposition leaders Sanjar Umarov and Nodira Hidoyatova on charges of financial misdeeds began. Court suspended U.S. NGO Freedom House for 6 months for providing free internet access to human rights advocates.
Evo Morales inaugurated as president 22 January after landslide December electoral victory. Morales appointed predominantly indigenous, socialist cabinet; removed 28 generals from security forces. New hydrocarbons minister Andres Soliz Rada signalled tough stance toward multinational energy companies. Morales invited U.S. to build alliance against drug trafficking but repeated defence of coca cultivation.
President Uribe ordered investigation into alleged paramilitary bribing of politicians ahead of March legislative polls; 6 candidates subsequently banned by their parties from running. Government accused Senator Rafael Pardo of conspiring with FARC against Uribe reelection. In attempt to sabotage Uribe’s bid, FARC refused prisoner-hostage swap and aired video of hostages requesting help from Venezuela (claiming Colombia unable to negotiate release). Government announced referendum on swap alongside March polls. Preparations underway for second round of peace talks with ELN, despite clash with soldiers that killed 6. 2,600 AUC paramilitaries in largest demobilisation of peace process 21 January. 12 FARC rebels, 2 soldiers killed in clashes during coca plant eradication in Macarena National Park.
Electoral tribunal announced general elections to be held 15 October; said electoral agenda could not be altered to hold referendum on constitutional reform sought by President Palacio. Series of violent student demonstrations; government criticised police for excessive use of force.
President Chavez accused U.S. of blocking purchase of planes and patrol boats from Brazil and Spain by prohibiting transfer of U.S. technology used in vessels. Spain to sell planes despite restrictions. Chavez’s comments on Peruvian presidential candidates sparked diplomatic row.
Parliamentary and first round of presidential elections, already postponed 4 times, set for 7 February. Distribution of voter ID cards over 80%, list of voting centres finalised and poll workers’ training nearly complete. Security situation in Port-au- Prince remained dire and UN mission head Valdes acknowledged civilians could be harmed in operation to establish calm in volatile Cité Soleil slum. 2 peacekeepers killed in attack on Cité Soleil checkpoint, day after protest against kidnappings and out-of-control crime paralysed capital. Violence erupted along Dominican Republic border as police and peacekeepers clashed with protestors after 24 illegal Haitian migrants found dead in van. Brazilian Gen. Jose Elito Carvalho de Siqueira appointed commander of MINUSTAH after previous UN commander committed suicide 7 January.
National election agency ruled former President Fujimori, currently jailed in Chile, not eligible to run in 9 April presidential election. Government submitted request for Fujimori’s extradition for corruption and rights abuses. Venezuelan President Chavez accused of interfering with presidential campaigns.
Seismic shifts in Middle East as militant Hamas party scored resounding victory in Palestinian elections and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon incapacitated by massive stroke. Overwhelming Hamas victory in 25 January legislative elections led to celebrations in West Bank and Gaza, grim warnings from Israel, and concern among international community. Vote held in relative calm with 77% turnout. Hamas won 45 district-based and 29 national list seats, totalling 74 out of 132, while previously dominant Fatah won 45 seats (28 national). Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked Hamas to form new government after PM Ahmed Qurei and cabinet resigned. With Sharon comatose, Israel, led by acting PM Ehud Olmert, ruled out talks with Hamas government until it renounces violence. U.S., EU, Russia and UN called on Hamas to renounce violence and recognise Israel or face future aid cuts. Fatah supporters staged violent protests and clashed with Hamas in West Bank and Gaza after election result announced. Olmert assumed leadership of recently formed Kadima party, ahead of Israeli general elections due 28 March.
Infighting between pro- and anti-Syrian political leaders continued to paralyse reform. UN Security Council criticised Lebanon for failing to disband militias, including Hizbollah and Palestinian armed factions. Belgian Serge Bammertz, deputy prosecutor of International Criminal Court, took over UN investigation into assassination of PM Hariri.
Former Sunni Vice President Khaddam, self-exiled in Paris, called for overthrow of President Assad, whom he accused of ordering assassination of Lebanese PM Hariri. Divided opposition groups hesitant to follow former Baath party stalwart’s lead. Assad announced reluctance to demarcate controversial Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area on border with Lebanon. If recognised as Syrian, Lebanese pro-Syrian Hizbollah will lose justification to fight Israel. U.S. called for release of political prisoners and froze assets of head of military intelligence (Assad’s brother-in-law) Asef Shawkat, accusing him of promoting violence in Lebanon and Iraq. UN team investigating Hariri’s murder requested interview with Assad.
Violent clashes continued between security forces, disaffected youths and political activists.
Tehran broke UN seals on 3 nuclear research facilities but denied intention to build nuclear weapons. UK, U.S. France, Russia, China and Germany agreed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should report Iran to Security Council at 2 February emergency meeting, but to defer any UNSC action until March IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities. Move seen as compromise between U.S. and EU3, pushing for referral to UNSC for possible sanctions, and Russia and China, against sanctions. Moscow continued efforts to broker compromise that would see it enrich Iranian uranium; talks between Iran and Russia to resume 16 February. 2 blasts in southwestern city of Ahwaz 24 January killed 8; bombs blamed on Arab separatists.
Election results announced amid sharp escalation of violence early in month. Islamist Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance declared winners of December parliamentary polls, but without absolute majority (128 of 275 seats); Kurdish parties won 53 seats, Islamist Sunni Arab bloc 44. International monitors declared irregularities, but said did not affect result. Security situation remained highly unstable with civilians, police and interior ministry targeted. Surge of violence killed 180 early in month, including attacks on funeral in Muqdadiya, Shiite shrine in Karbala and police recruits in western city of Ramadi. Simultaneous 19 January bombs in Baghdad killed 15 while 30 civilians shot dead by gunmen near Dujail 18 January. Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino announced plans to withdraw Italian troops by end 2006. Saddam Hussein trial in apparent disarray after delays and walkouts by defence team.
Kuwait became first gulf state to replace leader using constitutional and parliamentary process. Parliament ousted Saad al-Abdullah on health grounds after his succession on 15 January following death of emir. Current PM Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah chosen as replacement.
Clashes reported between security forces and alleged al-Qaeda members. Police reportedly disrupted plot to carry out bombings in Riyadh. Tensions escalated with Iran after FM Saud al-Faisal issued statement exhorting Iran to cease uranium enrichment.
Soldiers clashed with supporters of slain rebel cleric Husain al-Huthi, 11 killed. 5 Italian tourists freed after standoff between kidnappers and security forces.
Militants killed 4 state water company workers in Tissemsilt province. Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat announced death of one of its founders, Ahmed Zerabib, in clashes with army in Bejaia region. President Bouteflika greeted by crowds of supporters on return from 5-week hospital stay in Paris but health concerns remained.
Government released 453 Muslim Brotherhood activists arrested during December 2005 parliamentary elections; at least 300 still detained. Wafd party president Noman Gomaa provisionally ousted following legislative elections post-mortem. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades protesting leader’s detention by Palestinian authorities breached border 3 January and clashed with soldiers, killing 2. Violent dispute between Christians and Muslims in Upper Egypt left 1 dead. Over 350 Sudanese refugees, detained by police after 30 December protest, freed but 180 still in custody.
New UN Envoy Peter van Walsum told Security Council all-inclusive talks only way out of impasse.