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
Nine conflicts around the world notably deteriorated last month, according to the July issue of ICG's CrisisWatch bulletin. In Sudan, despite assurances from Khartoum in response to visits from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, there are deep anxieties about the scale of the impending humanitarian disaster, with over one million displaced and continuing attacks on civilians. Neighbouring Chad, hosting up to 200,000 Darfurian refugees and worried about cross-border attacks and the risk of interethnic destabilisation, was also on CrisisWatch's list of deteriorated situations.
Chechnya (Russia), too, declined after a major rebel attack in next-door Ingushetia killed close to 100. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebel capture of Bukavu from 2-9 June, which left over 100 dead and caused waves of refugees, drew attention to the increasing instability in that country. The situation also worsened in Afghanistan, Bolivia, Côte d'Ivoire, Georgia and Iran.
Five conflict situations showed improvement in June 2004. The Philippines enjoyed an unexpectedly smooth election process, concluding on 23 June. After 18 months without a head of state, Serbia elected a new reform-minded president, rejecting a radical nationalist candidate in the second round of voting. North Korea, Sierra Leone and Venezuela also demonstrated progress in June: North Korea, as a U.S. proposal at six-way talks in Beijing broke the deadlock in negotiations; Sierra Leone, after the UN-backed war crimes tribunal got under way, and Venezuela, after the constitutional process moved forward without expected disruptions or violence.
For July 2004, CrisisWatch identifies Georgia and Kosovo as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of further conflict in the coming month. CrisisWatch identified no Conflict Resolution Opportunities for July 2004.
ChadDemocratic Republic of CongoSudanCôte d’IvoireAfghanistanChechnya (Russia)GeorgiaBoliviaIran
Sierra LeoneKorean PeninsulaPhilippinesSerbiaVenezuela
As country’s 3-year political transition nears 31 October end-date, pockets of violence continue in Bujumbura Rural province. Army, now including members of former CNDD-FDD rebels, clashed 14 June with forces of FNL/Palipehutu, only armed group not involved in ceasefire negotiations with transitional government. Fighting that broke out 26 May in Bukavu, DR Congo, has led to influx of Congolese refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees said some 34,000 crossed into Burundi, now in Rugombo, Cibitoke and Gatumba. Refugees wary of returning to DRC despite lessening violence. UN officially took over Africa Union mission in support of peace process 2 June.
Crisis in Darfur, Sudan, continues to have major impact: UNHCR estimates 200,000 Sudanese refugees now in Chad; logistical worries as no money for aid airlift and deteriorating transport situation with onset of rainy season. President Déby threatened to pull out of Darfur mediation role 18 June as 69 Janjaweed militia killed inside Chadian territory, claiming risk of interethnic destabilisation and Sudan support for Renewed National Front of Chad rebels. Sudan and Chad agreed to disarm militias on both sides of border, but deal yet to result in concrete action.
South Kivu situation extremely fragile, though tension eased after government forces retook Kamanyola 22 June from Colonel Jules Mutebutsi, officer in former Rwandan-backed RCD rebel movement. Forces loyal to Mutebutsi and General Laurent Nkunda captured and held Bukavu 2-9 June, leaving over 100 dead, causing waves of refugees before withdrawing. Mutebutsi withdrew to neighbouring Rwanda with several hundred men - disarmed by Rwandan authorities. Nkunda pulled back to north as Congolese president Joseph Kabila deployed 10,000 troops to eastern Congo. Aid agencies began slow return to region. U.S. and British diplomats shuttled between Kinshasa and Kigali to diffuse crisis. Kabila and Rwandan president Paul Kagame met 25 June in Nigerian capital, Abuja, agreeing to set up joint monitoring mechanism to deal with security concerns. Meeting with Uganda planned early July. Clashes in North Kivu between Congolese army and Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe rebels continued. Major Eric Lenge, senior officer in Kabila’s presidential guard, reportedly attempted coup in Kinshasa night of 10-11 June. Government said some participants arrested, but Lenge and alleged accomplices escaped. Two rival militia leaders arrested by MONUC in Ituri province. International Criminal Court (ICC) decided 23 June to open investigation into possible war crimes in Congo..
Rwandan border with DR Congo remained closed following outbreak of fighting in South Kivu province. Congo accused Rwanda of supporting dissident military officers, charge Rwanda denied. Tensions eased with talks 25 June in Nigeria and planned border monitoring (see Democratic Republic of Congo, above). Rwanda launched system of traditional tribunals to help judge thousands suspected of complicity in 1994 genocide.
Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel said 18 June government envoy would hold talks with UN envoy Lloyd Axworthy on UN efforts to resolve border dispute with Ethiopia. Eritrea had initially characterised Axworthy’s appointment 6 months ago as bid to appease Ethiopia and refused him access.
Against background of ongoing militia violence, delegates meeting at IGAD Somalia reconciliation process in Nairobi agreed on Arbitration Committee to receive and arbitrate disputes relating to appointment of 275 members of new national parliament. Each of 4 major clans to have 5 members, and minor clans total of 5 members, in committee of 25. 12 appointed 22 June, remainder unclear due to absences from meeting and debate within Dir group. Clans will select MPs in next phase.
Crisis deepened in Darfur as rainy season making aid delivery increasingly difficult. UNHCR claimed budget one third of that required to care for 200,000 expected in UN camps. UNSG Kofi Annan and U.S. Sec. State Colin Powell separately visited Khartoum and Darfur 29-30 June, as U.S. considered sponsoring Security Council resolution threatening sanctions. Little credence given to Sudanese president al-Bashir’s 19 June pledge to disarm Janjaweed militia, who continue to operate, effectively confining 75-80,000 to Murnei, attacking humanitarian convoy near Kabkabiya 15 June and refugee camps. Annan appointed Jan Pronk special representative for Sudan ahead of possible peace-support operation in south following signing of Naivasha accords. Uganda claimed lack of Sudanese cooperation against rebel Lord’s Resistance Army bases in southern Sudan.
Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels continued strategy of attacking refugee camps, burning Apac camp 9 June, killing 20. Two killed 19 June in ambush on Rapid Response NGO aid truck in northern Uganda bound for Sudan. Government claims LRA increasingly weak, citing 36 dead in Kilak Hills helicopter gunship raid 22 June. Uganda continued to question Sudanese army’s role in protecting LRA rebels in southern Sudan. President Yoweri Museveni re- iterated support for DR Congo peace process, denying involvement in recent troubles and suggesting Congolese rebel General Nkunda would be arrested if he entered Uganda.
Luanda government launched $370 million social/economic plan for troubled Cabinda province 3 June, meeting with local scepticism. UNITA welcomed governing MPLA moves toward renewed dialogue on 2005 elections, but questioned conditions MPLA says must be fulfilled before ballot can go ahead.
Growing discontent with economic situation; disgruntled former army reservists clashed with police 15 June, angry at insufficient compensation. Forty injured in separate grenade attacks during independence celebrations 25-26 June.
UN envoy claimed looming food disaster affecting 5 million, dismissing Mugabe claims of production increase. Uncertainty continued over land reform as authorities disavowed 9 June statement by government minister asserting all productive farmland would be nationalised; government said 15 June policy unchanged and applied only to land acquired under “fast-track” program. MDC opposition claimed judicial obstruction of electoral disputes, as High Court appeal against Mugabe’s re-election thrown out. Zimbabwean newspaper, Tribune, shut down by government 11 June.
Struggle to keep Marcoussis peace process alive as government supporters blamed renewed clashes on UN and French forces, and political stalemate continued. G7 opposition group and President Gbagbo agreed reform timetable 30 June, though unclear if ministers fired May will be re-instated. Rebel Forces Nouvelles (FN) leader Guillaume Soro refused to take part calling talks “hypocritical”. UN Security Council delegation suggested sanctions if progress not forthcoming. FN denied involvement in fighting near Mamingui in French-patrolled demilitarised zone 7 June, with attack on Ivorian army and French positions, killing 7. Clashes between rebel groups in Bouake 20-22 June killed 17. FN alleged assassination attempt on Soro, blaming President Gbagbo and Guinean president Conte; government pointed to in-fighting between Soro and rival leader Ibrahim Coulibaly.
Ethnic violence in Nzerekore killed at least 2 in sensitive triangle of land between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire 14 June.
UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIL) said 42,755 ex-combatants now disarmed, though reintegration and gun-smuggling remain problematic. Power dispute within LURD rebel group led to suspension of Sekou Conneh as leader 7 June. Chayee Doe named acting head, but died 2 days later from cerebral illness. 160 of eventual 460 UN Senegalese troops deployed Maryland county southeast of Monrovia 22 June to secure border. Setback for interim leader Gyude Bryant as UN Security Council left Liberian sanctions unchanged 17 June, claiming progress in monitoring diamond origins and timber revenues insufficient. Reassessment planned 10 December.
Situation calmed somewhat since May, though tensions remain high. Seven killed in communal Muslim/Christian violence in Numan, Ademawa state 9 June. Limited success of disarmament initiative central Plateau state despite strong financial incentive. Soldiers shot 2 villagers 24 June. Deal brokered in southern Nigerian Delta province between Ijaw and Itsekiri groups 23 June, though some internal Ijaw dissent led to doubts over viability of deal.
UN-backed war crimes tribunal under way 3 June with trial of Sam Hinga Norman, former head of pro- government Civil Defence Forces (CDF) and 2 members of Kamajor militia. Norman, first of 13 indicted to appear after 1991-2001 civil war, refusing to recognise jurisdiction of mixed international and Sierra Leonean court. Rebel RUF suspects face trial July.
15th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre marked by thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong, and quietly across rest of China. Police arrested handful of protesters in Beijing.
Six-way talks ended in Beijing 25 June. U.S. changed tactics with proposal involving energy aid, security guarantees in return for North Korean disclosure of nuclear program, submission to inspections and pledge to begin eliminating program after preparatory period of 3 months. ‘Cautious’ response from Pyongyang welcomed proposal but stressed remaining differences. All parties have agreed in principle to meet again in September.
Tension across Strait remains despite softening of Taipei rhetoric since March presidential election. Chinese media lashed out at U.S. following Pentagon report noting argument that Taiwan could deter Chinese military action by threatening strike on high-value targets, including China’s Three Gorges dam.
NATO leaders announced 28 June increased - but less than hoped for - troop deployment as security continued to worsen. NATO agreed to send approx. 1,500 extra military personnel to Kabul and north during elections, further 700 to take command of 4 northern Provincial Reconstruction Teams. President Karzai and Washington remain committed to September elections: about 5.2 million of nearly 10 million eligible voters registered but process slowed in south and east by militant violence. Election workers targeted: 2 killed by blast in eastern city of Jalalabad 26 June. Taliban guerrillas reportedly killed 16 in Oruzgan province for carrying voter registration cards. U.S. and Afghan forces intensified operations in south, killing 23 militants 8 June. Two U.S. troops killed in Kunar province on border with Pakistan 24 June. Insurgent attacks also spread to north: 5 Médecins Sans Frontières staff killed in northwestern province of Badghis. In addition, 11 Chinese workers, 4 locals killed in northern Kunduz, though Taliban denied responsibility.
Report from Bureau of Human Rights Bangladesh 29 June indicates increased political killings and violence. Fifty wounded in 21 June explosion at opposition Awami League (AL) rally in northeastern district of Sunamganj. AL members returned to parliament 15 June, year after it declared boycott of parliamentary sessions.
New government of PM Manmohan Singh sworn in 2 June with opposition claiming number of ministers “tainted”. Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries met 27-28 June to discuss nuclear confidence-building measures and Kashmir as part of ongoing peace process. Landmine attack in eastern Jharkhand state 23 June killed 6 - blamed on leftist separatist People’s War Group (PWG). Attack followed 8 June offer of talks by Andhra Pradesh state government. PWG demanded more concessions before negotiating. Northeastern separatist groups continued campaigns: United Liberation Front of Asom attacked cinema hall with grenades 9 June, wounding 16; National Liberation Front of Tripura reportedly kidnapped 24 traders 14 June.
Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries met 27-28 June to discuss nuclear confidence-building measures and Kashmir as part of ongoing peace process. Expert-level talks on nuclear CBMs in Islamabad 19-20 June and low-level and unscheduled talks between foreign ministers on sidelines of Asia Cooperation Dialogue conference in China 20-21 June resulted in renewed ban on nuclear tests, and agreement to set up hotline between foreign ministries and reopen Karachi, Mumbai consulates. Attacks on civilians, clashes between security forces and militants continued. Three separate grenade attacks in Pahalgam, Handwara and Kunzer killed 7; 1 attack claimed by little-known Al-Nasreen group. Twelve Muslims, including 4 children, killed in shooting 26 June. India’s interior minister indicated government likely to hold peace talks with Kashmiri separatists in July.
PM Sher Bahadur Deuba reappointed by King Gyanendra 2 June after political parties failed to agree on candidate to replace former PM Surya Bahadur Thapa. Opposition parties split on support for Deuba. Main opposition communists, called for constitutional convention, agreed 30 June to join Deuba’s government. Maoist leadership rejected Deuba appointment. Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala refused to join government, continued to call for return to multi-party democracy. Bomb exploded in Kathmandu Indian-run school in apparent enforcement of indefinite school and college strike called by Maoist student group. Deuba claimed willing to hold ‘meaningful dialogue’ with Maoists in 9 June address to nation. Clashes between Maoists and Armed Police Force (APF) continued, as did Maoist abductions. Thirty-five APF and 4 civilians killed in separate Maoist attacks in western Nepalgunj district 14,19 June.
Pakistan’s PM Zafarullah Khan Jamali resigned 26 June under pressure from President Musharraf and dissolved cabinet. In 2-step succession plan, premiership will pass to outgoing finance minister Shaukat Aziz, after interim period of 45-50 days under leadership of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who heads ruling pro-military Pakistan Muslim League party. Jamali’s removal signifies Musharraf’s desire to improve his government’s domestic image, and to also retain Western support through Aziz’s appointment. Major South Waziristan military operation against al-Qaeda suspects and local supporters left 72 dead, including 17 security officers. Operation launched after foreign militants killed 15 security officers near town of Shakai, 350km west of Islamabad. Pakistan continued tests of nuclear-capable Ghauri ballistic missile 4 June.
Peace process remained stalled. 2002 ceasefire between Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and government at risk as latter admitted elements of military unofficially supported breakaway LTTE rebel commander V. Muralitharan, aka Karuna. LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan told Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim 30 June peace process would not go forward. President Kumaratunga’s government 5 seats short of simple majority, unable to press ahead with legislative agenda.
First direct presidential election set for 5 July. Polls indicate Democratic Party candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono clear favourite. Clashes in Aceh continued; at least 18 suspected rebels, 3 soldiers killed. Exiled leaders of separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), including “prime minister” Malik Mahmood, arrested for “crimes violating international law” in Sweden: later released. Trial of Rusman Gunawan, charged re Jakarta’s August 2003 Marriott hotel blast, started 21 June. Attorney General’s office announced Muslim cleric and suspected JI leader Abu Bakar Baasyir’s case ready for trial. New constitutional court overturned controversial January 2003 decision to divide Papua by creating new provinces of West and Central Irian Jaya; interior ministry appealing decision. In central Papua, conflict between Damal and Nduga tribes resolved after 4 killed, over 120 injured. Investigations into April/May Ambon violence continued with members of Christian group arrested on arson charges but no progress on sniper attacks. Maluku police, including son-in-law of separatist Front for Moluccan Sovereignty leader Alex Manuputty, reportedly involved in violence. ICG Southeast Asia project director Sidney Jones and analyst Francesca Lawe-Davies expelled from Indonesia 6 June, generating much local controversy and international concern.
U.S. Congress voted to continue economic, political sanctions. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and deputy chairman Tin Oo remain under house arrest. EU’s objection to Myanmar participating in Asian-Europe Meeting (ASEM) caused cancellations of 2 finance meetings, but ASEM October summit in Hanoi to go ahead with Myanmar represented. Talks held with India on joint military action against Indian separatists: 2,000 rebels from insurgent groups in India’s northeastern states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland have bases inside Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region.
Unexpectedly smooth election process concluded 23 June as Congress declared President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo winner of 10 May elections. Supporters of defeated Fernando Poe Jr. protested against result, claimed fraud. Post-election security fears heightened as 3 explosive devices found in Manila outside Catholic church, interior and defence department buildings 20-21 June. National security adviser Norberto Gonzales said new government to give leaders of Moro Islamic Liberation Front less than 6 months to expel 30 Jemaah Islamiah members believed to be using its hideouts in southern Mindanao island. Government held talks with Communist National Democratic Front (NDF) in Norway 22 June. Talks focused on social/economic reforms, support from government for removal of NDF from EU and U.S. terror lists, and release of prisoners. No significant advances - talks to resume in August.
Preliminary border agreement signed with Indonesia at meeting of Association of South-East Asian Nations in Jakarta 30 June. President Xanana Gusmao’s government not to pursue UN prosecutors’ arrest warrant for Indonesian presidential candidate Wiranto (indicted for crimes against humanity).
Violence continued in restive south. In policy about- face PM Thaksin Shinawatra announced government to form panels of villagers and officials to work on security and development and cancelled talks with Bersatu, Muslim separatist umbrella group. 3,000 teachers demonstrated for improved security after teacher in Pattani province shot dead in front of students 7 June. At least 5 policemen, 1 soldier and village leader killed in separate incidents.
Political instability intensified. Opponents within ruling Socialist Party of PM Fatos Nano, led by former PM Ilir Meta, launched Socialist Movement for Integration campaign 14 June, and reportedly threatened to form new party. Opposition Democratic Party also facing challenge to support-base from new monarchist Movement for National Development party. Political manoeuvring - likely to intensify up to May/June 2005 elections - continued to undermine any progress toward EU’s Stabilisation and Association Process.
Final decision to pass control of NATO’s Stabilisation Force in Bosnia (SFOR) to 7,000 EU troops (EUFOR) by end of 2004 announced at Istanbul summit 28 June. Bosnian membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program rejected. Key preconditions for NATO membership - full cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal and arrest of war crimes fugitives - not yet fulfilled. High Rep. Paddy Ashdown dismissed 60 officials 30 June, including parliamentary speaker Dragan Kalinic and interior minister Zoran Djeric, on grounds of ‘obstructionism and corruption’. Police failed 26-27 June to locate war crimes suspects Stojan Zupljanin or Savo Todovic. Bosnian Serb government commission admitted Serb forces murdered thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 - previously denied.
International community policies and Kosovo Albanian expectations remain on collision course. PM Bajram Rexhepi threatened unilateral declaration of independence or referendum call if no progress toward resolving Kosovo’s final status by September 2005, while former leader of Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, voiced dissatisfaction with status quo. Serb teenager killed 5 June in apparent attempt to rekindle March violence. EU envoy to Macedonia, Søren Jessen- Petersen, named by UN to replace resigned Head of UN Mission in Kosovo Harri Holkeri.
Debate intensified on decentralisation laws - last component of Ohrid peace deal and key condition before Macedonia’s aspirations to EU candidate status could be considered. Governing Social Democrats (SDSM) promised compromise with coalition partner Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) on decentralisation by 5 July.
After 18 months without head of state, Democratic Party candidate Boris Tadic won second round presidential election, beating Tomislav Nikolic of Serbian Radical Party. Tadic won 53.7%, Nikolic 45%, with surprisingly high voter turnout of approx. 49%. Oligarch candidate Bogoljub Karic’s surprisingly high first round showing (18.8%) makes him new force on Serbia’s political scene. Uncertain whether Tadic’s election will have impact on Serbia’s political course. Hague tribunal president Theodore Meron told UN Security Council 9 June Serbia-Montenegro shows no signs of cooperating. Milorad “Legija” Ulemek pleaded not guilty to all charges related to murder of PM Zoran Djindjic.
Opposition announced protest campaign to remove President Robert Kocharian would be suspended for foreseeable future due to insufficient public support.
Seven jailed Azerbaijani opposition members returned to court 22 June after boycotting hearings. Prisoners charged in connection with October 2003 post- election clashes; claim proceedings biased. Authorities continue to refuse permission for opposition to hold demonstrations in public.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia to build up forces in North Caucasus after major rebel attack in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, killed close to 100, including Ingush interior minister. Between 200 and 300 insurgents struck police stations and public buildings in 3 towns night of 21-22 June. Russia blamed Chechen rebels, but identity of attackers unclear: some reportedly spoke Ingush. In Chechnya, May assassination of President Akhmad Kadyrov has left power vacuum. Alu Alkhanov, Kadyrov’s relatively unknown interior minister, tapped as Moscow’s choice to replace him. Election set for 29 August.
Tensions rose between Tbilisi and South Ossetia, as President Mikheil Saakashvili, following successful May resolution of crisis with Ajara region, began manoeuvring to bring second of Georgia’s 3 breakaway regions (other is Abkhazia) under central control. Georgian troops cut off major smuggling route, heavily damaging on South Ossetian economy, while Tbilisi offered Ossetian citizens pensions and aid. South Ossetia alleged Tbilisi massing troops on internal border; Tbilisi said Russia supporting and equipping South Ossetia. In Abkhazia, several senior officials, including acting foreign minister and head of security services, resigned following assassination of opposition leader Garri Ayba. President Saakashvili’s party won sweeping victory - with over 77% of vote - in 20 June parliamentary election in Ajara.
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces exchanged fire in several incidents 6-8 June, killing at least 2. Peace talks remain frozen.
EU and Chisinau agreed 3-year Action Plan for increased cooperation, but settlement of conflict with breakaway Transdniestrian region remains elusive. Both sides reportedly amenable to federal solution, although Chisinau seeking asymmetric federation, while Tiraspol wants equal status. Latter skipped latest round of negotiations 23-24 June.
Eight members of ETA arrested in French raids 17 June. Spanish PM Zapatero continued attempts to avoid Basque premier’s Plan Ibarretxe. Plan calls for greater autonomy, including separate courts, subject to Basque referendum; many fear this would lead to break-up of Spain.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan blamed Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopolous for failure of peace referendum in internal UN report 2 June, mooting international recognition of Northern Cyprus. Greece, meanwhile, suggested financial assistance to Turkish Cyprus. UN peacekeeping force (UNFICYP) mandate extended further 6 months; status and structure of mission to be reviewed by Annan within 3 months.
Elections to European Parliament 10-13 June saw Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), opposed to power-sharing, top poll with 32% vote share, well ahead of more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. Sinn Féin (SF) replaced Social Democratic Labour Party as main party of nationalist community. Possible push for peace between SF and DUP, though SF called DUP conditions “unacceptable” 30 June.
Courts released Kurdish activist Leyla Zana 9 June amid claims Turkey now fully ready for EU membership. Leftist group detonated small bomb outside Hilton hotel Ankara 24 June, severely injuring 2. Three killed and 15 injured in later Istanbul blast ahead of NATO summit 28-29 June. Clashes between security forces and Kurdish rebels in southeast claimed at least 17 since 1 June end of unilateral ceasefire.
Opposition newspaper Assandi-Times said edition of paper which appeared 2 June was forged, blamed presidential administration. Government hit back with lawsuit. Parliamentary elections set for 19 September.
For People Power opposition bloc announced former PM Kurmanbek Bakiev as group’s nominee for president, first official candidate in 2005 election. President Akayev, in power since 1990, has vowed not to run, but Constitutional Court said would examine whether he had legal right to seek further term. Opposition Ar-Namys party complained of increased harassment and arrest of local leader.
Talks on status of Russian troops concluded with deal signed 4 June by presidents Rakhmonov and Putin. Russian border troops guarding Tajik-Afghan frontier to stay until 2006 - not mid-2005 as expected - while Russia’s 201st infantry division to be given permanent basing rights. Russia will also assume control of Nurek space surveillance centre. In exchange, portion of Tajikistan’s US$300 million debt to be invested in Tajik energy industry.
Government decree ending recognition of foreign diplomas in effect 1 June - likely to force resignations of best educated and further repress Russian- speaking population. Officials downplayed widespread criticism of law, saying only called for verification - not rejection - of foreign diplomas.
President Karimov hosted leaders of Russia and China for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tashkent 17-18 June, lashed out at West for offering “protection” to radical Islamist groups banned in Central Asia. Apparent tilt toward Russia and China follows heavy Western criticism of Uzbek rights abuses and lack of reform. Governor of Surkhandarya region sacked by Karimov 1 June, week after dismissal of governor of Andijan. Firings apparently part of broader struggle among elite to promote officials close to PM Shavkat Mirziyoyev. On positive note, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan welcomed Uzbek initiative to demine frontiers.
Continuing protests against government plans to export natural gas and cut spending. Two died in 1 June clashes between protesters and security forces. Vice minister of education Celestino Choque abducted for 6 hours in La Paz by striking teachers. Ayo Ayo town mayor, accused of corruption, kidnapped, tortured and killed by residents 15 June. Movement of the Landless and inhabitants of Ayo Ayo set up road blocks and announced establishment of “independent government of the new historic state”. Government commission sent to region unable to regain control.
President Uribe’s government offered to halt offensive operations against leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) if it calls unilateral ceasefire. FARC killed 34 coca farmers in northeastern region of Norte de Santander 15 June. Attack in retaliation to farmers’ support for right-wing paramilitaries. AUC paramilitaries agreed to confine themselves to rural areas starting 1 July in bid to advance demobilisation negotiations with government. Abducted former Colombian senator and 7 family members freed 1 June, removing last-minute obstacle to talks. Lower house of congress approved bill 17 June to allow Uribe to stand for second term in 2006. Legislation must pass further 4 rounds of voting in house and senate before approval.
Assembly of Organisation of American States (OAS) held in Quito 6-8 June. Meeting drew street protests and calls for uprising by Confederation of Indigenous People of Ecuador (CONAIE), which failed to materialise. President Lucio Gutierrez prepared to push through reforms of energy bill by setting 30- day deadline for debate. Gutierrez aims to increase private and foreign participation in state-operated oil fields with state participation reduced to 35%.
President Hugo Chávez stepped back from brink of constitutional crisis by accepting recall referendum - set for 15 August - after opposition gathered 2.54 million signatures, surpassing 2.43 million (20% of electorate) required by constitution. Decision avoids direct confrontation with popular opposition; followed highly publicised talks between Chávez and OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. To win referendum opponents must match 3.76 million votes Chávez received in 2000 election. Opposition still concerned government may try to manipulate election process. Should Chávez lose recall before 19 August (completion of 4th year of 6-year term), presidential elections would be held within month. After 19 August, Chávez’s vice president, José Vicente Rangel, would serve remainder of Chávez’s term.
UN troops headed by Brazil took over peacekeeping duties from U.S.-led multinational force 1 June; failure to disarm informal militias causing serious concern. Aid workers struggling to reach areas cut off by May floods, estimated to have killed 2,600 Haitians. In Port-au-Prince, over 5,000 supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide demonstrated 17 June for his return.
Shining Path rebels killed 4 in 3 ambushes in central region. Unrest resurfaced in border town of Ilave with protests against provisional mayor, accused of ineptness and links to predecessor, who was lynched by angry mobs. Mayor and councilmen taken hostage 18 June by leaders of popular movements in province of San Román.
Israeli cabinet approved watered-down version of PM Ariel Sharon’s Gaza Strip pullout plan 6 June. Plan calls for phased withdrawal but sets no firm deadline, and requires vote before each of 4 phases. First phase unlikely to be put to vote before March 2005. Israel negotiating with Egypt on possible security role for Cairo in Gaza following pullout. Egyptian involvement officially welcomed by Yasser Arafat, but denounced by militant groups in Gaza. Arafat reportedly set to appoint his interior minister, Taid Abdul Rahim, as head of security for Palestinian Authority. Israeli troops killed leader of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and 5 others in Nablus 26 June. Bribery charges against Sharon dismissed 15 June. Israeli high court ruled 30 June parts of controversial West Bank security wall illegal.
King Abdullah said country ready to help train Palestinian police in Gaza following proposed Israeli pullout.
Israeli warplanes struck Palestinian target deep in Lebanon 7 June, hours after rockets fired from Lebanese territory narrowly missed Israeli naval vessel. Sides also exchanged fire along border 20 June.
Government said activities of Kurdish political parties would no longer be permitted, 3 months after unrest left 30 Kurds dead. Negotiations on major trade agreement with EU stalled over Syrian refusal to renounce weapons of mass destruction. [Last month’s CrisisWatch incorrectly reported agreement had been signed.]
Tehran said would resume construction of centrifuges for nuclear program, after strongly worded International Atomic Energy Agency statement drafted by Britain, France and Germany “deplored” gaps in Iran’s cooperation. Situation becoming increasingly serious: U.S. seeking to establish timetable leading to possible UN Security Council action.
Coalition officially handed over power to interim Iraqi government 28 June, marking legal transfer of sovereignty and symbolic step forward for Iraq. Handover followed unanimous 8 June passing of UN Security Council resolution 1546 endorsing plan to hold elections by January 2005 and authorising Coalition forces to remain beyond 30 June. New PM Iyad Allawi assumed control after nomination - with American backing - by Interim Governing Council, circumventing selection process run by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani gave new government cautious endorsement. Violence surged in run-up to handover, with coordinated attacks in 5 cities 24 June killing over 100. Security situation across Iraq remained unstable, with daily bombings, kidnappings and assassination attempts on Iraqi officials, along with strikes on oil infrastructure. U.S. continued hunt for top terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. NATO Istanbul summit 28 June resulted in vague pledge to help train Iraqi troops. 591 Coalition soldiers, including 526 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
Security forces in Riyadh killed al-Qaeda’s leader in Saudi Arabia and 2 others 18 June, hours after militants beheaded U.S. hostage Paul Johnson. In bid to quell growing anxiety following spate of recent attacks, government said foreigners would be allowed to carry guns.
Over 60 supporters of radical Shiite cleric Hussein al-Houthi killed as government troops laid siege on his base in mountainous northern Yemen.
Nabil Sahrawi, leader of Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), killed in major operation east of Algiers 20 June. GSPC severely weakened after death of founder, Hassan Hattab, and Chadian capture of top Salafist Amari Saifi last month. Power plant blast 21 June initially thought accidental later claimed by GSPC as retaliation bombing. Editor of Le Matin newspaper jailed for 2 years 14 June: independent press facing crackdown since April reelection of President Bouteflika.
Quartet representatives meeting Taba 24 June welcomed Egyptian pressure for Palestinian security reform in return for security role in Gaza. Health fears for President Mubarak, 76, as underwent back surgery in Germany.
U.S. announced 11 June investigation into reports Libya plotted to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2003. U.S. nevertheless reopened liaison office in Tripoli following visit of Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. Negotiations continue on compensation for Libyan-sponsored 1986 Berlin disco bombing.
U.S. signed free-trade deal with Morocco 15 June, bolstering kingdom’s status as major U.S. ally. Human rights groups questioned Morocco’s record in Western Sahara.
James Baker resigned as UN Secretary General’s personal envoy 11 June, frustrated at lack of progress toward peace deal during 7-year tenure: Morocco continues to reject Baker plan. Alvaro de Soto will take on Baker’s brief. 100 Moroccan POWs released by Polisario 22 June.