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
The latest edition of CrisisWatch, ICG's monthly bulletin on the world's conflicts, identifies deteriorating situations in fifteen countries in March 2004. In particular, Côte d'Ivoire saw its peace process in tatters, with the collapse of the transitional administration and the massacre of hundreds of opposition supporters by security forces and pro-government militias. Despite government claims of some 37 protesters killed, ICG has reliable reports saying forces loyal to the government massacred over 200 during a protest march and in the days immediately following -- many protesters were killed in police stations. There is a real risk of escalating violence and further massacres.
Elsewhere in March 2004, brutal fighting continued in Sudan's western province of Darfur, creating what the UN called "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." Kosovo also took a very disturbing turn, with the most extensive ethnic violence seen there since 1999, resulting in 19 killed, 900 wounded and hundreds of Serb houses, churches and monasteries destroyed or damaged. Overt political violence returned to Uzbekistan as a number of attacks hit major cities at the end of the month, leaving at least 42 dead. The situation also deteriorated in Afghanistan, Chad, DR Congo, Indonesia, Israel/Occupied Territories, Nepal, Pakistan, Serbia, Spain, Syria, and Venezuela.
There were only two situations showing improvement in March 2004. High-level visits marked Libya's encouraging return to the international fold, and Guinea-Bissau held successful parliamentary elections on 28 March 2004, following the September 2003 coup.
For the forthcoming month, CrisisWatch identifies Côte d'Ivoire, Israel/Occupied Territories, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of further conflict in April 2004. The only Conflict Resolution Opportunity identified for next month is Cyprus.
ChadDemocratic Republic of CongoSudanCôte d’IvoireAfghanistanNepalPakistanIndonesiaKosovoSerbiaSpainUzbekistanVenezuelaIsrael/PalestineSyria
Côte d’IvoireSri LankaKosovoVenezuelaIsrael/Palestine
Fighting continued between government forces and Hutu FNL rebels south of capital Bujumbura - 30,000 civilians displaced and 25 rebels killed, according to government. But training commenced of new national army; former Hutu FDD rebels will have 40% of positions under peace deal signed in November. World Bank to provide $33 million to demobilise former Hutu rebels. Africa Union and UN Secretary General Annan called on Security Council to authorise early deployment of UN peacekeepers; Security Council considering proposal. In meantime, AU renewed mandate of its peacekeepers for additional month, to 2 May. Amnesty International called for the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers.
Army killed 43 Algerian Islamic militants in fighting near Niger border early March, according to government; 3 soldiers also killed.
In apparent coup attempt, gunmen attacked military bases and television stations in capital Kinshasa 28 March. Coup unsuccessful - government arrested 15, claiming were members of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s personal bodyguard, and placed security forces on high alert. UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) continued to expand operation - deploying 3,500 soldiers to eastern city of Bukavu 2 March to restore calm after recent outbreak of violence. MONUC seized weapons from commanders of former rebel group RCD-Goma in Bukavu.
French magistrate concluded President Kagame gave orders for 1994 rocket attack on plane that killed Rwanda’s then President Habyarimana, from which genocide followed. Kagame denounced report, responding with claim that France directly involved in 1994 genocide, supplying weapons. Government extended 15 March deadline by 1 year for detainees to confess role in 1994 genocide. Now plans to release some 30,000 of 90,000 incarcerated genocide suspects by end of June for trial in community courts. In lead-up to April’s 10th anniversary of genocide, Kagame defended government against claims was autocratic.
No progress in demarcation of disputed border. UN Security Council extended mandate of UN mission (UNMEE) further 6 months and called on Eritrea to engage constructively with UN special envoy Lloyd Axworthy. Eritrea rejected call. UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, warned 8 March border stalemate becoming dangerous.
Clashes between rival clans over land and water in central Somalia killed at least 80. Third and final phase of Somali peace talks due to start in Nairobi, but currently stalled, with numerous faction leaders refusing to attend.
Savage fighting continued in western province of Darfur. UN Coordinator for Sudan claimed 19 March conflict had created “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, with more than 1 million people affected by “ethnic cleansing”. Also claimed government-backed Arab militias systematically burned villages and raped women. Government called allegations ‘heap of lies’. Boycotted peace talks with western rebels, due to start in Chad 30 March, because international observers present. Peace talks between government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army, due to end 22 March, extended yet again. President Bush spoke separately to President Omar el-Bashir and to leader of SPLA 22 March, urging them to reach agreement. Issues to be resolved are administration of 3 disputed central regions and representation in transitional government. Government arrested opposition Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi and number of other opposition politicians and army officers late March over alleged coup plot.
Fighting continued between Ugandan government forces and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. Sudanese rebel groups, including SPLA, also launched offensive against LRA in southern Sudan, in retaliation for LRA atrocities. Ugandan armed forces claimed more than 50 LRA rebels killed in clash 20 March, after crossing into Uganda from Sudan. Earlier, at least 11 civilians killed by LRA in various clashes. Government rejected reported offer of peace talks from LRA leader Joseph Kony, claiming insincere. UNICEF claimed actual death toll from LRA 21 February massacre at least 337, not some 200 as first reported. Human Rights Watch claimed government security forces torturing political opponents.
Rebels in oil rich Cabinda peninsula claimed 4 March 47 government soldiers killed in clashes in prior weeks - government denied.
Parliament opened 17 March after number of unexplained delays following October’s elections. King Mswati III forced elected speaker of House of Assembly to resign in dispute over king’s purchase of private jet. Swaziland now has world’s worst HIV infection rate, with UN saying 38.8% of adults infected.
Opposition threatened to boycott next year’s elections, citing growing violence against its members. Government moved to further tighten control over upcoming election, proposing changes to electoral act affecting voter registration and education. Central bank banned use of foreign currency to buy goods and services, as 2 commercial banks collapsed. President Mugabe’s salary increased by 265% to Z$73.7 million ($169,118) per year up from Z$20.2 million. 70 men arrested as suspected mercenaries 7 March when their plane landed in Harare; authorities alleged men part of plot to overthrow government of Equatorial Guinea.
Peace process in tatters following massacre of hundreds of opposition supporters by security forces and pro-government militias. Deterioration began early March with leading opposition Democratic Party pulling out of transitional administration, accusing President Gbagbo of destabilising peace. Alliance of opposition groups and rebels held protest march in commercial capital Abidjan 25 March despite official ban. Security forces and pro-government militias closed off Abidjan, fired on march and rounded up protesters during and after it. Government reported 37 protesters killed – but credible reports to ICG claim security forces and pro- government militias may have massacred over 200 during march and in days immediately following. Many protesters killed in police stations. At least 127 bodies have been counted, and many more missing believed killed. Real risk of escalating violence and further massacres.
Apparent coup plot against despotic President Obiang foiled 7 March when 70 mercenaries arrested in Harare allegedly en-route to oil rich Equatorial Guinea. Some 15 other alleged mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea - one later claimed plan was to overthrow Obiang and install exiled rival Severo Moto Nsa. Government responded by cracking down on foreigners, causing hundreds to flee.
President Conte sacked finance and trade ministers and central bank president as economic crisis worsened, following earlier removal of prime minister and interior minister.
Parliamentary elections held 28 March, following September 2003 coup. International observers certified that “in general the ballot took place under acceptable conditions” and that elections were free, fair and transparent. Results expected early April. Presidential election due March 2005. Former President Yala, overthrown in coup, released from house arrest 9 March, then rearrested 11 March after saying did not recognise transitional government; following election, claimed would not recognise outcome.
UN mission (UNAMIL) sent peacekeeping reinforcements to port city Buchanan 21 March to stop looting spree by MODEL rebels. UNMIL expressed concern that none of pre-conditions necessary for demobilisation and reintegration, such as construction of cantonments, have yet been met, though progress being made by UN and government and militia forces.
Number of political figures shot dead in lead-up to local elections on 27 March. Government responded by ordering massive deployment of police throughout country. Election day marred by violence and fraud, with some 50 killed, and widespread allegations of intimidation of voters and manipulation of results. Ruling People’s Democratic Party won clear victory. Further violence in delta oil town Warri, with at least 5 killed 9 March in shootout between troops and unidentified gunmen; local community group later claimed at least 51 unarmed villagers killed in fighting - denied by government.
Opening ceremony for Special Court for Sierra Leone courthouse held 10 March. Appeals chamber rejected application by lawyers for defendant that president of court, Geoffrey Robertson, stand down from all hearings because of possible bias, but ruled he should not hear cases involving former RUF rebels. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked General Assembly for $40 million 15 March to cover shortfall in court funds. UN voted to extend mandate of peacekeeping force by 6 months to 30 June 2005.
Chinese government expressed anger at U.S. “meddling” in internal affairs after Washington officials met with Hong Kong opposition politician and democracy activist Martin Lee. Beijing to begin review of HK constitution 2 April.
After inconclusive February talks posturing resumed as Pyongyang threatened to expand its nuclear weapons program in response to annual U.S.-led military exercises in South Korea. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing made first official visit for 4 years 24 March.
President Chen Shui-bian’s narrow victory - by approximately 29,000 votes out of more than 13 million cast in disputed 20 March presidential election looked increasingly secure after opposition Kuomintang party (KMT) dropped demand that military be given additional opportunity to vote. Opposition critics had said state of alert following shooting of Chen prevented many in military from voting: denied by authorities. Assassination attempt, in which both Chen and VP Annette Lu lightly wounded by gunfire, took place day before election. KMT leader Lien Chan said sympathy vote cost him presidency, and demanded recount: expected to go ahead in early April but unlikely to alter result.
Heavy fighting between pro-government factions in western city of Herat claimed over 100 lives. Civil aviation minister Mirwais Sadiq, son of powerful Herat provincial governor Ismail Khan, killed in 21/22 March clashes with 17th division military commander, Zahir Nayebzada. Khan claimed clashes followed assassination attempt on his life. 1,500 government troops sent to the area. At least 4 Afghan civilians killed in fighting between rival pro-government commanders of Shiite Muslim Hezb-i-Wahdat faction in Uruzgan province 16 March, with 2 U.S. soldiers killed 18 March. U.S. responded with attack on village in Uruzgan which Afghan officials claimed left 6 civilians dead. Attacks on aid workers continued: director of Afghan Red Crescent Society shot dead 7 March; Turkish engineer and Afghan guard also killed in southern province of Zabul. President Hamid Karzai asked NATO to provide troops as security for voter registration and elections. Karzai announced presidential and parliamentary elections to be delayed from June to September due to security and registration concerns. At donors’ conference in Berlin 31 March / 1 April Karzai government called for $27.6bn over 7 years. International donors pledged $8.2bn aid over next 3 years. U.S. promised $2.2bn over 2 years.
Ethnic violence returned to northeastern state of Assam. In 2 attacks armed Kuki tribesmen killed 31 Karbi villagers 24/25 March, possibly in retaliation for 3 Kuki deaths week before. Indian police killed 4 Assam rebels and reported rebels planning attacks to disrupt national elections scheduled for 20 April to 10 May. Normalisation with Pakistan continued as India went on first cricket tour in 14 years. India test fired short range nuclear– capable missile 19 March.
Fighting continued between Indian security forces and Kashmiri separatists with several incidents in and around Srinagar. Main separatist alliance, All Parties Hurriyat Conference, held second round of talks with Indian government March 27. Separatist group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and militants Hizbul Mujahideen urged Indian Kashmiri voters to boycott April elections.
Violence and disruptive strikes continued. Fierce fighting 20 March in Beni, 175 miles west of Kathmandu, worst since cease-fire collapsed in August. Government sources claimed 500 rebels killed: Maoists put total dead at under 200 - 40 rebels, 150 security personnel. Earlier attack on telecommunications tower by Maoist rebels in eastern Nepal killed up to 29 troops and 10 rebels. Landmines killed 11 civilians in Kanchenpur district, 4 soldiers in western Kaski district. Maoists launched 15-day transport strike in 14 western districts 10 March. King Gyanendra announced intention to hold long-delayed elections by April 2005.
Despite precautions, violence erupted on Shiite holy day of Arusha 2 March. Suspected Sunni Muslim extremists attacked Shiites with automatic rifles and grenades in southwestern city of Quetta, killing 44 people, wounding more than 150. Attacks sparked mob violence and rioting. Army ended 12-day offensive in South Waziristan 28 March, after 150 deaths including 60 soldiers. President Musharraf had claimed ‘high-value target’ in area. Operations came as U.S. troops in Afghanistan stepped up hunt along that side of border and coincided with visit of U.S. Sec. State Colin Powell to Islamabad and declaration that Pakistan will be granted ‘major non-NATO ally’ status. Pakistan test fired intermediate- range nuclear-capable ballistic missile 9 March.
Country braced for 2 April general election violence following President Kumaratunga and PM Wickremesinghe feud. Split between Tamil commanders added to tensions. Eastern Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Karuna (V. Muralitharan) accused LTTE leadership of discriminating against Tamils in east – dismissed by northern leadership 6 March. Karuna controls approx. 6,000 fighters compared to 11,000 for LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) candidate and supporter of Karuna shot dead, leading government to deploy troops as precaution. Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim reviewed Oslo-arranged truce 15 March. Both Prabhakaran and Karuna said they would abide by it. Kumaratunga pledged to abolish the presidency should her United People’s Freedom Alliance win power, with her assuming prime minister’s position. Also indicated she would remain defence minister, one of 3 ministries she took control of in November, regardless of election outcome.
Campaigning for 5 April national elections began 11 March amid security fears. Bomb exploded during training exercise of radical Islamic group in Jakarta 21 March. Police seized explosives (same as used in Bali and Marriott bombings), handgun and jihadist propaganda. Ten people arrested; 8 suspects still at large. Sentence of JI leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir reduced after successful appeal to Supreme Court; to be freed within weeks. Acting head of JI Abu Rusdan sentenced to 3 1/2 years for sheltering Bali mastermind Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas). Police stabilisation force of 100 deployed to Poso 31 March after 3 shooting incidents, 2 dead. Machete attacks in Central Sulawesi by unknown assailants on predominantly Christian village in Donggala regency 11 March killed 1, injured 5. Fears that deadly Christian-Muslim fighting of 2000-2001 could be reignited. Four killed, 28 injured 11 March when villagers attacked police station in Manggarai regency in Flores; culmination of long-running dispute over illegal coffee plantations. Senior official of Free Papua Movement (OPM) killed by army in Sarmi district 12 March where military claims OPM rebels were planning election disruptions. Additional 5,500 police stationed in Aceh to guarantee stability during elections, while access restrictions tightened for foreign journalists.
‘Cautious optimism’ after 1-4 March efforts of UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail to broker advance for reconciliation and democratisation in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest, again indicated willingness to work with Myanmar’s junta and their democracy ‘roadmap’. Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt also indicated willingness to work with political opposition.
Clashes on southern island of Jolo between marines and Abu Sayyaf guerrillas claimed at least 10 lives 7 March. Fernando Poe Jr to run in 10 May presidential elections after Supreme Court ruled him natural-born Filipino. Malaysian ceasefire observers started inspections of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) bases as one of preconditions for resumption of formal peace talks. Malaysian observers arrived shortly after army troops shelled rebel positions in 1 area due for inspections. Shelling came after MILF rebels ambushed soldiers chasing gunmen who kidnapped and killed 4 farmers in western Mindanao. Ferry disaster 26 February left 119 people confirmed dead or missing. Four Abu Sayyaf members arrested 30 March, including man who claims responsibility for ferry explosion, and explosives seized; President Arroyo claimed her government had foiled “Madrid-level” terror attack in Manila.
East Timor welcomed proposals to form new foreign police unit to boost security after current UN mission is scaled down in May. Australia, U.S. and Britain suggested creation of 125-strong armed emergency response police unit. Prosecutors intensified push for arrest of former Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) commander General Wiranto, citing evidence he failed to prevent crimes against humanity in 1999.
Unrest in south continued. Security alert after theft of over 1000 kgs of explosives from quarry in Yala province 31 March. Two policemen and village headman killed week after arsonists set fire to more than 36 buildings in region. Government made plans to launch southern development infrastructure program in attempt to end violence. Prominent Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit defending 5 Thai Muslims accused in January attacks disappeared 12 March. More than 50 people have died in 2 months of unrest.
Ombudsman Commission started legal action to force Somare government to recall parliament adjourned in January (to avoid vote of no confidence).
Opposition leader Sali Berisha promised new protests after February demonstrations. Controversy grew over attempted registration of Islamic party; religiously and ethnically based parties are illegal.
First state-level defence minister finally selected 15 March. Nikola Radovanovic’s appointment paves way for Bosnia’s membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Month-long political crisis due to HDZ/SDA rift overcome. Massive opposition demonstrations in Republika Srpska 23 March protesting against government and recent events in Kosovo. Bosnia plans to send 36-strong demining team to Iraq by 1 September - first military mission comprising all 3 ethnic groups. High Rep. Lord Ashdown visited Mostar 15 March marking first day of city’s reunification amid criticism from local politicians. NATO’s Stabilisation Force (SFOR) raid to capture former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic 31 March failed. Two civilians seriously injured.
Worst inter-ethnic violence since 1999, 17-18 March. Across Kosovo Albanian mobs attacked Serb minority. UNMIK also targeted. Security forces overwhelmed and disorganised in face of 33 major riots in which 50,000 participated, some using firearms. Some 19 killed, 900 wounded. 800 houses and 30 churches and monasteries destroyed or damaged. Initial clashes in Mitrovica sparked by media reports that Serb youths caused 3 Albanian boys to drown. Near Pristina, mobs and security forces fought pitched battle at Caglavica village, where Serbs had blockaded highway south to Macedonia after 16 March shooting of young Serb. Riots seen as hysterical explosion of Albanians’ frustrations – unresolved future, mass unemployment, blocked privatisation, apparent delegitimisation of liberation struggle, and fear that Belgrade being allowed to regain upper hand over them. Security forces arrested 200, but UN and Contact Group resumption of previous policies together with deteriorating relations between Kosovo Albanians and international personnel seen as possibly risking further, more violent explosion.
Presidential elections scheduled for 14 April. Contest between candidates of 2 largest political parties, current PM Crvenkovski from ruling SDSM and Sasko Kedev of opposition VMRO-DPMNE, with Albanian minority likely to cast deciding vote. Campaign could be influenced by March events in Kosovo. Macedonia officially applied for EU membership 22 March.
Following Albanian ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo 17-19 March, demonstrations broke out across Serbia: 2 mosques burned. Two Serbian police officials sacked for failure to respond properly. Serbia stepped up diplomatic efforts over Kosovo, PM Kostunica met NATO and EU officials. Kostunica’s calls for ‘cantonisation’ of Kosovo reportedly rejected by EU and NATO. New government officially sworn in 3 March, with presidential elections planned for May or June. Milosevic’s former minister of information appointed director of Radio-Television Serbia. Military police seized books from Helsinki Commission office alleging publication of state secrets. Democratic parties struggling to put forward presidential candidate against nationalist Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic. One year anniversary of assassination of former Prime Minister Djindjic 12 March. Trial of alleged killers overshadowed by murder of key witness. First Serbian war crimes trial started 9 March amid domestic and international scrutiny. Milosevic effectively refused to accept change of judge 25 March - remaining judges’ decision on continuation of trial awaited and will be subject to UN confirmation. U.S. decertified Serbia and temporarily suspended $26 million aid due to inadequate cooperation with The Hague tribunal.
Court ordered opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat to pay libel damages worth US$150,000 to various political figures. Paper says fines are attempt to muzzle dissent.
Russian government said Vladimir Putin won 94% of votes in high turnout in Chechnya for presidential election, sharply contradicting reports from observers who noted mostly empty polling stations. Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov severely weakened by recent loss of 2 most powerful allies: field commander Ruslan Gelaev killed by Russian border troops 28 February, while separatist defence minister Magomed Khambiev surrendered to pro-Moscow Chechen forces 8 March, reportedly after family taken hostage.
Standoff between Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and leader of autonomous region of Ajara, Aslan Abashidze, ended 18 March after latter reportedly made key concessions, averting for moment feared civil conflict. After being denied entry to Ajara by armed supporters of Abashidze, Saakashvili had imposed economic blockade on region, demanding entry, release of opposition activists detained by Ajaran authorities, and promise that 28 March parliamentary elections would be conducted freely and fairly in Ajara. Deal ending standoff apparently mediated by Russia, which has military base in Ajara. International observers reported 28 March elections were most democratic in country’s history, though widespread irregularities reported in Ajara. Preliminary results indicated only 1 opposition party, New Rightists/Industrialists, reached controversial 7% threshold required to enter parliament. Tension between Saakashvili and Abashidze continues to pose risk of future violence.
Armenian and Azerbaijani officials resumed “did so, did not” debate over whether negotiators agreed on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement during 2001 Florida peace talks.
Year’s first trainload of Russian arms to be evacuated from breakaway Transdniestria region departed for Russia 25 March. Talks with OSCE, Ukrainian and Russian mediators on conflict with Transdniestria may resume in April.
Authorities initially blamed Basque separatists ETA for Madrid bombings, who denied having any role. Generally accepted more likely to have been Islamist extremists. See ‘Spain’ below.
Turkish and Greek leaders joined Cypriot counterparts and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Switzerland for final negotiations. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash refused to attend. With a mandate to fill in gaps after parties failed to agree Annan presented final plan 31 March. Referendums to be held 24 April. Plan calls for loose confederation of 2 states. Revisions include reduction in number of Greek Cypriots allowed to return to northern Cyprus, reduction in size of Turkish Cypriot territory to 29% of Cyprus, allowing some 120,000 Greek Cypriots back to their homes under Greek Cypriot administration, restrictions on property rights for Greek Cypriots in north until region approaches living standards of south, 24 seats for Turkish Cypriots in 48-seat Senate and the continued presence of Turkish troops in Northern Cyprus.
Ulster Unionist (UUP) leader David Trimble withdrew from Good Friday review 2 March over government’s refusal to exclude Sinn Féin. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist party (DUP) remained but refuses to talk directly to Sinn Féin. Prime ministers of Britain and Ireland met to discuss way ahead 23 March. Reported no progress after talks with province’s divided leaders. Leadership challenge to Trimble 27 March failed.
Worst terrorist attack in modern Spanish history 11 March: 10 bombs exploded in 4 commuter trains in Madrid; 191 killed, 1,400 wounded. Authorities initially blamed Basque separatists ETA who denied having any role. Spain holding 18 suspects: 11 Moroccans, 3 Syrians, 2 Spaniards, 2 Indians. Interior Minister Angel Acebes told press 30 March Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group are ‘priority’ for investigations. Aznar’s People’s party voted out of office 15 March. Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero declared in victory speech would withdraw troops unless they are given UN mandate by 30 June.
Reshuffle saw Nurtay Abyqaev, ally of President Nazarbayev, promoted to speaker of senate, number 2 post in government. Following reshuffle, Emergency Situations head Zamanbek Nurqadilov sacked 2 days after calling on president to resign.
Kyrgyz ombudsman announced will investigate case of jailed opposition figure Feliks Kulov following latter’s request for inquiry into violations of his rights.
Police detained Uzbek citizen for attempting to smuggle plutonium, likely of Russian origin, to Afghan or Pakistani buyers. Authorities rejected registration attempt by opposition Taraqqiyot party. UN narcotics agency noted huge increase in heroin trafficking through Tajikistan. Negotiations with Russia on future of Russian troop presence along Afghan border reportedly deadlocked: Tajik government said to be seeking debt write-off and US$50 million payment from Russia in exchange for permission to set up permanent Russian base in frontier area. Authorities continued arrests of alleged members of banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in south.
Former chief mufti jailed for unknown reasons as government continues assault on religious freedom. Two Radio Free Europe journalists detained and, following international pressure, released; pair warned to stop reporting for RFE/RL.
Sudden spurt of violence rocked cities of Tashkent and Bukhara, days before U.S. State Department expected to review certification of Uzbekistan’s human rights record, possibly triggering aid cut. Details of attacks sketchy: violence reportedly broke out 28 March with blast at home of suspected militant in Bukhara, followed by 2 suicide bombings at Tashkent market 29 March, and gun battle between police and militants in Tashkent 30 March. Further explosion in capital reported 31 March. Government quick to blame Islamist extremists for attacks, which reportedly killed 42 over 3 days and targeted mainly Uzbek police. Board of Directors of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to meet 6 April to evaluate Uzbek progress on series of benchmarks set March 2003, including on human rights. Human Rights Watch and other international observers (including ICG - see box below) noted lack of progress in reforms and called for EBRD and international community to reduce financial aid. Uzbek government requested extradition from Pakistan of Uzbek fighters arrested in operations along Afghan border. Leader of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Tahir Yuldashev, reportedly among those eluding capture.
President Carlos Mesa announced series of public rallies at home and abroad calling for Chile to grant landlocked Bolivia corridor to sea. Parliamentarian and coca farmers’ leader Evo Morales withdrew support from Mesa and called for demonstrations against government. Leading trade union called for national elections within 6 months. Miner blew himself up at National Congress building 30 March in protest over pension; 2 security guards also killed.
At White House meeting 23 March, President Bush commended President Uribe for efforts against drug traffickers and terrorists, and called for Congress to increase U.S. military support for efforts. Coca production declined by 21% in 2003. AUC paramilitary group asked U.S. to join negotiations to disarm AUC fighters, seeking to get round U.S. extradition requests for its leaders - U.S. rejected.
President Lucio Gutierrez met with President Uribe in Colombia to discuss measures to stem flow of drugs, arms and refugees across mutual border.
Increased tension over effort to hold referendum to recall President Chavez. Electoral council handed down official ruling 2 March that 1 million of 3.4 million signatures on recall petition needed to be reaffirmed, effectively preventing referendum. Ruling led to hundreds of thousands protesting, and some 14 deaths, several hundred wounded, 300 detained and charges of torture. Electoral Chamber of Supreme Court overruled Election Board, then Constitutional Chamber of Supreme Court purported to overrule Electoral Chamber decision 23 March - leading to standoff in Supreme Court and uncertainty over recall status. Matter now before Court’s full 20-member plenary chamber for final decision. Decision against referendum likely to lead to renewed large scale protests and violence. Venezuelan ambassador to UN resigned to protest growing authoritarianism of government.
Former dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, appeared in court 8 March on charges of manslaughter following death of journalist in July 2003 during protests in support of Montt’s unsuccessful presidential campaign. Court appearance led to clashes between supporters and opponents of Montt, who is also under investigation for genocide allegedly committed under his rule in early 80s.
Following departure from Haiti 29 February to Central African Republic, ex-President Aristide claimed was forcibly removed by U.S., and called for non-violent resistance to new regime. More than 3000 U.S., French, Canadian, Chilean and Brazilian troops deployed as part of UN authorised force to establish order. Disarmament remains critical task with only limited action so far. Pro-Aristide gunmen shot dead at least 7 demonstrators celebrating his departure 7 March. Former Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre sworn in as president 8 March. Interim prime minister Gérard Latortue appointed 9 March named interim ‘technocratic’ cabinet and talked about 2 year provisional government before elections. 15 nation Caribbean Community withheld recognition of interim government until July at earliest. Aristide travelled to Jamaica 15 March, and granted permission to stay for 10 weeks - visit denounced as destabilising by Latortue.
Government announced intention to dissolve its intelligence agency on grounds agency still had ties to former President Fujimori and his jailed spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos. Intelligence chief resigned early in month for allegedly plotting against government; successor resigned 2 days later after being investigated for corruption. Supporters of Fujimori launched new political party - though he faces numerous criminal charges if returns from exile in Japan.
Israeli airstrike killed Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin along with 7 others in Gaza 22 March, sparking fears of major escalation in violence. Attack sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into streets and drew international condemnation. Dr Abel Aziz Rantisi, one of Hamas’s most combative figures, selected as new leader for Gaza Strip. Killing of Yassin came week after Israel launched series of raids into Gaza in response to 14 March twin suicide bombings in Israeli port Ashdod, which left 10 dead. Israeli assault on 2 Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza 7 March killed 14, including 10 gunmen and 3 boys. Ariel Sharon said Likud party referendum would decide fate of Gaza pullout plan. Israeli chief prosecutor officially recommended indictment of Sharon; final decision to be made by attorney- general, likely in April.
King Abdullah held secret meeting with Ariel Sharon to discuss Israel’s controversial security fence, which Jordan fears may lead to influx of Palestinian refugees. Group of parliamentarians in Amman expressed outrage at Jordanian participation in new research centre on Jordanian-Israeli border funded jointly from Jordan, Israel and U.S.
Hizbollah guerrillas launched attacks on Israeli military positions in Shebaa Farms area 22 March, drawing retaliatory strikes by Israeli forces. Attacks in response to Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Hizbollah vowed further revenge. Two Palestinians killed 23 March in Israeli airstrike in south Lebanon after allegedly firing missiles into Israel. Signs of unrest among students as 300 demonstrated in Beirut 12 March against Syrian presence in Lebanon.
Anti-government protests by Kurdish minority rocked several cities in northern Syria in country’s worst spate of violence in years. Violence broke out after 11 March football match between Kurdish and Arab teams. Security services opened fire on protesters, killing at least 25, and arrested hundreds. U.S. reportedly set to impose economic and possibly diplomatic sanctions on Syria in near future.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors returned to Iran 27 March. Tehran had imposed indefinite freeze on inspections following 13 March IAEA resolution which “deplored” Iran’s less than full accounting of its nuclear activities in October declaration.
Interim Governing Council signed provisional constitution after series of delays caused by objections from Shiite members and by bloody attacks on Shiite pilgrims, which left over 100 dead 2 March. Constitution to take effect upon U.S. handover of power to transitional administration 30 June. Influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani voiced opposition to document, saying it enshrines ethnic and religious differences, while other Shiites expressed concern over power given to Kurdish minority. Violence continued unabated, with attackers targeting Iraqis seen cooperating with Coalition. Blast at Mount Lebanon hotel 17 March killed 7; several other hotels targeted by rocket attacks. Four U.S. contractors killed in Fallujah 31 March; bodies hung from bridge by angry mob. Unease among U.S. allies as incoming Spanish PM Zapatero, in wake of deadly Madrid bombings, declared would withdraw troops unless they are given UN mandate by 30 June; and Polish president Kwasniewski said country was “misled” over WMD in Iraq. 350 Coalition soldiers, including 301 Americans, killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
Authorities arrested 13 well-known liberal intellectuals after they signed petition calling for reform. Group had been at forefront of growing movement for political and economic liberalisation in kingdom. Seven of 13 were subsequently released.
Police recaptured 2 militants accused of masterminding 2000 bombing of USS Cole; 2 had escaped custody in May 2003 prison break. Authorities also said several other militants arrested in remote mountain region.
Candidates began campaigning ahead of 8 April presidential election, which President Bouteflika favoured to win. Protesters in Kabylia region expected to go ahead with planned boycott of poll but part of Kabyle electorate likely to vote. Skirmishes between military and Islamist rebels continued. U.S. special forces reported to be active in Sahel region (Mali and Niger) but presence in southern Algeria has been officially denied.
Court convicted 26 people of membership in banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human Rights Watch released report saying government continues to arrest and routinely torture homosexuals.
High-level visits marked Libya’s return to international fold: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi 23 March, followed 2 days later by visit from UK PM Tony Blair. Earlier in month Libya signed nuclear protocol allowing snap inspections.
Police in Tangier searched home of Jamal Zougam, prime suspect in 11 March Madrid bombings. Zougam currently in Spanish custody.
UN launched program to reunite families long separated by conflict in Western Sahara.