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 conflict situations around the world deteriorated in March 2005, according to the new edition of CrisisWatch,* released today. In Pakistan dozens were killed in a dramatic escalation of Balochistan violence. Yemen saw some 65 die in fighting between security forces and followers of a radical Shia cleric who died leading a revolt last year. The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda increased attacks, with perhaps as many as 70 abducted and 80 killed. Lebanon suffered deadly bomb attacks amid its ongoing political crisis.
The death of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov dealt a significant blow to hopes for a political solution to the conflict there. The situations in Azerbaijan, Cote d'Ivoire, and Somalia also deteriorated in March 2005. And tensions across the Taiwan Strait increased as China’s National People's Congress passed an "anti-secession law" authorising "non-peaceful means" to prevent Taiwan from moving towards greater independence.
The 1 April edition of CrisisWatch also notes four conflict situations that improved last month. Mass protests over rigged parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan toppled the government of President Askar Akayev, and this may usher in positive change on range of political, economic, and social fronts, though the situation remains highly unstable, with risk of further unrest.
In Burundi, a power-sharing constitution was accepted by 90% of voters in a referendum, opening the path to a series of elections in the ongoing transition to peace. Rwandan Hutu rebels based in eastern DR Congo renounced armed conflict and denounced the 1994 genocide, which if followed through will be a very positive development. Three key ministers in Guinea, including the widely disliked security minister, were removed, in a potential signal of easing of restrictions on the opposition and repression by security forces.
For April 2005, CrisisWatch identifies Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Pakistan as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month. No new Conflict Resolution Opportunities were identified for April.
SomaliaUgandaCôte d’IvoireTaiwan StraitPakistanAzerbaijanRussia/North CaucasusLebanonYemen
BurundiDemocratic Republic of CongoGuineaKyrgyzstan
Power-sharing constitution accepted by 90% of voters in 28 February referendum, opening path to series of elections, beginning with scheduled 22 April vote. South African mediator Jacob Zuma appeared to reject, then accept, concept of short delay requested by independent electoral commission. Electoral code adopted by National Assembly 11 March; communal law adopted 5 days later. Report released by UN Sec.-Gen. Kofi Annan 28 March called for both non- judicial truth commission (with international involvement) and special chamber within Burundi’s court system to try humanitarian crimes since 1962; government previously indicated preference for single, judicial truth commission.
After 3-week count President François Bozizé officially credited with 43% of first-round 13 March votes; former PM Martin Ziguele second with 24%; run- off to be held 1 May. Earlier in month, 9-party coalition accused Bozizé of “electoral hold-up” as preliminary results suggested first-round victory for incumbent. Vice-President Abel Goumba fired 15 March having signed petition questioning vote. Former military leader – and presidential candidate – Andre Kolingba claimed shoot-out near his house was assassination attempt.
President Déby reportedly accused Sudan of backing Chadian Alliance nationale de la résistance rebels; Sudan allegedly claimed Darfur rebels’ weapons originated in Chad. Over 200,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad.
Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels in east renounced armed conflict, denounced 1994 genocide and agreed repatriation to Rwanda; major step forward if followed through; African Union had earlier offered 6- 7,000 troops to help disarm them. In Ituri province, conflict continued despite hardened MONUC posture and “cordon and search” missions, backed by fresh UN mandate. MONUC killed 60 Lendu militia 1 March following ambush near Loga. UN set end-month deadline for militia disarmament; 1 April MONUC chief of staff Gen Jean-Francois Collot d'Escury warned militias they would be pursued if they failed to disarm. High-ranking members of Hema and Lendu militias arrested Kinshasa; may face ICC for crimes committed since 2002. UN report said MONUC thus far “failed the Congolese people”; UN separately described eastern DR Congo as “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. National election date of 30 June in doubt given lack of progress on militia demobilisation, instability in eastern DR Congo and fears of flare-up in Katanga or Kasai; UN Sec.-Gen. Kofi Annan recommended addition of 2 MONUC brigades to cover provinces.
After meeting with Congolese representatives, Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels based eastern DR Congo renounced armed conflict, denounced 1994 genocide and agreed repatriation to Rwanda; doubts remained over FDLR intentions and implementation. Gacaca trials for those suspected of involvement in 1994 genocide began after multiple delays; 179 sentenced and 1 acquitted by 23 March. Some possible indictees reportedly fled; number of judges, accused of complicity in genocide, asked to resign.
UN Security Council renewed UNMEE force mandate for 6 months amid tension over alleged military build-up; UNMEE political chief warned of continuing war risk. UN Sec.-Gen. Kofi Annan urged Security Council visit to region to push peace efforts; Eritrea said UNSC needed to pressure Ethiopia to fully implement 2002 border ruling.
Amid worsening infighting among Somali warlords, regional IGAD body agreed to 6,800-strong troop deployment to Somalia, with troops to come from Sudan and Uganda, not neighbouring Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti; deployment to begin late April. This followed 17 March parliamentary vote against deployment of neighbouring countries’ troops, leading to brawl in parliament. Some MPs threatened impeachment of president over foreign deployment and his proposal to base government in Baidoa and Jowhar instead of Mogadishu, claiming president in breach of transitional charter. Militia leaders opposed to government proposal captured Baidoa and menaced Jowhar 26 March. Ongoing insecurity central Somalia; clashes over several days between rival Hawiye clan militias killed 16 near Hobyo port.
UN Security Council voted to strengthen Darfur arms embargo and impose asset freeze and travel ban on those deemed to impede peace – application to begin within 30 days. U.S. backed down from threat to veto resolution on referral of Darfur war crimes to ICC, having obtained immunity guarantees for U.S. staff. But situation in Darfur remained grim. UN said refugee crisis contained, but violence ongoing; pulled staff out of most of western Darfur following threats from Janjaweed militia; and raised its mortality estimates from 70,000 to at least 180,000, while accepting true figure might be higher. Security Council voted 24 March to send 10,000 troops and 700 civilians as peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan amidst fears over stalling implementation of north-south Naivasha peace. Mission also set to “foster peace in Darfur”.
Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) increased attacks northern Uganda following expiry of government ceasefire and apparent failure of peace bid; Gulu and Kitgum districts particularly affected. LRA returned to tactics of abduction and mutilation: local officials said more than 70 civilians abducted and 80 defence officials killed. Army claimed had forced LRA leader Joseph Kony into Sudan. Northern Ugandan Acholi community leaders went to Hague in bid to convince ICC that issuing indictments would undermine possibility of LRA accepting amnesty deal; ICC moves further criticised by government mediator Betty Bigombe. But government minister Grace Akello reiterated position that LRA commanders should be tried by ICC. Parliament moved closer to accepting end to term limits for presidency and allowing president Museveni to stand again in March 2006 elections; police broke up Kampala opposition demonstration.
UN Sec.-Gen. Kofi Annan repeated call for extra 1,200 peacekeepers, warning of degenerating security, particularly in west; 16 reported killed in clashes. Local militias increasingly armed, while presence of Liberian mercenaries reported. African Union-backed political mediation led by South African President Mbeki stalled; further meeting scheduled for Pretoria early April. Lack of political movement led to doubts over viability of October elections and fears government or Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebels may seek military solution; sides exchanged accusations and counter-accusations of imminent attacks throughout month. FN claimed New Zealand passport- holder arrested 12 March intended to assassinate FN leaders. Youth groups supporting President Gbagbo demanded removal of UN and French Licorne missions – both mandates up for renewal 4 April; counter-demonstrations took place rebel-held Bouaké supporting international presence.
Three key ministers, including widely disliked security minister Moussa Sampil, removed, in potential signal of easing of restrictions on opposition and repression by security forces. Opposition and government met in national dialogue forum 18 March.
Situation fragile: only 23% of 108,000 de-mobilised soldiers involved in rehabilitation and reintegration; other ex- combatants, including disbanded Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, not yet disarmed. UNMIL peacekeepers attacked 22 March when Ganta checkpoint, near Guinea, petrol-bombed, wounding 1. Speaker of Liberia’s parliament, George Dweh, rejected corruption allegations and subsequent suspension but did not return to legislature.
Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of Niger Delta People Volunteer Force, urged Ijaw to retaliate massively should they be attacked by Yoruba in oil-rich Delta province. In Anambra state, long-running dispute between governor and local power-broker led to both being expelled from ruling People’s Democratic Party. Anti-corruption drive ongoing: national education minister Fabian Ouji sacked as result of allegations he bribed MPs to pass inflated education budget; president of Senate indicted for accepting bribe.
War crimes tribunal chief prosecutor, David Crane, announced will leave July, casting doubt on extradition of Charles Taylor. Court welcomed arrest of Dutch citizen in connection with arms trafficking, while 3 members of former military junta went on trial for crimes against humanity. Deputy defence minister and ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party member Joe Blell accused of corruption. Fuel shortages continue.
Presidential elections set for 24 April; opposition criticised short time-frame. Having resigned from presidency February, coup-leader Faure Gnassingbé to run. Paris-based leader of opposition UFC, Gilchrist Olympio, barred by residency requirement; UFC vice-president, 75 year-old Emmanuel Akitani Bob, runner-up in 2003, picked as candidate of 6 opposition groups instead. Nephew of Gilchrist, said he would also stand, raising prospect of split opposition.
Beijing-appointed Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa edged out; successor to serve remaining 2 years of Tung’s 5-year term, allowing new Chief Executive to be chosen under old system 2007. Beijing’s interpretation of Hong Kong Law criticised by democracy activists as delaying possible democratisation until 2012. Human Rights Watch welcomed release of prominent Uighur activist – but criticised ongoing detentions in Xinjiang.
U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice, on Asia tour, warned North Korea against non-cooperation on 6-partytalks. State news agency announced lifting of moratorium on long-term missile testing as U.S.-North Korean dialogue, reason for ban, now suspended.
President Chen Shui-ban sharply criticised “anti-secession law” passed by China’s National Peoples’ Congress authorising “non-peaceful means” to prevent Taiwan from moving towards greater independence. Law led to reconsideration of EU plans to lift arms embargo on China in place since 1989. U.S. said law “unfortunate”. Taipei peace demonstration against law numbered at 1 million by organisers; 500,000 by police. Representatives of opposition Kuomintang party travelled to Beijing in attempt to defuse tensions and undermine Chen.
Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for June 2004, to be held 18 September along with provincial elections; district council elections postponed. UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend UN mission to continue electoral support. UN envoy Jean Arnault said Afghanistan has only U.S.$40 million of total U.S.$148 million needed to hold election. U.S. claimed security improving though sporadic violence continued – notably Kandahar car bomb during U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Kabul 17 March, which killed 5. Elsewhere, Taliban claimed responsibility for 8 March killing of UK man working as adviser to Afghan government. End of month violence increased with insurgent attacks in eastern and western provinces killing at least 6.
UN called on Bangladesh opposition parties to end general strikes, saying stoppages detrimental to economy; strikes continued. Ten members of Bangladesh Nationalist Party charged 20 March with January assassination of former finance minister Shah A.M.S. Kibria. Border tensions continued with India over disputed route of Indian fence construction.
Communist (CPI-M) rebels continued to clash with Andhra Pradesh security forces: at least 18 killed including 3 policemen on eve of visit by Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi. In northeast Assam state, separatists killed 4 in 3 days of grenade attacks claimed by United Liberation Front of Assam. Head of separatist National Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM threatened to end 7-year ceasefire if long-running talks with federal government make no progress. Clashes between members of NSCN-IM and rival NSCN-Khaplang faction also threaten ceasefire.
India/Pakistan normalisation process continued amid signs of Pakistani impatience over lack of progress over Kashmir and differences over U.S. sale of F-16s to Pakistan. Over 500 prisoners, mostly Gujarat fishermen, released by Pakistan, while New Delhi extended invitation to President Pervez Musharraf for 17 April cricket international and meeting with Indian PM Manmohan Singh. Srinagar/Muzaffarabad bus link due to start 7 April. Sporadic attacks by separatist militants (opposed to bus link) on security forces continued.
Dissent against royal coup increased with pro- democracy protests – hundreds arrested. Maoists called 11-day bandh (countrywide general shutdown) for 2-12 April. Former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba released from house arrest 12 March, urged King Gyanendra to begin talks with political parties. Government claimed security forces in western district of Arghakhanchi killed 30 Maoists 7 March. Reports emerged of wide-ranging human rights violations by government-backed vigilante groups in Kapilvastu late February. International community remained largely united against coup: World Bank suspended disbursement of $70 million; UK cancelled $2.5 million aid meant for police, prison services and PMs office; while EU, UN and international aid agencies released joint statement condemning worsening humanitarian situation. Pakistan, however, offered to supply arms (subsequently turned down by Nepal) while China has been publicly supportive and sent Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to Kathmandu 31 March. Royal Nepalese Army announced split within Maoist leadership 14 March, claiming second-in- command Baburam Bhattarai expelled from party – subsequent reports appeared to confirm Bhattarai facing internal disciplinary action for criticisms of party line.
Dramatic escalation in Balochistan violence. Explosion at Shia shrine in Fatehpur village 19 March killed at least 50; no claim of responsibility. Clashes between paramilitary Frontier Constabulary (FC) and Bugti tribesmen demanding greater economic and political rights killed 23 according to government, but opposition presented to parliament list of 59 civilians who allegedly died in crossfire. Access to Dera Bugti blocked by FC; tribesmen besieged over 300 troops; infrastructure also targeted as 2 bombs detonated on Balochistan trains 18 March. High-level negotiations underway to defuse crisis though deal between military and tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti could provoke even more violence by Baloch political activists since will be seen as sellout. Muthahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) opposition alliance of Islamic parties held Karachi rally against President Musharraf and his pro-U.S. policies.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) factional fighting killed at least 17, hampering Norwegian peace and aid distribution efforts. Norway drafted joint mechanism between Colombo and LTTE to handle foreign tsunami aid; parties reportedly close to agreement.
Despite 3rd round Helsinki talks between government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) scheduled for 12-17 April, security officials vowed to intensify operations against rebels. Jakarta announced extension by up to 2 months of 26 March deadline for aid agencies to leave Aceh. Devastation returned to region with 28 March earthquake near Nias island off coast of Sumatra. Tensions with Malaysia over disputed oil concessions off coast of Borneo, near Sebatik, led to increased military presence in area but diplomatic rhetoric generally restrained. Simmering unrest in Ambon as Muslim/Christian attacks 5 and 21 March left several injured. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered police and military “intelligence operation” to capture culprits. Military announced 15,000 troops from Kostrad (Strategic Reserve Command) to be deployed to Papua province over next 4 years, bringing total to more than 50,000. Radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir found guilty of conspiracy over October 2002 Bali bombings, sentenced to 30 months in jail, but sentence could be overturned on appeal due to weak case.
Promising diplomatic shift as Malaysia said would press for denial of Myanmar’s 2006 chairmanship of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) without concrete democracy moves. ASEAN's foreign ministers due to meet in Philippines 10 April. Delegation from rebel Karen National Union (KNU), largest ethnic armed group yet to sign ceasefire agreement with government, met military officials to plan talks. At least 100 intelligence officials under former PM Khin Nyunt found guilty on various charges after October 2004 purge. Suspects denied lawyers and media barred from trials.
Security forces on alert for revenge attack after 15 March police storming of Manila prison left 22 dead, including 3 top Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) commanders. ASG detainees killed 3 guards in attempted jailbreak. Several arrests made relating to Valentine’s Day bombs in Manila and 2 other cities in which Jemaah Islamiyah-trained operatives from ASG and Muslim convert group, Rajah Solaiman Movement, said to be involved. Those arrested included JI member Rohmat, alias Zaki, JI’s liaison to ASG. Zaki reported 23 Indonesians just finished training and had left for Indonesia.
PM Thaksin Shinawatra formally began second term 9 March, while violence in south worsened. At least 15 killed in various attacks on school teachers, Buddhist leaders and local female administrator as well as coordinated attack on train station in Sungai Padi, Narathiwat. During special parliamentary session Thaksin admitted heavy-handed approach to south failed; ordered reduction of troops and change in tactics. Leader of united front of Muslim separatist groups ‘Bersatu’ seeking permission to attend meeting of Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as observer. Thai Government asked OIC to deny exiled leaders any political platform. Three generals involved with 26 October deaths of 78 Muslim demonstrators removed from positions – will face no further disciplinary action.
Political forces split on date for June/July parliamentary elections. PM Fatos Nano briefed North Atlantic Council in Brussels 24 March on political and defence reform. NATO Sec.-Gen. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed importance of successful elections for Albania’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
Bosnian Croat president Dragan Covic fired by UN High Rep. Paddy Ashdown over corruption charges 29 March. Former Bosnian Serb general Vinko Pandurevic surrendered to Hague 23 March – faces charge of genocide for alleged role in Srebrenica massacre. Ashdown noted change in approach of Republika Srpska towards tribunal. Sarajevo war crimes chamber opened 9 March.
Hague tribunal’s long-speculated indictment of PM Ramush Haradinaj for war crimes announced 8 March. Haradinaj resigned and turned himself in immediately. Despite annual KLA commemoration and anniversary of March 2004 riots, Kosovo’s subdued reaction, aided by Haradinaj’s calls for calm, surprised many: NATO had deployed additional 1,000 troops to bolster KFOR in anticipation of large demonstrations. Violence limited to grenade attacks – none fatal – and bomb scares, some claimed by new “Albanian Liberation Army”. Roadside bomb hit President Rugova’s motorcade 15 March. Haradinaj's home region of west Kosovo (Dukagjini) remained security concern; head of UNMIK Soren Jessen-Petersen’s offer of guarantees in support of Haradinaj bail release reduced tensions. Bail decision, due in several weeks, will mark next test of stability. Bajram Kosumi, deputy leader of Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) party, elected PM 23 March – vowed to follow Haradinaj’s policies. New government maintained narrow AAK-Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) coalition despite EU, U.S. and UK pressure for inclusion of Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).
OSCE observers reported serious irregularities in first round of local elections 13 March, seen as test for future EU integration. Independent candidate Trifun Kostovski won Skopje mayoral race after incumbent Risto Penov announced withdrawal 30 March, though second round 10 April still needed to confirm victory. Opposition Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) and Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) boycotted second round of municipal elections 27 March. Ex- interior minister Ljube Boskovski, already in jail in Croatia, successfully transferred to Hague after indictment related to 2001 conflict.
State Union parliament's mandate expired 3 March. No new elections called, but parliament continued to function. Four ICTY indictees surrendered, 12 still remain. Police issued warrant for retired general Nebojsa Pavkovic. PM Kostunica said government to announce new Kosovo policy at end of month and mentioned several possible options, all of which exclude independence, but by month end promised policy failed to materialise. Anti-semitic posters and graffiti appeared throughout Serbia, as right wing website published names of prominent Serbian Jews. Serbia hoping for green light from EU on starting feasibility study for accession; landmark textile import agreement signed 31 March.
Cracks appeared in ruling three-party coalition as Prime Minister Andranik Markarian continued to bicker publicly with parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian. President Robert Kocharian played down dispute and signalled he had no intent of dismissing Markarian and his cabinet.
Elmar Huseynov, editor of opposition newspaper Monitor and one of country’s best-known journalists, shot dead 2 March in apparent contract killing. Government hindered opposition efforts to organise anti-government protests around funeral, saying opposition politically exploiting Huseynov’s death. President Ilham Aliev condemned killing, calling it “stain on Azerbaijan’s reputation.” Meanwhile, Aliyev announced pardons for 114 prisoners, including 7 opposition leaders arrested in 2003 for alleged roles in violence following rigged elections. Pardons came after calls from Council of Europe for Azerbaijan to release its estimated 180 political prisoners, and increasing pressure from international community for government to ensure parliamentary elections scheduled for November are free and fair. Senior interior ministry officials implicated in series of high-profile kidnappings and murders.
Relations with Russia remained tense, as parliament unanimously approved resolution calling for dismantlement of Russian military bases by 2006. South Ossetian situation also remained on edge, with no progress on demilitarisation of conflict zone, and intensified Georgian anti-smuggling efforts. Amid continued strengthening of Georgian military, President Saakashvili declared would not wait forever for South Ossetia to respond to his January peace initiative. Meanwhile, newly appointed PM of breakaway Abkhazia shot at, but uninjured, 28 February; uncertain whether incident connected to wider power struggles between newly elected President Bagapsh and VP Khajimba.
Sixth round of “Prague Process” negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan cancelled due to reported illness of Armenian FM Vartan Oskanian. Talks postponed indefinitely. Azerbaijani officials speculated reason for postponement was Armenian attempt to buy time so as to reach internal consensus on what concessions to offer. Tensions along Karabakh Line of Contact increased as sides reported increasing number of ceasefire violations and exchanges of fire, leaving at least 3 dead.
Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov killed, allegedly in 8 March raid by Russian forces in Tolstoy-Yurt, northern Chechnya – dealing blow to hopes for political solution to conflict. Despite Maskhadov’s loss of influence since days as Chechen president and his inability to control radical rebel commander Shamil Basayev, who claimed responsibility for Beslan and Moscow theatre sieges, considered by many to be integral to any negotiated settlement. Little-known cleric Abdul-Khalim Saidulayev named as Maskhadov’s successor as leader of rebel State Defence Council. Russian police reportedly launched major sweep for Islamic radicals in Western Caucasus republics of Kabardino- Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia.
Communist Party maintained parliamentary majority, taking 56 of 101 seats in 6 March elections described by OSCE as broadly democratic (but condemned by CIS observers). Despite victory, incumbent Communist majority reduced significantly, making opposition support necessary for re-election of party leader Vladimir Voronin as president. Valeriu Pasat, former Moldovan defence minister and current high level official at major Russian state-owned company, arrested 12 March in Moldova on charges of embezzlement, prompting statement of concern from Russian government.
Russian President Putin visited Kiev for first time since Victor Yushchenko’s inauguration. Yushchenko brushed aside Moscow’s concerns of cancellation of lease for Russia’s Black Sea fleet base should Ukraine join NATO; lease expires 2017. Former president, Leonid Kuchma, returned to Ukraine to answer questions over killing of journalist Georgiy Gongadze 2000; former interior minister due to testify found dead in suspected suicide.
Newly-formed Basque nationalist party, Aukera Guztiak, banned from 17 April regional elections accused of being ETA front. Mainstream nationalist premier Ibarretxe plans regional autonomy referendum – opposed by Spain’s central government and opposition – should he win. Seven suspected members of ETA terrorist group arrested; guns and explosives also recovered.
Sinn Féin (SF) under pressure over claims of widespread IRA criminal activity and murder of Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney. On trip to U.S. SF leader Gerry Adams not allowed to raise funds, excluded from White House St. Patrick’s day celebrations and refused meetings with Senator Ted Kennedy; pro-nationalist Republican Congressman Peter King called on IRA to disband. McCartney’s family met President Bush 17 March. £400,000 in Westminster parliamentary allowances withdrawn from SF. McCartneys announced they would not stand for office following SF deputy-leader Martin McGuinness’s warning to be “very careful”.
Two Kurdish Kongra-Gel militants killed in firefight early March. European representatives said Turkey’s EU drive had lost momentum since agreement that accession negotiations begin October 2005; EU warned recognition of Cyprus remained pre-condition.
Reacting to turmoil in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said events there resulted from leadership’s “weakness”. Domestically, Kazakh opposition remains active but divided, with continuing internal rift in Ak Zhol party. Presidential elections scheduled for December 2006, but speculation they will be held early.
Government of President Askar Akayev toppled following mass protests over rigged parliamentary elections. Although sudden turn of events may usher in positive change on range of political, economic, and social fronts, situation remains highly unstable, with risk of further unrest. Protests began in southern city of Jalal-abad 21 March, spreading across south and to capital, Bishkek, and culminating in storming of government headquarters 24 March. Widespread looting and confusion ensued. Akayev forced to flee to Russia, but refused to resign; indications he will if family and economic interests protected. Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev confirmed by controversial new parliament as PM and acting president until elections can be held (date tentatively set for 26 June 2005); former vice president Feliks Kulov, freed from jail by protestors, briefly assumed control of security services, but stepped down 30 March; seen as likely challenger to Bakiyev for presidency, though prison sentence technically disqualifies him. Situation remains fragile, with heated rivalries among those in apparent control, and doubts about loyalty and capacity of police forces.
Four opposition parties filed complaint with Central Election Commission claiming violations in February parliamentary elections. According to Commission, President Rakhmonov’s National Democratic Party received 74% of vote, and 52 of 63 seats in lower house of parliament.
In latest public health disaster, President Saparmurat Niyazov ordered closure of all hospitals country-wide save those in capital, Ashgabat.
Government cancelled visit of British minister Bill Rammell after latter said he intended to press Tashkent on human rights issues. Authorities reportedly denied registration to U.S.-based International Republican Institute, adding IRI to list that already includes Soros Foundation and Internews.
Political turmoil and nation-wide protest over government and its energy policies. President Carlos Mesa’s credibility damaged after resignation vacillations: 6 March resignation to Congress rejected by parliament – after massive display of public support, Mesa agreed to govern until end of term in 2007. Opposition Movement Towards Socialism supported disruptive anti-Mesa street protests and roadblocks, but called them off without extracting concessions. Lower house passed hydrocarbon bill 16 March – to be discussed in Senate, where disagreement continued over terms of bill.
FARC operations against infrastructure and military targets continued while demobilisation of right-wing paramilitaries remained stalled due to dispute over accompanying legislation. Paramilitary negotiating commission in Santa Fe de Ralito said demobilisation bill submitted to parliament includes insufficient legal guarantees. FARC ambushed military convoy in Putumayo department 23 March killing 10 soldiers. At least 25 soldiers, guerrillas and civilians killed in clashes throughout month. Spokespersons of “peace community” of San Jose de Apartado (Antioquia), which saw assassination of 8 of its inhabitants late February, refused army entry, rejecting accusation FARC members hiding in area. Bogota and leftist National Liberation Army moved towards peace talks and called for international support.
Judicial crisis unresolved, forcing President Lucio Gutierrez to ask for international mediation. Congress unable to reach agreement on December dissolution of Supreme Court (27 of 31 judges replaced with magistrates of Congress’ choice). Court system further paralysed by 15 March strike, while 25,000 demonstrated against Gutierrez in Cuenca.
Tensions with Colombia resurfaced after Venezuelan forces crossed border in search of gasoline smugglers 23 March. U.S. Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld voiced U.S. concerns over Venezuelan arms acquisitions. Defence and energy deals signed with Spain 31 March.
Two UN peacekeepers killed 20 March in separate clashes with disbanded army soldiers in Petit-Goâve and Central Plateau Region. Peacekeepers raided occupied police station in Terre-Rouge town without casualties next day. Raids follow months of criticism for UN inaction toward armed former soldiers/gangs; UN SRSG Juan Gabriel Valdés said UN Mission prepared to take tough action following peacekeeper deaths. U.S. Defense Sec. Rumsfeld raised doubts about autumn elections due to security concerns. Reports of police brutality and summary executions persisted, while armed gangs continued to spread violence in capital.
Israeli defence ministry approved construction of 3,500 new homes in Maale Adumim, largest West Bank settlement, provoking Palestinian and international criticism and overshadowing positive peace steps earlier in month. Critics said expansion would cut off Palestinians in East Jerusalem from others in West Bank. Earlier, Israel handed over West Bank towns of Jericho and Tulkarm to Palestinian Authority, while 13 Palestinian groups, meeting in Cairo, announced would maintain informal ceasefire until end of 2005 provided Israel reciprocated and released Palestinian prisoners. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon won key budget vote in parliament, paving way for Gaza withdrawal beginning July. Palestinian President Abbas ordered security crackdown after rampaging gunmen fired on his Ramallah compound 30 March.
Increasing concern political crisis following February assassination of former PM Hariri could lead country into chaos. Opposition leaders blame Syrian-backed security agencies for several bomb attacks in Christian areas that killed at least 3. Hezbollah organised large pro-Syrian demonstration Beirut 8 March; eclipsed by 800,000-strong counter- demonstration 14 March. U.S. called on Lebanon to follow through with May elections with international monitors, and continued pressing for Hizbollah disarmament, while encouraging peaceful Hizbollah political role. UN fact-finding mission report stated Syrian government primarily responsible for political tension at time of former PM Hariri’s February assassination, and called for independent international investigation. Syrian army and intelligence services continued redeployment to Bekaa valley; Damascus committed to pulling out remaining troops (though not intelligence agents) before May elections.
Intense international pressure continued for Syria to ease grip on Lebanon. UN report on Hariri assassination hinted at Syrian responsibility and cover-up of evidence but stopped short of pointing fingers. Syria dismissed report as biased, but promised to withdraw remaining forces before Lebanon’s May elections in accordance with UN Resolution 1559. 8,000 Syrian troops pulled back to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley 18 March. Both opposition and pro-government demonstrations took place in Damascus. Syria and Israel negotiated first time trade deal, importing Golan Heights apples into Syria.
Nuclear talks with France, UK and Germany ended 23 March with no agreement. “EU-3” offered economic, political and technological incentives in return for Iran abandoning uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities (on hold while talks underway). EU and Iran differ on definition of “objective guarantees” that no nuclear weapons being built – Iran views intrusive inspections by UN International Atomic Energy Agency as sufficient; EU wants uranium enrichment to be given up entirely. Tehran, reportedly seeking assurances of U.S. non-aggression, called U.S. offer of economic incentives “insignificant”.
Following historic swearing-in of 275 members of Transitional National Assembly 16 March, Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdish parties began heated negotiations to decide composition of transitional government. Distribution of key posts, inclusion of Sunni Arabs, and role of Islam main obstacles; decision on status of oil-rich Kirkuk deferred till later. Insurgency continued with assassinations of security officials, and number of larger attacks: 47 died in Sunni bombing of Shiite funeral Mosul; car bombings 25 March in Ramadi and Iskandariya killed 15. Dozens of insurgents killed in shoot-outs with Iraqi and U.S. forces; raid on insurgent training camp near Tikrit 23 March led to death of 85 militants. Netherlands began troop withdrawal and Ukraine began reductions. Italy mooted September withdrawal in wake of protests over death of Italian agent, shot accidentally by U.S. forces while escorting released Italian hostage. 1,166 Coalition soldiers, including 1,059 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations 1 May 2003.
Second phase of municipal council elections – held in eastern and southern provinces – passed off well, with strong turnout and campaigning. Shiites won all seats in Qatif stronghold. First round held 10 February in Riyadh; next set for 21 April in west.
Some 65 killed in outbreak of violence in Saada province, northwest Yemen, between security forces and followers of Husain al-Huthi – radical Shia cleric who died leading 2004 revolt.
Arab League leaders met in Algiers 22-23 March; Moroccan King Mohammed met Algerian president Bouteflika in first visit to Algeria since 1999 accession. Tensions over Western Sahara not directly discussed. Authorities banned March issue of Afrique Magazine and French weekly L’Express, prompting fears of new censorship wave. Two soldiers reported killed 30km east of Algiers by Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) 24 March; security forces claimed killed GSPC founder-member Malik Nacer 28 March. Government report said security forces responsible for over 6,000 disappearances during 1990s.
Opposition politician Ayman Nour released from detention 12 March; rearrested 22 March on charges of forging signatures to register Al-Ghad (“Tomorrow”) party. Following President Mubarak’s surprise February move to allow multi- candidate presidential elections, Nour announced candidacy. Most opposition figures meeting in Shura Council backed Mubarak’s move but expressed concerns on implementation; opposition Hizb al-Amal protested elections would still be “masquerade”. Police prevented banned Muslim Brothers from holding demonstrations 27 March; dozens arrested, including leadership figure Abd al-Mon‘im Abu’l-Futuh.
Freelance journalist investigating slavery in Mauritania arrested for damaging Mauritania’s image; slavery was officially banned 1981. Government ministers awarded themselves 600% pay rise in bid to stem corruption.
Algerian President Bouteflika and Moroccan King Mohammed met on sidelines of Algiers Arab League summit, leading to hopes for movement on Western Sahara question (though issue not directly discussed). 20,000 demonstrators demanded release of 408 Moroccan soldiers held by Polisario.