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
Central African RepublicChadSomaliaGambiaGuinea-BissauSenegalPakistanBelarusTurkeyUzbekistanEcuador
Côte d’IvoireBosnia And HerzegovinaBasque Country (Spain)Haiti
Basque Country (Spain)
Leader of FNL rebels, Agathon Rwasa, declared group ready for peace talks with government, but Bujumbura dismissed remarks and asked for input from Regional Initiative for Burundi members. UN Security Council called for talks with regional support. Gradual disengagement of UN peacekeepers continued with withdrawal of Ethiopian soldiers. Main opposition Hutu party FRODEBU called on ministers to withdraw from government, alleging President Nkurunziza manipulating power. Final 1,846 political prisoners freed as part of controversial amnesty launched January.
Refugees fleeing unrest in north claimed attacked by government troops: 7,000 have fled to Chad since January, with 50,000 more internally displaced. Government confirmed existence of rebellion in northwest for first time 13 March; accused former President Patasse and MLDC party of fuelling unrest.
Fighting between government forces and rebels intensified, with risk of further deterioration. Military launched operation against SCUD base 20 March: army said base destroyed while rebels claimed repelled attack. Army commander General Itno killed 31 March in clash with rebels and Sudanese militia. SCUD announced would try to stop President Deby from holding 3 May presidential elections, while opposition called for boycott of poll. Earlier, government blamed rebels for reported assassination attempt on Deby. AU endorsed plan to deploy military observers to Chad/Sudan border as provided under February peace agreement.
EU agreed to send German-led military mission of up to 1,450 troops to assist during elections scheduled for late June/early July: 400 to be stationed in Kinshasa; others on standby outside DRC. EU asked for UN Security Council approval. Elections face possible delay due to slow candidate registration. Former rebel group RCD-Goma announced would contest polls, while supporters of Etienne Tshisekedi’s UDPS party staged mass rallies in Kinshasa calling for reopening of voter registration. Joint UN-DRC military operations continued against militias in Ituri, but insecurity remained widespread, including in Kivus and Katanga, with thousands displaced. DRC elite commandos ordered to withdraw after dozens mutinied and ransacked UN base 3 March. Leader of UPC militia, Thomas Lubanga, first war crimes suspect to face charges at International Criminal Court.
Main opposition leader, Pierre Mamboundou, in hiding after government forces raided his party’s headquarters.
U.S. State Dept. report on human rights noted improvements but criticised government for arbitrary arrests and interference in judicial system. Dr. Aisha Kirabo Kakira elected new mayor of Kigali, completing final stage in decentralisation plan aimed at weakening ethnic divisions. UN genocide tribunal asked Tanzania to try remaining suspects after its mandate expires 2008.
Little progress in resolving border dispute despite talks between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Boundary Commission in London. Ethiopia pushed its November 2004 peace proposal that states parts of Commission’s 2002 ruling require further discussion, while Eritrea rejected calls for new talks. UN Security Council extended UN mission mandate to 15 April to give parties more time to resolve differences. Eritrea expelled 3 international aid agencies, saying had not met operational permit requirements.
Series of explosions in Addis Ababa killed 1 and led to fears of continued unrest. Eritrea denied Ethiopian claim Eritrean-backed “terrorists” responsible. Court dropped charges against 18 of 129 opposition members on trial for treason and genocide. 395 prisoners arrested during 2005 post-election unrest freed, bringing total released to 11,600. EU report reaffirmed May 2005 parliamentary elections did not meet international standards.
Heavy fighting between Islamic Courts’ militia and members of U.S.-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism killed up to 140 in Mogadishu. Talks to resolve conflict collapsed and escalation feared. UN Security Council welcomed first in-country session of full transitional parliament in Baidoa but warned violence could undermine political progress; also indicated readiness to consider arms embargo exemption for possible IGAD/AU peace-support mission if approved by Somali parliament. U.S. navy clashed with seagoing militias after UNSC encouraged operations against piracy off Somali coast.
Fighting between rival Puntland and Somaliland clans killed 6 in border village 29 March. Exploratory activities by Australian oil company in disputed border zone threatened to further aggravate tensions.
AU extended peacekeeping mission until 30 September and “in principle” accepted transfer of operation to UN. Sudanese government maintained opposition to re- hatting: President al-Bashir said AU did not need foreign assistance at Arab Summit 28 March, but First Vice President Kiir stated UN troops could enter if had clear mandate. UN Security Council asked UNSG Annan to expedite planning for transfer of mission. AU also endorsed plan to deploy military observers to increasingly volatile Chad/Sudan border. Seventh round of Darfur peace talks threatened by rebel in-fighting and continued clashes in Darfur. Faction of SLA rebels renounced leader el-Nur, but AU maintained both el-Nur and Minawi as SLM/A representatives in talks. AU proposed placing rival forces in Darfur behind buffer zones to demilitarise humanitarian supply routes and camps for IDPs. In south, government-allied militia killed 12 SPLA soldiers in ambush near Abyei, while UN buildings in Yambio and Yei attacked by alleged Ugandan LRA rebels. Grenade attack 12 March killed 4 in Massala, eastern Sudan.
Opposition leader Besigye asked Supreme Court to overturn February vote that saw President Museveni reelected; verdict due 6 April. Besigye treason trial began 15 March after court earlier found him not guilty of rape. Museveni announced Uganda will send troops to DR Congo if attacked by LRA rebels hiding there. LRA blamed for 2 attacks on UN buildings in south Sudan.
Government claimed negotiations held on “special status” of Cabinda enclave, but civil society and FLEC separatists denied talks took place.
Police cracked down on opposition PUDEMO party rally, arresting several party leaders.
“Anti-senate” faction of divided MDC party elected former leader Morgan Tsvangirai as new head during party congress. Government continued crackdown on opponents, arresting 16 on conspiracy charges after alleged discovery of weapons cache, and charging MP from MDC for criticising President Mugabe. Government proposed new terrorism bill that could allow life sentences for opponents. Inflation climbed to record high of 782%.
Prospects of long-delayed peace process improved: Forces Nouvelles leader Guillaume Soro returned to Abidjan 14 March for first full session of transitional government headed by PM Charles Konan Banny. Military dialogue began with ex-rebels 1 April on disarmament and forming new national army. UN troops who fled due to January’s violent demonstrations prepared to redeploy in Guiglo. Head of independent election commission formally began work after political parties agreed on distribution of executive posts in commission.
Government said it thwarted coup plot by army. 28 arrested, including 15 officers, but supposed leader, former defence chief Ndure Cham, still at large. Intelligence and defence heads replaced and Independent newspaper editors arrested in “coup” aftermath.
President Conté temporarily evacuated to Switzerland mid-month for medical treatment. Amidst coup fears, opposition parties proposed establishing transitional government with international support. Trade union general strike that crippled Conakry ended early March after government reached agreement with civil servants; spurred National Consultation with civil society and opposition.
Guinea-Bissau/Senegal: Fierce fighting between G-B army and Senegalese Casamance rebels near border killed at least 12 and displaced 5,000. Rebel group’s hardline wing rejects 2004 peace deal with Senegal. Rebels blamed for landmine that killed 12 in minibus outside G-B town of Sao Domingos 16 March.
President Johnson-Sirleaf called upon Nigeria to extradite former President Charles Taylor to face war crimes charges before Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor fled but captured 29 March and transferred to Sierra Leone. Tribunal requested trial be held in Hague in interests of regional security. Johnson-Sirleaf visited EU, U.S. and UN to garner support for ambitious reform agenda, expressing hope UN sanctions on timber and diamonds would be lifted. UN Security Council approved extended UN mission mandate to 30 September; UNSG Annan had recommended 1-year extension for 16,000-strong mission with fewer troops and more police.
Attacks on oil infrastructure by rebels continued in Niger Delta region, but in positive development, MEND rebels released all 9 foreign hostages taken February. Violence marred disorganised 7-day census, including 10 killed in clashes between census workers and Biafran separatists angry over omission of ethnicity question. Members of senate constitution review committee recommended 3-year extension of tenure for president and state governors, which would allow for controversial third term for President Obasanjo. Obasanjo agreed to make former Liberian President Charles Taylor available to Special Court for Sierra Leone, following request by Liberia. Taylor fled but recaptured 29 March and extradited to Liberia.
Special Court asked International Criminal Court in Hague to host trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to avoid regional instability. Liberia handed Taylor to Special Court following extradition from Nigeria. Trial for Revolutionary United Front spokesman Omrie Golley and 2 co-accused continued despite reports all needing medical attention. Charles Margai, Golley’s lawyer, appeared before Supreme Court in relation to harassment of Vice President Berewa in Bo, December 2005.
PM Wen Jiabao promised to uphold land rights of farmers at annual National People’s Congress. Talks with Japan failed to resolve issue of overlapping claims on gas fields - exacerbated by Japanese PM Koizumi’s continued visits to Yasukuni shrine.
Nuclear negotiations remained stalled. Military talks held between North and South, at highest level since Korean War, made little progress. Cabinet-level talks due in April uncertain after Pyongyang protested annual U.S./South Korea military exercises. Significant bilateral meeting held in New York with U.S. administration to explain economic sanctions imposed September 2005. U.S. concerned as NK military reportedly conducted short-range missile tests despite agreed moratorium.
President Chen Shui-bian and opposition held competing rallies promoting rival positions on independence and relations with China. Kuomintang and People’s First Party leaders visited U.S. to explain opposition to U.S. arms deal they see as overpriced and unnecessary. China announced defence spending increase of 14%.
Taliban announced start of “Spring offensive” with 29 March attack on U.S. and Canadian troops in southern Helmand province that killed 2 soldiers and 32 Taliban: escalation of violence expected. Taliban targeted prominent pro-government officials in south and east, including former governor of Ghazni province, Helmand province intelligence chief and senior official in Langman province. Relations with Pakistan deteriorated to worst level since fall of Taliban as sides engaged in war of words over cross-border militant infiltrations. Assassination attempt in Kabul 12 March on Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, former president and head of National Reconciliation Commission, blamed by Mujaddedi on Pakistani military intelligence. 16 Pakistanis killed near border town of Spin Boldak 22 March: Kabul claimed they were militants, Islamabad tourists. New cabinet presented to National Assembly for confirmation 22 March, in first confrontation between executive and legislature.
Leaders of banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), Abdur Rahman and Bhangla Bhai, arrested after February sentence in absentia. Suspected JMB member, Mollah Omar, died along with family in explosion during military operation 13 March. Opposition alliance led by Awami League (AL) clashed with police during attempted siege on electoral commission, which they accuse of bias. Ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) proposed joint BNP-AL election committee 21 March.
Religious, Maoist and northeastern separatist violence continued throughout month. 2 bombs claimed by Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Kahar killed 15 in Hindu city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Police shot dead 4 suspected Islamic militants in western Gujarat for planning to attack religious sites. Maoists in Chhattisgarh continued to target security forces and civilians: 4 villagers suspected of being police informers killed and CPI-Maoist group apologised after 24 March mine blast killed 14 civilians. Clashes with police in Dantewada district left 6 Maoists and policeman dead 26 March. Northeastern separatists in Manipur state clashed with security forces 11 March, killing 7. U.S President Bush signed deal to give India access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology: Delhi agreed to open 14 nuclear facilities to inspection, but 8 military sites to remain closed. 4 died in clashes in Lucknow after Muslims protesting Bush visit tried to force Hindu traders to strike.
India and Pakistan announced schedule for third round of composite dialogue. Meetings began 28 March and will conclude June followed by 2 high-level review sessions July. Pakistani accusations of Indian inaction on Kashmir and Indian calls for end to cross-border terrorism soured atmosphere. Indian PM Manmohan Singh made conciliatory speech while inaugurating bus service 24 March. Clashes continued between security forces and militants while Lashkar-e-Kahar militants claimed responsibility for bombings in Indian Uttar Pradesh state.
Widespread clashes between Maoists and security forces continued while government threatened clampdown. Escalation of violence feared ahead of 6-9 April planned demonstrations called by political parties and supported by Maoists. Maoist 6-day nationwide road blockade caused chaos while clashes with army included Palpa district clash 1 March where 31 killed. U.S. President Bush called on Maoists to end violence and urged King to reach out to political parties, while visiting Chinese delegation called for “reconciliation among constitutional forces”. 7-party alliance and Maoists held talks in Delhi to refine 12-point agreement. Tensions emerged within Maoist ranks as leadership criticised by central committee members. UN human rights commissioner in Nepal visited political detainees including CPN-UML leader M.K. Nepal; called detentions “illegal”.
Fierce fighting in North Waziristan risked spreading to neighbouring tribal regions. Government claimed nearly 200 local Taliban militants and 5 soldiers killed. Further 25 killed in operation outside Miranshah near Afghan border. Unrest in Balochistan continued with series of mine blasts and attacks on infrastructure: 26 killed in Dera Bugti 10 March. In North West Frontier Province’s Khyber Agency, clash between supporters of rival clerics killed 26.
Initial calm after positive late February peace talks between Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and government gave way to further unrest. 10 killed in low-level violence, while LTTE denied involvement in 25 March attack on navy gunboat that killed 8. President Mahinda Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance won overwhelming victory in local elections suggesting support for negotiations with LTTE. Next round of talks due 19-20 April but LTTE and government exchanged accusations of violating ceasefire: state of emergency renewed for another month. Norway announced replacement of peace envoy Erik Solheim with Jon Hanssen-Bauer.
Jakarta increased security presence in eastern province of Papua amidst increasing unrest. Violent protests erupted in Timika, Jayapura and Jakarta, demanding closure of Freeport mine due to concerns over local land rights and environmental degradation. 4 police and airforce officer killed in 16 March clash with protesters in Jayapura. Parliament missed 31 March deadline for approval of law on Aceh autonomy. Aceh Monitoring Mission scaled down as half foreign monitors withdrawn, rest to remain until 15 June. Government launched new reintegration program in Aceh late March involving cash disbursements to former GAM combatants and militia for economic empowerment projects, but questions raised over accountability mechanism. Supreme Court reinstated 10-year verdict for former East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres; all other defendants acquitted.
Counter-insurgency by military in western Karen state reportedly forced villagers to flee homes, bringing total internally displaced to 5,000 since January. Crackdown believed connected to military junta’s sudden move of capital to Pyinmana. After long-awaited inspection of democratic progress on behalf of ASEAN, Malaysian FM Syed Hamid Albar concluded little change has occurred and expressed frustration not allowed to visit National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. French contingent of Médecins Sans Frontières closed operations in Mon and Karen states due to restrictions imposed by authorities.
President Arroyo ended week-long state of emergency tied to alleged coup attempts and protests in capital 3 March. Government announced arrests of suspected organisers and increased defence spending to quell unrest. Administration pushed “people’s initiative” petition to prompt referendum on constitutional shift from presidential to parliamentary system. Bombing on Jolo island 27 March killed 9; police suspect Abu Sayyaf group. Informal negotiations between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels resumed but yielded no firm agreements; to reconvene April.
Mass demonstrations against PM Thaksin Shinawatra continued in capital ahead of 2 April elections. Main opposition Democratic Party submitted evidence to electoral commission of fraud by ruling Thai Rak Thai party. Almost daily violence continued in south, including attack by militants in Pattani province killing 6 Muslim officials and journalist 16 March, day after gunmen shot dead principal of Yala province Islamic school linked to separatist groups.
PM Berisha reconfirmed Albania’s commitment to existing borders after FM Mustafaj’s controversial comments that Albania could not guarantee inviolability of borders if Kosovo becomes independent.
Potentially momentous breakthrough as vital EU/U.S.-sponsored constitutional reforms agreed by 7 main political parties. Reforms would create single rotating presidency, larger and more efficient parliament, and curtail powers of Council of Ministers. Agreement now awaiting parliamentary approval. First-round negotiations with EU on Stabilisation and Association Agreement began 17 March. High Rep. Schwarz-Schilling announced gradual repeal of laws banning certain officials from public office, except those dismissed for aiding ICTY indictees. Republika Srpska (RS) court, in second ever war crimes conviction in RS, sentenced Bosnian Serb to 20 years.
Provisional government revitalised after Kosovo Protection Corps Head and former KLA commander Agim Ceku elected new PM by parliament 10 March, following Bajram Kosumi’s resignation. Serbia condemned nomination. Ceku promised to reach out to Serb minority and appointed Serb as deputy minister of interior. UNMIK chief Jessen- Petersen pushed for Serbs to end boycott of institutions, but Serbia responded with call for 17,000 Kosovo Serbs to quit UNMIK and Kosovo government jobs. Second round of status talks on decentralisation held in Vienna; third round due 3 April, with divided Mitrovica in spotlight. UK FM Straw argued Kosovo’s independence “almost inevitable”; Russia and China reportedly indicated would not block it in UN Security Council. Mitrovica Serbs protested after Serb youth seriously wounded in stabbing 28 March; 2 policemen dismissed over issue.
Opposition withdrew threat to boycott forthcoming elections after government agreed to include party members alongside public officials on election boards. EU and NATO emphasised polls must be fair and democratic, warning integration processes could be jeopardised. Police criticised for killing suspected criminal during arrest in Albanian-suburb Kondovo, former militant stronghold.
Former President Slobodan Milosevic died of heart attack 11 March in Hague before conclusion of his trial. Fears raised death could mark return to reactionary nationalist politics and derail EU integration process. Serbian government provided quasi-state funeral that passed nationalist torch from Socialist Party of Serbia to Serbian Radical Party. EU extended deadline by which war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic must be arrested to 30 April; failure will halt Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations. Belgrade called for 17,000 Kosovo Serbs to quit UNMIK and Kosovo government jobs despite UNMIK’s earlier plea for end of Serb boycott of institutions. Montenegrin parliament set independence referendum for 21 May; took control of all State Union military forces on its territory.
Opposition failed to collect enough support for parliamentary investigation into alleged fraud in 2005 referendum on constitutional amendments. Millennium Challenge Account compact, worth $235.5 million in aid, signed with U.S.
Campaigning for May reruns of November elections in 10 constituencies began 14 March. Opposition Azadlig bloc refused to field candidates citing illegitimacy of current parliament. Trial against 3 opposition youth activists accused of attempting to overthrow government began 31 March. U.S. State Dept. rights report criticised police brutality and political intimidation.
Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov approved as new PM by parliament 4 March. At least 7 Russian soldiers reported dead in clashes with rebels.
Relations with Russia thawed after sides resolved visa row and signed agreement on Russian withdrawal of military by 31 December 2007. Joint Control Commission meeting held in North Ossetia 27-28 March; agreed to reconvene in Tskhinvali in April. Head of Abkhaz government- in-exile Irakli Alasania appointed Georgian presidential envoy to negotiations with Abkhazia. Alasania met with de facto Abkhaz FM Sergei Shamba, agreeing to revive bilateral talks through Georgian-Abkhaz Coordinating Council, suspended since 2001. Abkhaz officials blamed Georgia for 8 March shooting of 4 civilians; Tbilisi denied charge. UN Security Council extended UNOMIG mandate until 15 October. Unrest increased in Javakheti region after death of ethnic Armenian in clash with Georgian youths 9 March.
Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents exchanged threats to resume hostilities, as shooting intensified across ceasefire line. 1 Armenian and 2 Azerbaijani soldiers reported dead 8 and 18 March. U.S., French and Russian Minsk Group co-chairs met in Istanbul 20 March to discuss further negotiations. Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations to Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe agreed to extend monitoring commission mandate.
In Daghestan, Shamil Zainalov, pragmatic former minister of industry, unanimously appointed new PM 6 March by parliament. But security remained volatile with assassinations of senior policeman and official. In Ingushetia, 2 soldiers wounded in clashes with militants 10 March, while explosions damaged rail and telecommunications infrastructure.
Incumbent Aleksandr Lukashenko declared winner of 19 March presidential election with 82.6% of vote. OSCE observers said poll not free and fair. Opposition came under pressure in run-up to election with series of arrests, beatings and clampdown on independent press. Protests held against election violations in Minsk, culminating in large rally 25 March, violently broken up by police. 1,000 reportedly arrested after week of protests, including senior figure Alexander Kozulin. EU and U.S. declared would target sanctions at those responsible for electoral violations and post-election crackdown. UN Special Rapporteur Adrian Severin led UN call for immediate investigation into deteriorating rights situation. Russia congratulated Lukaschenko.
Ukraine introduced new restriction on all goods from Moldova’s breakaway Transdniestria region, requiring Moldovan customs clearance. Transdniestrian and Russian authorities said amounted to economic blockade while EU issued statement in support of measures. Subsequently, Transdniestrian authorities announced withdrawal from peace talks; OSCE said next round would be postponed.
President Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine Party suffered major setback in 26 March legislative elections, receiving just 14% of vote according to preliminary results. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of the Regions led with 32%, while Tymoshenko’s bloc followed with 22%. OSCE and EU observers praised election for democratic standards. Pro-Russian Ne Tak bloc announced it had 4.5 million signatures for referendum against future NATO membership 1 March. Ukraine said 10 Uzbek asylum seekers deported in February had links to al-Qaeda.
ETA announced “permanent” ceasefire 22 March, raising hopes for solution to longstanding conflict. Spanish PM Zapatero indicated government would seek parliamentary support for peace talks “before summer” if ceasefire sincere and comprehensive. Basque nationalist party Batasuna organised strike 9 March after 2 ETA members died in custody; 2 bombs exploded same day.
Turkey rejected UN envoy Michael Moller’s meeting request, questioning his neutrality. EU said Turkey must live up to commitments regarding Cyprus, including opening of ports, or jeopardise progress over EU membership. Turkish Cypriot census scheduled for 26 March postponed to 30 April.
Following February breakdown of political party talks, UK and Irish PMs met 8 March to discuss blueprint to restore devolution. UK army published timetable on troop withdrawal from province, from around 9,000 to 5,000 by August 2007. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams invited to White House St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, reflecting recent progress in IRA decommissioning.
Security rapidly deteriorated in southeastern cities of Diyarbakir and Batman. Protests at 28 March funeral of 4 PKK militants, among 14 killed in military operation in Mus province, sparked 4 days of rioting in which 7 reported dead. Suspected PKK attacks killed at least 10 including 3 in suicide bombing outside governor’s office in Van 9 March. 1 killed in Istanbul explosion 31 March claimed by Kurdistan Freedom Falcons. In on-going inquiry into alleged army involvement in November Semdinli bombing, regional prosecutor Ferhat Sarikaya called for investigation into army second-in-command General Yasar Buyukanit. Army condemned Sarikaya and rejected investigation of any officers.
Questions continued to be raised over official investigation into February murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev. Jailed opposition leaders Bulat Abilov and Petr Svoikbegan began hunger strike in protest. In positive development, Abilov and Sarsenbaev’s Naghyz Ak Zhol party registered by authorities. President Nazarbaev visited Uzbekistan, expressing support for President Karimov’s suppression of 2005 Andijon uprising.
Parliament elected Marat Sultanov new speaker 2 March. Central Electoral Commission overturned court ruling that allowed alleged organised crime boss Ryspek Akmatbayev to stand in April parliamentary by-elections; his supporters protested in Bishkek.
Court jailed 8 supporters of rebel Mahmud Khudoyberdiyev for role in 1998 armed incursion in Sogd region. Agreement signed with U.S. to increase cooperation on border security and law enforcement.
European Parliament committee recommended supporting trade agreement with Turkmenistan; NGOs appealed for parliament to vote down proposal, citing country’s appalling human rights record. President Niyazov sacked senior energy officials for alleged corruption and reshuffled cabinet.
Government intensified crackdown on opposition activists and international organisations, sentencing dissidents to long prison terms and expelling UNHCR and U.S. NGO Freedom House. Opposition Sunshine Coalition leaders Nigora Khidoyatova and Sanjar Umarov given 10- and 11-year sentences for economic crimes which supporters say politically motivated; rights activist Mutabar Tojiboeva received 8-year sentence. Government published new restrictions on foreign journalists’ activities, as President Islam Karimov said nation under attack from West in “information war”.
U.S. State Dept. report voiced concern over increased political influence from coca growing organisations. Chile rejected President Morales’ call for OAS session on Bolivia’s right to access sea. Explosions at 2 La Paz hotels killed 2, 21 March; American and Uruguayan arrested in connection but as yet no clear motive.
Largely peaceful congressional elections held 12 March despite FARC violence in run up to vote. Parties loyal to President Uribe won 61 of 102 seats in senate and 91 of 166 in lower house, reinforcing Uribe’s position as top candidate for May presidential election. FARC killed 18 members of security forces and 4 civilians in attacks across country ahead of polls. Smaller rebel group ELN, currently in preliminary talks with government, declared ceasefire for elections. U.S. Justice Department indicted 50 top FARC members, while Uribe - in move to induce rebels to disarm - expanded suspension of extradition orders to FARC members who demobilise and submit to prosecution under Justice and Peace Law. AUC paramilitary disarmament continued, 3,500 remain armed.
Indigenous demonstrations demanding end to free-trade talks with U.S. caused widespread turmoil. State of emergency declared in 5 central provinces. Indigenous leaders called temporary halt to protests 24 March, but reconsidered demonstrations at assembly at end of month. Interior Minister Castillo resigned over government’s handling of crisis.
Tense relations with U.S. continued. U.S. ambassador called for improved security from Venezuelan authorities after President Chavez supporters threatened U.S. delegation. New 4-month training program for 2 million army reservists began early March.
Situation showed signs of improvement, with decline in kidnappings and attacks on UN mission since February elections. Government announced delayed second round of parliamentary polls to be held 21 April. Inauguration of president-elect René Préval expected 14 May. Préval met key Latin America leaders and U.S. president; called on UN Security Council for more aid.
Ollanta Humala, nationalist presidential candidate who led failed 2000 uprising, overtook front-runner, centrist Lourdes Flores, in run-up to 9 April presidential election. Leader of Marxist rebel group Tupac Amaru, Victor Polay Campos, sentenced to 32 years in prison in civilian retrial.
Interim Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party won 28 March general elections, but by smaller margin than expected. Coalition discussions to begin early April. Olmert stated would continue to refuse negotiations with Palestinians, instead moving unilaterally to consolidate settlements and impose border “by 2010”. Unable to agree on Palestinian coalition government, Hamas cabinet won parliamentary confidence vote and was sworn in by President Mahmoud Abbas 29 March: Ismail Haniyeh new PM. Israeli raid on Palestinian prison in Jericho heightened tensions: troops seized Ahmed Saadat, leader of left-wing Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, and other inmates, killing 3. Saadat due to stand trial for assassination of extreme right-wing Israeli tourism minister in 2001. In first fatal suicide attack of 2006, 4 Israelis killed by al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade near Kedumim 30 March, while Israeli soldiers killed 2 militants near Gaza boundary. Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) blamed Israel and Palestinian security forces for killing leader 31 March; Israeli army denied involvement. Subsequent PRC clashes with Palestinian security forces killed 3.
Main political leaders met 14 March to resolve key issues: agreed on removing weapons from Palestinian factions outside refugee camps, and called for full diplomatic ties with Syria. Talks suspended 27 March with no agreement on ending President Lahoud’s term or Hizbollah disarmament. Lahoud called for early legislative elections, saying would not resign and Hizbollah should keep arms. UN investigators presenting third report into assassination of ex-PM Hariri stated better cooperation from Syria helping investigations. Syrian President Assad agreed to meet investigators in April and did not rule out handing over suspects to international courts. UNSC resolution called for UNSG Annan to begin talks with Lebanon government on establishment of international tribunal.
Muslim Brotherhood issued joint statement with former Vice President Abdelhalim Khaddam announcing formation of broad coalition of opposition groups, National Salvation Front. Clashes between Arabs and Kurds in north sparked by riots at football match in Qameshli. Details remained unclear but included incidents in Aleppo and Afrin and reported shooting by security forces of Kurds marking anniversary of 1988 Halabja gas attack. Officials denied unrest although several reported dead. Security forces killed 2 members of militant group Jund al-Sham northwest of Damascus 14 March. President Assad agreed to meet UN officials investigating Hariri murder in April and did not rule out handing over suspects to international courts. Assad met Lebanese PM Fuad Siniora briefly on sidelines of Arab Summit in Khartoum.
Demonstrations held against detention of youths protesting brief arrest of Shiite cleric; 24 more arrested.
UN Security Council unanimously approved non- binding statement 29 March calling on Iran to end uranium enrichment and IAEA to report to UNSC within 30 days. Disagreements over timeframe and which body would oversee issue had led to 3-week debate. China and Russia opposed points relating to UNSC lead, suggestion Iranian actions “threat to international peace and security”, shorter reporting period and possible sanctions. Compromise statement refers to IAEA resolution after Russia backed down from insistence UNSC be left out. U.S. suggestions of sanctions at Berlin meeting 31 March strongly rejected by Russia and China. Iran maintained its nuclear program is peaceful and “will not, definitely, suspend enrichment”. Reports of successful test-fire of missile not detectable by radar added to tensions 1 April. In separate development, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to talks with U.S. on instability in Iraq. Sunni rebel group Jundollah killed 22 in southeast 17 March.
Increased anxiety about slide into full-scale civil war with polarised political process, institutional fragmentation and on-going sectarian conflict. U.S. military suggested 30 sectarian killings occurring daily; informal tallies much higher. Iraqi leaders continued high-level talks to form national unity government. Parliament met for first time 16 March, but members took no action in absence of agreement on government. Shiite Alliance chose PM Ibrahim al-Jaafari to lead government but Sunni Arabs and Kurds rejected choice; Alliance said will resist any efforts to drop Jaafari. Iran agreed to talks with U.S. to discuss Iraq. Insurgent attack in Baghdad slum, Sadr City, 13 March killed 52. Police continued to be targeted by insurgents: at least 25 killed in 23 March suicide attack in Baghdad; another police post stormed by insurgents 21 March, killing at least 22. Trial of Saddam Hussein to reconvene 5 April.
Saudi authorities reportedly arrested 40 al- Qaeda members in ongoing operations.
Following September 2005 presidential amnesty, 627 Zaidi rebels held in connection with rebellion of late radical preacher Hussein al-Huthi released.
Government amnesty aimed at national reconciliation began 4 March; covers 2,629 imprisoned militants including Islamic Salvation Front deputy leader Ali Benhadj and Armed Islamic Group leader Abdelhak Layada. International rights groups criticised measures as granting impunity for atrocities. Government said toll of 15-year conflict was 200,000 and government forces had killed 17,000 rebels - first official figures for anti-government casualties. 5 civilians killed by rebel gunmen 23-24 March.
Government crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood (MB) continued with dozens of arrests, including Advisory Council member Professor al-Bayoumi, and closure of Afaq Arabiya newspaper, considered MB mouthpiece. Journalist Amira Malash sentenced to 1 year for libel in case condemned by press freedom activists. Judges Club national assembly protested against questioning of 4 judges who had spoken out against irregularities in 2005 parliamentary elections.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI visited Western Sahara 20-25 March, holding talks with Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs on plans for greater autonomy. Visit seen as reaction to February commemoration of thirtieth anniversary of self-declared Sahrawi Republic by Polisario Front.