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
Democratic Republic of CongoSomaliaZimbabweGuinea-BissauNigeriaPakistanSri LankaKyrgyzstanIran
Côte d’IvoireGuineaNepalNorthern Ireland (UK)Israel/PalestineMauritania
Rifts deepened in ruling CNDD-FDD party as 22 MPs rallied behind Hussein Radjabu, boycotting their parliamentary party group over his dismissal as party chairman, although 6 later dropped out of boycott. Radjabu ally Imaculée Nahayo ousted as President of National Assembly; another ally, ex-Second Vice-President Marine Barampama, interrogated by intelligence services for 3 days on accusations of corruption. Radjabu sought to build coalition with FRODEBU and UPRONA to block CNDD-FDD legislation, but both voted with CNDD-FDD. Palipehutu-FNL rebels suspended their participation in Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism due to disagreements over talks agenda. Meeting between UN and government failed to agree on what mechanisms of transitional justice are needed. Government wants to control truth commission and process of granting amnesty.
Bombing and clashes between army, reportedly with French support, and Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) rebels in northern Birao town early March led to mass exodus from town.
N’Djamena said Sudanese warplanes bombed near eastern towns of Tenay and Bahai 22 March, killing several and violating non-aggression pact signed late February. UN Security Council considering options following Chad’s February rejection of UN military force.
Violence erupted in Kinshasa as opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba rejected 15 March ultimatum to integrate guards into national army. Reports of up to 600 killed in ensuing clashes 22-23 March, in which Angolan troops reportedly bolstered Kabila’s forces. European diplomats condemned “premature use of force” before all paths of negotiation exhausted. Bemba, accused of treason, sought refuge at South African embassy and may leave for exile in Portugal. New government under PM Antoine Gizenga emphasised program to tackle corruption, increase transparency and reform security services. Security in east remained volatile. Local “mixage” integration process between dissident commander Laurent Nkunda and national army continued slowly. 5 integrated brigades now partially formed. Nkunda’s demands for high-ranking positions, amnesty and return of Tutsi refugees remain unmet. Operations launched by Nkunda’s troops against Rwandan FDLR rebels in North Kivu resulted in attacks against local population, killing 15. In Ituri, rebel leader Peter Karim sent 300 troops into integration camps. 4,000 remain in bush triggering MONUC threat to resume operations. Several Mai-Mai groups in North and South Kivu also agreed to join integration process.
Several mortars reportedly launched into Rwandan territory from FDLR bases in DR Congo 3 March: no casualties and officials to confront issue through bilateral talks. Signs of further rapprochement with Uganda after Kampala handed over 8 FDLR rebels 12 March. Regional security discussed at U.S.-backed Tripartite Plus meeting in Kigali 15 March.
Asmara expelled head of UNMEE mine clearance team 20 March for “violations of Eritrean laws and regulations”. Increasing tension between Eritrea and international community, and Ethiopia’s fostering of relationship with U.S. in particular, further polarizing the 2 countries.
Ethiopian troops remained in Somalia, despite pronouncements and ceremonies to contrary. PM Meles Zenawi stated as soon as AU firmly established in Somalia, “we’ll move out completely”. High Court adjourned its verdict on cases of jailed opposition leaders and journalists for third time.
Mogadishu in turmoil as fighting escalated. Over 30 killed in 2 days mid-March and bodies of Ethiopian soldiers dragged through streets. After attempt at truce, fighting erupted again 29 March in what ICRC said was heaviest in Mogadishu in 15 years. Former leader of Council of Somali Islamic Courts Aweys said he considers AU peacekeepers enemies. Ugandan deployment as part of AU AMISOM mission began 6 March - approx. 1500 Ugandan troops now in Mogadishu. Kampala called for deployment of other peacekeeping troops: Nigeria pledged to deploy 850 by mid-April; Ghana, Burundi and Malawi yet to give timeframe. President Yusuf continued to consolidate power of Darod clan, further polarizing Hawiye, particularly Habr Gedir Ayr sub-clan, leading to increased Hawiye support for ongoing insurgency in Mogadishu. Transitional Federal Government (TFG) announced intention 11 March to pacify the city in 30 days through forced disarmament. Yusuf announced broad National Reconciliation Conference to begin 16 April, but doubts persist over whether TFG will include Islamists as necessary to promote lasting unity and reconciliation.
In 6 March letter to UNSG Ban Ki-moon, President Bashir backtracked on commitment to allow UN command and control for AU/UN hybrid force for Darfur. UK PM Blair and German Chancellor Merkel reiterated calls for tougher sanctions, including no-fly zone. Khartoum signed agreement with UN 28 March repeating unfulfilled promise made 3 years ago to take “fast track” measures to remove bureaucratic obstacles to aid work in Darfur. Sudan Liberation Movement faction of Minni Minawi (SLM/MM), sole signatory to May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, clashed with police 24 March in Omdurman; 8 former rebels and 2 police killed; agreement at risk of collapse. SLM commander Abdel Shafee Jomaa Arabi and 3 others reportedly killed same day in south Darfur further threatening DPA. Khartoum rejected ICC process commenced in February (against state minister for humanitarian affairs, Ahmad Muhammad Harun, and militia/Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb), saying its own justice system sufficient. First Vice- President and President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, announced all-Darfur conference scheduled for April in Juba; called on rebels to agree unified position in advance of talks.
LRA and government publicly pledged to adhere to principles of expired ceasefire agreement and refrain from offensive operations. Most LRA commanders regrouped with leader Joseph Kony in DR Congo. Prospects for resumption of Juba peace talks, on hold since LRA withdrew January citing security concerns and questioning mediator’s partiality, improved marginally after UN Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano toured region and met Kony. Chissano announced preliminary discussions for mid-April. Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister and chief mediator Rukhana Rugunda accompanied Chissano’s second visit and held first face-to-face discussion with Kony 10 March. Ugandan troops reported killing over 30 Allied Democratic Forces rebels near DRC border 28 March.
Security cooperation deal signed with Zimbabwe, but Luanda denied reports of paramilitary police deployment to Harare to support crackdown there. It further denied reports Angolan troops supported DR Congo army during confrontations in Kinshasa that killed hundreds. In sign of renewed fighting in Cabinda, FLEC rebels claimed 12 army soldiers killed. President dos Santos, in power since 1979, said “natural candidate” for 2009 elections by MPLA party.
Opposition parties staged parliamentary sit-in and 20,000 supporters gathered on Maseru streets 15 March, contesting results of February 2007 elections and legality of election deal between ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy and smaller NIP party. Opposition-led strike 18-19 March saw thousands stay away from work in Maseru. Government rejected calls to enter into dialogue with opposition, who vowed to continue active dissent.
Situation critical after vicious crackdown on opposition and ruling ZANU-PF endorsed President Mugabe as candidate for 2008 election. Opposition MDC leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara and 50 others arrested at 11 March rally; Tsvangirai severely beaten while in custody. SADC convened extraordinary summit 28-29 March to discuss situation, issued statement of “solidarity” with President Mugabe and plans for mediation by South Africa President Mbeki; unclear how aggressively he will pursue role. Before SADC summit, Zambian President Mwanawasa had called country “sinking Titanic” and South Africa, traditionally reticent on internal disorder in Zimbabwe, noted signs of “meltdown”.
Major breakthrough as New Forces rebel leader Guillaume Soro named PM by presidential decree 27 March. President Laurent Gbagbo and Soro signed new peace agreement 4 March providing for power sharing in transition period. Discussions between Gbagbo and Soro delegations resumed 15 March in Ouagadougou to define institutional framework for implementation of peace deal and modalities of power sharing. ECOWAS, AU and UN Security Council endorsed peace agreement, and AU Peace and Security Council recommended (to UNSC) gradual withdrawal of international forces, as requested in accord.
Newly appointed PM Lansana Kouyaté announced new “broad consensus” government 28 March. Kouyaté submitted 2 bills to President Conté 7 March to reduce number of ministerial posts from 27 to 19 and define future portfolios. New government composed mostly of technocrats not associated with Conté’s regime, including representatives of trade unions, diplomats, lawyers and economists. But deputy chief of staff of army, known to be close to Conté, named Minister of Defence. Kouyaté’s authority is limited to civilian administration as President Conté retains control of army. UNSG Ban Ki-moon welcomed Kouyaté’s appointment and called for international support for Guinea.
Situation increasingly fragile after government received no-confidence vote from parliament 19 March (54 to 28). President Vieira failed to meet constitutional requirement to dissolve government within 72 hours of vote. Mass demonstrations held in capital 30/31 March. PM Aristide Gomes offered resignation to Vieira 29 March. Presidency previously rejected calls from 3 main parliamentary parties to dissolve Gomes government in favour of national unity coalition that would introduce degree of parliamentary stability, and allow main opposition PAIGC to name consensus premier. Power struggle between government administration and parliament has previously led to violent clashes.
Former Chairman of transitional government Gyude Bryant, on charges of corruption, submitted himself to High Court 13 March, but was released after paying 3 million euro “bond”. Supreme Court suspended trial procedure to examine Bryant’s claim to immunity from prosecution for period of chairmanship. UN Special Representative Alan Doss reported to UNSC political situation remained “quite stable”, but serious security challenges, including unstable neighbours, require attention. UNSC extended UNMIL until 30 September 2007, but requested UNSG Ban Ki-moon present “drawdown plan” by mid August.
Election-related violence intensified with risk of major confrontation between President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar camps around April polls. Electoral commission’s disqualification of Action Congress (AC) presidential candidate Abubakar led to protests prompting threat of security crackdown. All 7 members of senate committee probing graft allegations against both Obasanjo and Abubakar resigned 21 March, saying senate leaders had pressured them to water down report later presented to Senate. Political violence included PDP-ANPP clash in Ogun state 9-10 March, killing 4; PDP-AC clashes in Benue state 18 March, killing 10. Military Joint Task Force in Niger Delta freed 4 foreign hostages held by Niger Delta militants; 4 others released; militants vowed to carry out more kidnappings. Between 2 and 4 March, clashes between rival armed groups killed at least 11 in Port Harcourt. Communal clashes also occurred in Kula, Joinkrama, Rivers state, Anambra state and Ogun state, killing 30.
Electoral commission confirmed reelection of President Abdoulaye Wade 1 March with 55.86% of votes, avoiding second round ballot. Electoral court dismissed opposition claims of fraud and confirmed Wade’s victory 11 March. Parliamentary polls due 3 June.
Voter registration for July presidential and general elections closed 18 March. Electoral Commission announced 72% of electorate registered in 3-week period and rejected extension request by politicians and civil society groups who claimed over 50% not registered due to logistical problems, violence and poor pay for registrars. First-ever UN Peacebuilding Commission mission began talks 22 March with President Kabbah and senior officials; UN Peacebuilding Fund to extend $35 million. Resentment rose against Special Court for Sierra Leone for indicting Hinga Norman, ex-defence minister, following his (natural) death 22 February.
6-party talks resumed in Beijing 19 March to implement February breakthrough but stalled when Pyongyang walked out 22 March over U.S. failure to unfreeze funds in Macao bank. Technical difficulties continued to stall release as Pyongyang refused to set date for further talks. Bilateral talks with Japan failed 8 March over issue of alleged kidnappings. In rare admission, Pyongyang announced million-tonne food shortage.
Taiwan President Chen made new calls for full independence in 4 March speech Beijing called “criminal”. U.S. Defence Department announced plans to make $421m missile sale to Taipei; Beijing said deal would harm regional security. In visit to Beijing, U.S. military chief Peter Pace called for increased transparency in China’s military ambitions.
U.S. marines reportedly fired on civilians following suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan 4 March: perceived trend of civilian casualties prompted large protests in Jalalabad. Lower house of National Assembly passed National Reconciliation Plan 12 March following amendments by President Karzai allowing individual accountability for war crimes if cases pursued by victims and not state; legality of amnesty provisions remains unclear. Italian journalist freed by Taliban kidnappers 19 March in exchange for 5 Taliban fighters, though driver beheaded and translator remains captive; deal prompted sharp criticism from U.S. and others. Visiting UN drugs chief Costa said poppy production “out of control” in south. Joint NATO-Afghan Operation Achilles launched in Helmand, largest joint operation to date: deadliest fighting focused on area near Kajaki Dam.
Army moved to formalise role in caretaker administration as crackdown on corruption continued with no new date set for postponed January general election. New polls not expected before 2008; emergency rule continues. Government announced reconstitution of National Security Council, defunct since return to democratic rule in 1991. Senior BNP official and son of ex-PM Khaleda Zia arrested 8 March for corruption. 6 members of Islamist group JMB hanged 30 March for alleged role in 2005 murder of 2 judges.
Up to 400 Naxalite Maoist rebels launched 15 March attack on Chhattisgarh police station, killing dozens of officers and escaping with arms, raising fears of increased Naxalite violence. Talks between New Delhi and ULFA separatists remained in deadlock, amid reports of continued attacks on migrant labourers in Manipur state.
Hizbul Mujahideen member “Yaseen” killed by Indian forces 2 March. As protests continued over security force killings, New Delhi set up expert panel to consider reduction in Kashmir troop levels and revision to Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that grants broad powers of detention. Defence ministers’ talks on Siachen glacier due 6 April in Rawalpindi.
Peace process bolstered by formation of new government 1 April. Maoists hold 5 of 21 ministries; new government set 20 June date for Constituent Assembly polls. Month had seen wrangling over cabinet posts and continued concerns over Maoist commitment to abandon violence after Maoist leader Prachanda said thousands of Maoist weapons and combatants yet to be confined under terms of UN process. Violence continued in south despite decisive 9 March vote to shift from unitary to federal system and increase southern representation in parliament. In worst incident 21 March supporters of Madhesi rights group killed over 20 Maoists in violent organised attack in Gaur.
Fighting flared in South Waziristan between Uzbek militants and local militias. Violence began 18 March as local militias sought to expel foreign militants from bases near Wana; clashes reportedly killed over 150 foreign fighters. Pakistani intelligence said key al-Qaeda camps destroyed and President Musharraf claimed battles prove success of controversial pacts with local leaders to fight foreign militants. New security pact signed with tribal leaders in Bajaur, where 4 ISI intelligence agents shot 27 March by unidentified gunmen. President Musharraf faced political crisis after suspending Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary 12 March, sparking wave of judiciary resignations and protests over independence of judiciary; opposition demonstrations called on Musharraf to step down. U.S. Assistant Sec. State Boucher pledged $750 million in assistance to Afghan border areas during visit 15 March.
Fighting continued to spread in east and new front opened in north west (Mannar district) as government seized more rebel-controlled territory. Several dozen killed and hundreds wounded in gun battles and artillery fire. Tigers bombed military base adjacent to Colombo civilian airport 26 March in first-ever rebel air attack, and launched suicide attack on army camp in east. UNHCR warned of deepening crisis as massive displacement continued in east, where 40,000 fled from Batticaloa district in single week; 160,000 reported displaced in district in late March. Ruling SLFP party delayed submission of its proposals on political solution until April.
Anti-terror police group Detachment 88 acting on information from Poso, conducted raids in Java, arresting 7 with alleged connections to Jemaah Islamiyah and netting several hundred kg of explosives. In West Aceh district head run-off vote, GAM slate won over 76%, despite interference by Indonesian military (TNI) documented by EU monitoring team. Tensions between ex-GAM and TNI rising in North Aceh; 4 soldiers beaten on 22-23 March on suspicion of being spies, then retaliated by beating villagers several days later. In Papua, tribal conflict flared in Yoparu, Painai district, killing 9.
Several fatal clashes in month between military and Karen National Union rebels, including major fighting 10 March that killed 14, injured 300. Karen peace demonstration 18 March urged end to violence. Preliminary peace talks held 15 March between Chin National Front and government. Ethnic Kukis along Indian border observed 6 general strike to protest alleged military abduction of 400 locals 13 March. ICRC announced re-closure of offices in Mon and Shan, citing increased government restrictions.
Fighting between MILF rebels and government forces in North Cotabato killed over 20 and put increased stress on 6-year-old peace talks between MILF and Manila. President Arroyo called on army to work harder to maintain peace after MILF said ceasefire on verge of collapse. Organisation of Islamic Countries announced July talks between MNLF and Manila in Jeddah. MNLF leader Nur Misuari filed candidacy for governor of Sulu province. U.S. Congress launched investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, highlighted by February UN report.
Presidential election campaigns began for 9 April poll with risk of increased political violence. Supporters of current PM Jose Ramos-Horta and Fretilin party clashed 30 March. Ramos-Horta seen as favourite while incumbent President Xanana Gusmao to stand for PM later in year as candidate for newly formed Congress for National Reconstruction of East Timor. Australian-led international peacekeeping forces failed to capture rebel leader Alfredo Reinado in 4 March raid on his base; 4 rebels died and mass protests followed in Dili.
Continued insecurity in south, but government reasserted commitment to “peaceful approach”. 8 Buddhist civilians killed in Yala province 14 March prompted imposition of night-time curfew. PM Surayud rejected calls by army chief and coup leader Sonthi for state of emergency in response to pro-Thaksin protests, but pledged to hold December elections.
Pacific Islands Forum said December coup “unacceptable”; urged Frank Bainimarama to resign post as interim PM and hold elections within 18 months. Deposed PM Laisenia Qarase faced treason charges for allegedly requesting foreign intervention to ward off coup.
Chairman of pro-democracy People’s Committee for Political Reform, warned of further unrest after government renewed state of emergency for fourth time. Commonwealth envoy Douglas Graham to facilitate talks between government and pro-democracy movement early April.
State of emergency imposed after 3 March riot that erupted after Tanna islanders alleged an Ambrym islander used sorcery to kill Tanna woman in capital, Port Vila. 3 died and 150 arrested in ensuing violence. National Council of Chiefs banned “black magic” at late-month meeting to prevent further flare-ups and pledged reconciliation talks for future date.
Muslim-Croat federation parliament approved new government headed by PM Nedzad Brankovic, but High Representative Schwarz-Schilling suspended appointments until vetting by his office complete. Srebrenica returnees threatened to leave Republika Srpska (RS) collectively if conditions did not improve. Srebrenica Municipal Council voted 24 March for district status separate from RS: move supported by Muslim and Croat presidency members, denounced by Bosnian Serbs, and declared unacceptable by Schwarz-Schilling. RS government gave special status to Srebrenica within RS and threatened to dismiss municipal government 28 March. Reis-ul-ulema Mustafa Ceric angered Serbs with statements suggesting Bosnia should be Muslim national state. New round of police reform talks ended 14 March without progress; EU warned issue made Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2007 unlikely. EUFOR troop reduction under way.
UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari hosted final round of unproductive status talks in Vienna 10 March after revising his settlement proposal 7 March, easing its acceptance by Kosovo Albanians but further dissatisfying Belgrade, which rejected it. Proposal forwarded to New York with additional report recommending supervised independence. UNSG Ban Ki-moon endorsed and sent both to UNSC members 26 March. U.S., EU and NATO indicated support for plan. Russia called for further talks and proposed review of implementation of Resolution 1244 before UNSC consideration of Ahtisaari plan. 75 Romanians serving in UN police force left Kosovo despite ongoing investigation into several officers’ conduct during 10 February clash with Vetevendosje movement protestors that left 2 dead. 3 and 31 March Vetevendosje protests passed without violence. Several small explosions in Bosnjacka Mahala of Mitrovica; reports of 30 March mortar grenade explosion near Decani monastery being investigated. Attempt by 150 enclave Serb delegates to form “Serb national assembly” broken up by Belgrade loyalists in Gracanica 4 March. AAK party leader and former PM Haradinaj went on trial in Hague on war crime charges 5 March.
PM Gruevski met with Ali Ahmeti, leader of opposition DUI, largest Albanian party, 7 March: agreed to resume political dialogue and form task force to draw up list of laws affecting minorities to be adopted by “Badinter principle” majority in parliament.
President Tadic’s Democratic Party and PM Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia continued to disagree over formation of new government; Kostunica insisted on remaining PM. Government adopted, unconstitutionally, temporary budget without parliamentary approval to prevent government shut-down. 5 men arrested and weapons seized during police raids on alleged Wahhabi training camp in Sandzak. Split between Belgrade Mufti Hamdija Jusufspahic and Sandzak Mufti Muamer Zukorlic as latter created competing Islamic Community encompassing majority of Serbia’s Muslims.
Entire government resigned en masse, as required by constitution, following unexpected death from heart attack of PM Andranik Markarian 25 March.
Opposition Musavat party held Baku demonstration against utility and oil price hikes 17 March. Independent MP Huseyin Abdullayev arrested 19 March after accusing government of deception and scuffling with another MP in parliament; arrest called politically motivated.
Ramzan Kadyrov, nominated Chechen president by Russian President Putin, endorsed by Chechen parliament 1 March. Kadyrov declared separation of authority agreement between Chechen and federal governments “unnecessary”, announcing plans to align constitution with federal legislation. Bomb killed 1 Russian serviceman near Gekhi-Chu 24 March and federal soldiers killed woman in Urdyukhoi. 4 militants died in clash with troops near Tazen-Kale 23 March. Rebel commander Tahir Batayev killed in shoot-out with military in Gudermes 21 March. Severny civilian airport reopened 8 March.
In Abkhazia’s Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori gorge 2 villages came under fire 11 March. Tbilisi alleged Russian helicopter involvement; Moscow denied: Joint Fact Finding Group investigation under way. Abkhaz de facto authorities held parliamentary election and run-off 4 and 18 March, not recognised by Tbilisi who claimed both rounds boycotted by ethnic Georgians in Gali district. In South Ossetia, Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Merab Antadze presented Tbilisi’s new proposals; dismissed by South Ossetian Joint Control Commission (JCC) Co-Chair Chochiev. Informal meeting of JCC Co-Chairs held in Istanbul 21-22 March. President Saakashvili met with Kurta-based alternative (pro-Tbilisi) de facto authorities of South Ossetia to discuss entity’s future status within Georgia 19 March. 2 Georgian police killed when patrol car came under fire in South Ossetia 25 March.
14 March Geneva meeting between Azeri and Armenian FMs organised by Minsk Group brought little progress. “Deep differences” remain over unspecified aspects of peace accord according to Armenian FM Oskanian. Ministers agreed to meet in April in preparation for late May presidential summit. Sniper from NK forces killed Azerbaijani soldier in Agdam district near NK 15 March.
In Dagestan, 11 March parliamentary elections marred by violence and fraud allegations. Final results announced 21 March following recount demanded by opposition parties: Pro-Kremlin party United Russia won 63.7%; Union of Right Forces struck from ballot after 3 candidates unexpectedly withdrew, leaving party short of required candidates in all districts. 2 killed in clashes between parties’ supporters in Dakhadai region. 1 candidate reported missing. Gunmen shot dead 1 civilian in attack on police in Makhachkala 15 March and killed 2 federal security service agents in Khasavyurt 14 March; police killed suspected rebel 23 March. In Ingushetia, gunmen kidnapped President Zyazikov’s uncle outside Nazran 23 March. Republic also saw extra-judicial killings by security services in Malgobek 15 March and Nazran 7 March. Police reportedly detained 15 North Ossetian police officers who crossed administrative border to detain 4 Ingush officers 29 March.
Over 10,000 protestors marking Freedom Day and calling for President Lukashenka’s ouster clashed with police 25 March. Dozens arrested, including chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, Vintsuk Vyachorka, but no mass arrests typical of previous protests occurred.
Police arrested 15 Liberal party members and journalists for ceremony commemorating 1918 unification with Romania. Earlier, government accused Bucharest of undermining its security by easing access for Moldovans to Romanian citizenship. In Transdniestria, Patriotic Party Tiraspol chief Viktor Neumoyin shot dead by unknown gunmen 13 March. EU military inspectors visited military installations in Transdniestria buffer zone 28-29 March.
Rival rallies of supporters of governing coalition and opposition held 31 March despite court ban; protests followed President Yushchenko’s 29 March threat to dissolve parliament for snap elections. Parliament approved former economy minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as foreign minister 21 March following its second rejection of Yushchenko’s previous nominee Volodymyr Ohryzko. 11 opposition parliamentarians defected to ruling coalition giving latter 260 out of 450 seats, still 40 short of majority needed to amend constitution, while defector Anatoliy Kinakh named economics minister.
Mass Madrid rally held to protest release to home arrest of hunger-striking former ETA leader Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos, convicted of 25 murders. Madrid court acquitted outlawed Batasuna party leader Arnaldo Otegi of praising terrorism: before trial Ortegi told media self-determination should be achieved through democracy. Separatist politicians applied to have new party, Patriotic Socialist Union, registered for May local elections. 31 March Basque nationalist rally allowed on condition no mention of new party. Supreme Court decision on party ban pending. Police on alert after arresting 8 suspected ETA members in Andoain 28 March and seizing explosives in Navarra and Guipuzcoa 30 March.
President Papadopoulos called on Turkish Cypriot counterpart Talat to immediately restart preliminary talks; Talat accused him of political manoeuvring, saying still no agreement on ground rules for talks. Following earlier Turkish move, Greek Cypriots demolished wall on Green Line dividing major Nicosia street. But Papadopoulos said civilians could not cross until Turkey withdraws troops from island.
Historic breakthrough in peace process as Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin (SF) leaders Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams agreed to share power in governing province from 8 May. Emergency legislation passed in Westminster 27 March to allow implementation of previous day’s accord. Jim Allister, DUP’s only MEP, and several DUP councillors, quit party in protest of deal. In first joint DUP-SF letter, Paisley and SF’s Martin McGuinness asked NI Sec. Peter Hain to vacate Stormont office; Hain said “delighted” to.
Ongoing clashes between armed forces and PKK in south east left at least 7 dead. Cases against pro-Kurdish politicians increased, including Van court sentencing of Hakkari Mayor Metin Tekce to 7 years prison for denying PKK terrorist organisation and 6-month sentence to Democratic Society Party leader Ahmet Turk for referring to jailed PKK leader as “Mr/esteemed Ocalan”. Investigation launched after opposition claimed PM Erdogan had referred to Ocalan in same way during 2000 interview. 300 detained but no major violence during Nevruz holiday period, associated in past with clashes over Kurdish issue. Land forces Chief General Ilker Basbug said Turkey has legal right to act against PKK in Northern Iraq.
3 killed in clash between ethnic Kazakh and Chechen youth in Malovodnoye, near Almaty; authorities downplayed ethnic aspect of incident.
Political confrontation mounted as 2 main opposition movements announced plans to begin open-ended demonstrations in April, calling for reform and early presidential elections. Groups closer to President Bakiev formed pro- stability bloc, rejecting calls for early elections but urging reform. Opposition “For Reforms!” movement split as some influential members left in apparent protest at movement’s confrontational stance. PM Azim Isabekov resigned, opposition leader Almazbek Atambayev confirmed PM 30 March, but other opposition leaders refused to participate in coalition government. Bakiev fired ally Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiyev, criticised over slow investigation into 2002 police shootings of demonstrators in Aksy.
President Rahmon(ov) removed Russian suffix from surname and required all newborns be registered with Tajik surnames. Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, a United Tajik Opposition leader during civil war, called for blanket amnesty for all former opposition combatants. Last major civil-war era field commander to hold government post, Interior Ministry General Suhrob Qosimov, resigned, bringing era of warlordism to end.
President Berdimuhammedov continued education reforms, reinstated pension payments and restricted presidential powers for naming institutions and delineating administrative units.
Arrests and heavy sentencing of opposition activists and journalists continued. Journalist Nataliya Bushueva charged with tax evasion and operating without accreditation. Rustam Muminov, accused of Hizb ut-Tahrir affiliation, and controversially extradited from Russia in 2006, sentenced to over 5 years for involvement in 2005 Andijon uprising. Court in Namangan sentenced local Birlik movement leader Muhammadali Qoraboyev to 6 years for extortion and fraud, charges supporters say politically motivated.
President Morales replaced head of state petroleum company 23 March following discovery of 44 flawed contracts with foreign energy companies. Errors delayed May 2006 nationalisation process; new head is fourth to serve in 14 months. Morales promised elections as early as 2008 once new constitution adopted, subject to national referendum to be held earliest December 2007. Constituent Assembly still to agree on many controversial issues including regional autonomy, decentralisation and new territorial entities. National emergency declared after heavy flooding in eastern lowlands likely to delay implementation of agrarian reform law.
“Parapolitics” scandal spread to highest ranks as leaked CIA intelligence alleged collaboration between army chief Mario Montoya and right-wing paramilitaries; Bogotá denied allegations. FARC agreed to meet with 7 U.S. members of Congress seeking release of 61 FARC hostages, but reasserted demilitarisation of Pradera and Florida remains prerequisite to hostage negotiation. Talks between government and ELN resumed 3 March but parties agreed not to make any public declarations. 18 died early in month during confrontations between Colombian Army and FARC in Meta.
Dismissal of 57 opposition members of Congress 7 March by Electoral Court sparked institutional crisis as supporters of President Rafael Correa and opposition wrestled for control of Congress in tangled legal battle. Opposition members later reinstated, but blocked by supporters from entering Congress building. Referendum on proposed constitutional changes still expected 15 April. Congress studying possibility of changing composition of Constitutional Court. 1 Colombian and 1 Ecuadorean killed in Colombian military anti-guerrilla operation that allegedly crossed border into Ecuador; Quito formally protested.
Government seized 16 farms and said planning 13 further seizures in April in intensified land reform campaign. High inflation led President Chávez to announce stringent measures to control prices and phased introduction of new stronger currency by end 2007. Difficulties in unifying all Chavista parties into United Socialist Party of Venezuela underscored divisions in Chávez ranks.
Haitian police (HNP) arrested Cité Soleil gang leader Evens Jeune “Ti Kouto” 13 March; 2 other gang leaders targeted in February MINUSTAH raids still on run. UN said 400 gang members arrested by HNP in 3 months. Finance minister said improving security situation will be priority for funds freed up by Inter-American Development Bank debt relief program announced this month.
Palestinian national unity government took office 17 March. Hopes raised by Arab League summit 28-30 March decision to renew commitment to 2002 Saudi initiative – the one diplomatic opening in which Israel has expressed interest though refused to endorse. Kidnappings and assassinations in Gaza underlined challenges ahead, while Hamas rejected President Abbas’s 18 March appointment of Muhammad Dahlan as National Security Advisor. Israel extended ban on political contacts with Palestinian Authority (PA) and restricted engagement to discussions of security and humanitarian issues, despite ministerial appeals to continue final status talks with Abbas and U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice. Israel’s formal downgrading of talks with Abbas marked divergence with Washington, which declared itself open to contacts with non- Hamas PA ministers.
Political paralysis continued. Regional mediation efforts increased but failed to produce results. Saudi Arabia launched initiative involving deal on international tribunal and establishment of government of national unity, followed by preparation of new electoral law; but details not clear. Arrests of members of Islamist group Fatah al-Islam implicated Syrians and Saudis in connection with February blasts in Ayn Alaq.
In first visit in 2 years EU foreign policy chief Solana urged Damascus to play positive role in Lebanon and Iraq and expressed support for Syria’s aim of regaining Golan Heights. Kurdish political groups planned to boycott 22 April parliamentary elections alleging 100,000 Kurds not allowed to participate; majority of opposition parties also not contesting poll. 10,000 candidates due to contest 250 parliamentary seats; 167 reserved for ruling Baath party and allies.
Tensions escalated over seizure of 15 UK navy personnel Iran claimed entered its waters illegally, further complicating stalled nuclear diplomacy. Seizure occurred during UK operation in Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran day before 24 March unanimous UN Security Council vote to impose second round of sanctions on Tehran for refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran responded by partially halting cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency. Former deputy defence minister, Ali Reza Asghari, disappeared while in Istanbul early March. U.S. and Iran had first formal contact in 2 years at 11 March security conference in Baghdad. Dispute over financing stalled Russia’s construction work on nuclear plant at Bushehr.
U.S. military surge brought reduced violence but suicide bombings continued and month-end saw renewed Shiite retaliation for Sunni attacks. Over 70 killed by blasts 24 March, day after Deputy PM Salam Zaubai injured in bombing in Baghdad in which 9 died. 2 truck bombs hit markets in northern Tal Afar town 27 March, killing 60 and prompting Shiite police to go on revenge shooting spree, killing 70. Tensions mounted in Kirkuk ahead of proposed late 2007 referendum to determine whether governorate will be assimilated into semi- autonomous Kurdish region; 3 car bombs exploded 19 March. U.S. House of Representatives voted 23 March by narrow margin to impose August 2008 deadline for U.S. withdrawal; Senate voted in favour of target date of March 2008; U.S. President Bush promised to veto any bill setting withdrawal timetable. Government announced plans to allow former Baath party members to return to official posts with 3-month period for ex-members to be challenged, after which they will be immune from prosecution for events during Saddam era. Baghdad security conference held 11 March for Iraq’s interested parties in step towards Baker/Hamilton- recommended regional diplomatic engagement.
Riyadh continued to increase profile in regional affairs following 8 February Mecca agreement. Iranian President Ahmedi-Nejad visited early March in indication both sides want to reduce sectarian divisions, nuclear tensions and divergence over Lebanon and Iraq. Arab League summit recommitted to 2002 Saudi peace initiative 28 March.
2 foreign students killed by Shiite rebel attack on religious school in restive northern region 26 March. Battles between followers of deceased radical Shiite leader Hussein al-Houthi and government troops continued. Ali Mohammed Mujur named new PM 31 March after resignation of Abdul- Kader Bajammal.
Further rebel attacks launched as security forces continued anti-terrorist operations. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for deadly bomb attack on bus carrying workers for Russian pipeline construction firm in Medea 3 March. 7 policemen reportedly killed in ambush in Tizi Ouzou and 2 militants killed while trying to place bomb east of capital. Clashes in Bouira, M’sila, Ain Defla and Skikida regions killed at least 3 soldiers and 17 suspected militants. Batna court sentenced 2 former senior leaders of Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat to death in absentia 17 March.
Constitutional changes approved by parliament on 19 March called into question by low-turnout for 26 March “lightening” referendum. Government said 27% of registered voters turned out, and 76% approved measures; democracy activists cited only 5% turnout. Muslim Brotherhood boycotted poll; rights organisations warned changes billed as reform in fact constitutionally enshrined emergency rule. Series of opposition activist arrests in run-up to vote, including at least 28 Muslim Brothers detained 13-15 March.
Former finance minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won second round of country’s first free and fair presidential elections with 53% of vote 25 March. Opposition figure Ahmed Ould Daddah conceded defeat; Abdallahi to be sworn in 19 April. Both rounds, endorsed by international observers, passed without major incident.
Authorities pledged to pursue war against terrorism “without respite” after formerly convicted terrorist Abdelfattah Raydi blew himself up in internet café in Casablanca slum 11 March after discovered to be accessing terrorist sites. Security officials believe Raydi and 12 others planned to blow up foreign ships at Casablanca port and tourist facilities in Agadir, Marrakech and Essaouira; 24 suspects arrested in connection.
Arrests of Saharawi independence activists continued while Moroccan delegation briefed European officials on “negotiated autonomy” plan. Moroccan police violently suppressed unarmed protest by Saharawi students outside Qadi Ayad University in Marrakech 15 March, injuring 10. El Aaiún appeals court sentenced 8 political detainees to prison 20 March. Mandate of UN mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara to expire 30 April.