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
This month's CrisisWatch, ICG's bulletin on actual and potential conflicts around the world, identifies deteriorating situations in nine countries in May 2004 and risk alerts in three.
There is a looming humanitarian disaster, following months of ethnic cleansing, in Sudan's western region of Darfur -- notwithstanding the long-awaited signature of peace protocols by Khartoum and rebels in the south of the country: at least 1.2 million people have been displaced by government-supported militias, and hundreds of thousands of lives are at immediate risk in Darfur if determined international action is not taken at once.
Nigeria's security situation also sharply declined in May, when Christians massacred some 600 Muslims in the town of Yelwa, sparking widespread violence and the displacement of 57,000. Pakistan deteriorated; sectarian violence in Karachi killed at least 30. Lebanon saw its worst unrest in a decade, leaving five dead. Chechnya took a serious step backward with the assassination of pro-Kremlin Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov. The situation also worsened in Chad, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Israel/Occupied Territories and Saudi Arabia.
Three security situations showed improvement in May 2004. Georgia welcomed the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the centre and the rogue province of Ajara. Libya's decision to ban military trade with Iran, North Korea and Syria was an encouraging step. India enjoyed a transfer of power without major incidents.
For June 2004, CrisisWatch identifies Ethiopia/Eritrea, Sudan and Venezuela as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of further conflict in the coming month. The only Conflict Resolution Opportunity identified for next month is Sudan.
ChadCôte d’IvoireNigeriaPakistanRussia/North CaucasusColombiaIsrael/PalestineLebanonSaudi Arabia
Forces de défense de la démocratie (FDD) temporarily withdrew from unity government 2 May prompting collapse fears. UNHCR estimated 40,000 Burundian refugees returned from Tanzania since January, but 20,000 people internally displaced in same period due to fighting between government and rebel Hutu FNL forces in Bujumbura Rural province. Army claims it killed 9 FNL rebels 14 May and further 13 29 May; denied by FNL. UN Security Council approved new UN peacekeeping operation to be established from 1 June numbering 5,650 military personnel and incorporating current African Union mission. Burundi government proposal to extend transition period to 29 October 2005 refused by South African team 28 May as Pretoria electoral talks drag on.
Up to 200,000 Sudanese refugees, some armed, fled from Darfur to Chad in recent weeks, straining local population and stretching food supplies. Arab “Janjaweed” militias continued to pursue cross-border refugees from Sudan. Chad claimed 60 Arab militia killed 5 May after attacking Djanga border village. Army mutineers in N'djamena surrendered 20 May after 3-day standoff: President Idriss Deby claimed mutineers had intended to kill him, angered by plans for army reform. Opposition boycotted government-dominated parliamentary vote allowing possible third term for Deby. Chadian MDJT rebels claimed March capture of Algerian Salafist leader Amari Saifi 14 May.
Growing instability North and South Kivu, eastern DR Congo, leading to 20,000 displaced over last month. Fighting broke out Bukavu 27 May between DRC army and faction loyal to ex-RCD Colonel Jules Mutebusi killing 45 including UN observer. UN bolstered security, sending 52 additional peacekeepers and confining RCD troops to barracks. 31 May 1,000 further renegade troops advanced to airport 35 km north of Bukavu before halting after call from DRC vice president and former RCD head Azarias Ruberwa. In separate violence 5 Congolese killed 7 May in raid by 350 Hutu Rwandan rebels on Kingi village. 4 Congolese soldiers killed by same forces 25 May. Rwanda threatened military action unless DRC and stretched UN peacekeeping operation (MONUC) re- establish control. DRC foreign minister accepted no current Rwandan involvement. Burundi stepped up border security with DRC on Rusizi river to prevent Rwandan Hutu infiltration. In positive development, UN-mediated talks in Ituri led to signing 17 May of commitment to peace and disarmament of 7 militia groups. Ruberwa claimed “end of war in Ituri”.
Rwandan government threatened sending army back to DR Congo after 2 years’ absence if Kinshasa and MONUC prove unable to control Hutu Interamwhe rebels. UN Security Council condemned 14 May Rwandan incursions into DR Congo; denied by Rwanda. Leading Hutu militia leader Yussuf Munyakazi arrested in DR Congo and transferred to Rwandan war crimes tribunal’s (ICTR) detention centre in Tanzania to await trial on 1994 genocide charges, taking total number indicted by ICTR to 68. Government expressed concern at judge resignations, hinting at “external pressures”.
Eritrea blamed Ethiopia and Sudan for bombing 25 May in Barentu, Eritrea, killing 5 civilians. In response to vigorous Eritrean-government criticism Major- General Robert Gordon, head of UN peacekeeping mission (UNMEE), expressed “genuine concern” 12 May for viability of UN mission given lack of progress on demarcation of 620-mile border, negotiation on status of disputed town of Badme and “deterioration” of local relationships. Eritrean President Afwerki dismissed need for UN special envoy, claiming Eritrean position binding and non-negotiable. Tensions remain high along temporary security zone, with Eritrean and U.S. claims of incursion by Ethiopian militia forces.
Reconciliation conference sponsored by IGAD (regional association of 7 East African states) of 40 Somali groups and representatives of neighbouring countries started Nairobi 21 May after earlier attendance and financial worries. Interim leader Hassan initially refused to attend, planning rival talks in Jowhar, north of Mogadishu. Progress stalled since 29 January. IGAD ministers set July as target for end of talks threatening “punitive measures” against foot-draggers. Fighting between rival Mogadishu militias killed 100; ended 31 May.
On positive note, parties announced “major breakthrough” in discussions in Naivasha, Kenya in peace talks between southern SPLA rebels and government to end 21-year civil war. Sides signed key protocols on power-sharing and resolving disputes in 3 regions, paving way for comprehensive peace agreement in coming weeks or months. But situation in Darfur, western Sudan, continued to slide towards humanitarian disaster despite mobilisation of international concern. Over 1 million now displaced in Darfur. Sudanese government professed eagerness to find lasting solution 12 May, but blocked Darfur aid until 21 May as U.S. and international pressure increased. Access for aid workers continues to be impeded. Pledge to disarm Janjaweed militia unfulfilled as violence continued. 45 killed in village south of Nyala by militia 24 May. Onset of rainy season threatens to complicate aid effort with as many as 350,000 lives at risk. Current UN Security Council president finally moved to issue weak statement 26 May condemning government-supported militia attacks, demanding disarmament and accountability but falling short of suggesting international peace-enforcement. Sudan elected to UN Human Rights Commission prompting U.S. walk-out, but latter nevertheless took Sudan off list of states sponsoring terrorism.
Ugandan government gunship raids against Sudan- based rebels have not stopped LRA terror in north Uganda. Pagak and Lukudi refugee camps attacked, killing over 70 and further displacing 10,000. Army responded with raid, claiming 10 rebels killed. Christian Aid report criticised Ugandan army’s prosecution of war suggesting corruption and half-heartedness; strongly denied by Ugandan government. Donor countries rejected Uganda’s 2004/5 budget citing scale and opacity of defence spending.
President Dos Santos visited Washington D.C., insisting “there is no war” in Angola’s tiny but oil-rich Cabinda province, but sources on ground claim ongoing tension between as many as 30,000 Angolan troops and separatist FLEC-FAC forces. Opposition UNITA party walked out of talks on 2005 election 12 May, blaming government stalling. In positive move 20 May, Angola promised 45-day suspension of expulsion of illegal Congolese (DRC) diamond miners which had destabilised DR Congo/Angola relationship.
Ruling Zanu-PF tightened grip on parliament 18 May with disputed victory in Lupane, Matabeleland, nearing two thirds required for constitutional change. Opposition MDC claimed voter intimidation. Parliamentary brawl between opposition MP Roy Bennett and justice minister led to government-orchestrated demonstrations in Harare, culminating in attack on MDC headquarters 20 May, unchecked by police. Press intimidation continued with brief imprisonment of Standard editor Bornwell Chakaodza. Concerns grew that Zimbabwe’s failure to allow UN food assessment hides shortfalls intended for use as tool of political manipulation; fears Zanu-PF will bring forward March 2005 elections to October 2004 to capitalise.
President Gbagbo fired 3 opposition Forces Nouvelles (FN) ministers and replaced them with allies, breaking Marcoussis peace accords and leading rebel leader Guillaume Soro to withdraw recognition 24 May. Prime Minister Diarra decided to stay on, but refused to chair cabinet meetings until problem resolved. UN pledged support as 6,240 UN peackeepers began to arrive, but Soro, alleging existence of Gbagbo-backed militants in Guinea, did not rule out return to war. UN Security Council condemned government 14 May, alleging use of torture, non-respect of human rights and complicity in “indiscriminate killing” of 120 protesters 25-26 March. Security Council called for wide UN enquiry covering events from September 2002, leading to pro-government protests against UN presence and threats to French interests. 30,000 Gbagbo supporters demonstrated against UN 31 May.
UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers said would end UN support for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, expecting repatriation process to be complete by 30 June. Guinean government reiterated calls 5 May for Charles Taylor to stand trial. Politically-motivated legal proceedings continue against opposition leader Sidya Toure. Mano River Union leaders meeting in Conakry 21 May issued statement supportive of Ivoirian President Gbagbo.
Volatility continued, including killing of U.S. Military Assessment employee 25 May. Doubts persist over willingness of militias to disarm. UN Mission to Liberia (UNMIL) discovered “high value” arms cache near Sierra Leone border 1 May. Monrovia riot by 500 ex-combatants quelled 18 May by UN peacekeepers. UNMIL claimed 35,000 combatants have now been disarmed. UN launched recruitment process for new police force. Meanwhile UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled against former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s appeal not to be tried for war-crimes.
Significant deterioration in security situation with massacre of 600 Hausa and Fulani Muslims by local Tarok Christians in Plateau town of Yelwa 2 May. Massacre sparked further violence in Plateau, Kano and Kebbi states of central and northern Nigeria leading to displacement of 57,000. President Obasanjo declared parliament-backed state of emergency in Plateau in attempt to end “near mutual genocide” 18 May; sacked state governor and legislature prompting memories of military rule. Emergency rule not yet effective in preventing further violence in Plateau villages. Government-appointed governor General Chris Alli gave militia groups until 7 June to surrender illegal weapons. Opposition marches calling Obasanjo’s government “civilian dictatorship” disrupted by police 3 and 16 May.
Sierra Leone voted in local elections for first time in 32 years 24 May, but turnout did not top 40%. Both sides suggested voter intimidation and malpractice, prompting 68 separate appeals. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor lost legal attempt 31 May to avoid UN- backed war-crimes trial.
3 Hong Kong radio hosts resigned in as many weeks, claiming pro-Beijing forces intimidating and threatening democracy activists.
Generals from North and South Korea had first ever meeting 26 May, agreed to meet again 3 June. Six-party working groups started 12 May, ended with agreement for further discussions. Main stumbling block remains: U.S. seeking complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement (CVID), while North Korea insisting on ‘freeze’. International Atomic Energy Agency reportedly found evidence Libyan uranium came from North Korea; denied by Pyongyang. Japan summit 22 May focused on repatriation of abducted Japanese nationals.
Newly re-elected President Chen Shui-bian sworn in for second term 20 May. In widely-anticipated inauguration speech, took conciliatory tone but angered Beijing by refusing to acknowledge "one China" principle. Bejiing had raised rhetoric in lead-up to inauguration, saying Chen's pro- independence stance risks war. Recount completed of ballots from 29 March election, which Chen won by less than 30,000 votes. Results not expected for weeks, but in any case unlikely to affect election outcome.
Fears of spring offensive by Taliban and other insurgent groups confirmed as attacks increased in south and east. Over 30 killed, including 2 UK election workers. UN voter registration continues to be delayed by violence. 1 Norwegian, 6 U.S. soldiers killed in separate attacks in Kabul, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces. President Karzai negotiated with leaders of former Northern Alliance over key cabinet posts, in attempt to gain support prior to elections. Main phase of UN- backed disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration program started 17 May. To date 4,000 pieces of heavy weaponry registered. Government plans to disarm 40% of estimated 100,000 militiamen by end of June ahead of landmark September elections. But March 2004 agreement between UN and Afghan defence ministry to decommission specific militia units and downsize others meeting resistance from militia leaders in Kabul and provinces. U.S. launched 24 May review of detention centres following abuse allegations.
Senior member of opposition Awami League (AL) party shot dead 7 May. Widespread protests and violence followed in Dhaka and Tongi, killing 2. Concerns raised by emergence of Islamist militant vigilante groups in north Bangladesh. AL blamed Islamist militants for bomb blast in northeast Muslim shrine that killed 3, injured 70, including British envoy Anwar Chowdhury.
Surprise victory by Sonia Gandhi’s Indian National Congress over governing coalition led by PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Transfer of power completed without major incidents. Gandhi declined PM post, handing to former finance minister Manmohan Singh. Gandhi elected leader of ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of 11 parties; has support from another 10. Singh, India's first non-Hindu PM (Sikh), sworn in 22 May. Coalition’s "Common Minimum Programme" agenda, designed to balance growth with rural development, received mixed reception. Initial row over portfolios involving DMK party, powerful southern ally of Congress, largely resolved.
Separatist violence continued. Mine blast killed 33 Indian soldiers and relatives in Indian-administered Kashmir 23 May; claimed by Hizbul Mujahideen, who lost senior commander in clash in outskirts of Srinagar 11 May. Kashmir's main separatist alliance, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), called strike in Srinagar to mark anniversaries of killings of key Muslim cleric and separatist leader. Top APHC leader Moulvi Umar Farooq targeted by militants in grenade attack. Farooq was part of January delegation for talks with former Indian PM; new talks due in July. New India PM Manmohan Singh vowed to act against militants and cooperate with Pakistan over disputed region.
Political chaos, Maoist violence, strikes, demonstrations continued. PM Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned 7 May amid mounting calls for restoration of democracy. 5 main opposition parties met King Gyanendra; failed to agree on replacement PM, vowed to continue ‘agitation’ campaign. Maoist attacks worsened throughout east and west leaving over 60 rebels and security forces dead. 30 May Kathmandu bus bomb killed 1, injured 21. Maoists reportedly abducted school children and teachers, called for mass school closures.
Sectarian violence resurfaced in Karachi: separate blasts in Shiite mosques killed at least 30, 7 and 31 May; pro- Taliban Sunni cleric, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, shot dead 30 May; ensuing riots killed 3; 5 killed in by-election clashes mainly between armed militants belonging to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) - key partner in ruling coalition - and opposition Islamic Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA); blast 26 May killed 1, injured 30, 2 days after police arrested 6 members of Harkat-ul Mujahideen al-Alami, group linked to al-Qaeda. Elsewhere, rockets fired at education minister Zobaida Jalal's residence in Quetta. Pakistan readmitted to Commonwealth despite lack of democratic reform - decision justified on grounds of democratic progress, President Musharraf’s peace steps with India. Talks on nuclear confidence-building measures postponed by new Indian government. Pakistan successfully test-fired ballistic missile 29 May capable of carrying nuclear warheads. President Musharraf and new Indian government quick to confirm commitment to peaceful resolution of outstanding issues. Musharraf vowed further action against al-Qaeda in South Waziristan province.
After months of political turmoil peace process remains stalled. Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim met with government, Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and President Kumaratunga, but no date set to restart talks. New government wants to discuss final settlement to end war, while LTTE want their Interim Self-Governing Authority Proposal, submitted in October 2003, to be implemented before talks begin. People's Liberation Front (JVP) opposes devolution of power to LTTE, controls over third of minority government's seats. Sporadic violence continued in northeast killing at least 15. Tamil leader Karuna still on run after splitting from main rebel group in March.
Martial law lifted in Aceh, replaced with ‘civil emergency’; no reduction of 40,000 troops. Military claimed it has killed 2,000 Free Aceh Movement (GAM) members and captured 3,000 since 19 May last year when offensive began. GAM released well known Indonesian cameraman 18 May, and around 150 other civilians, some of whom believed to be hostages; others had reportedly gone to GAM for protection. Ambon still tense after violence claimed 39 last month; bomb explosion 17 May, hours after separatist flags raised in Muslim area of city; explosions 23 and 25 May killed 1 injured 17. ICG's Sidney Jones to be effectively expelled 10 June with work permit not renewed, following complaints from director of State Intelligence Agency General A.M. Hendropriyono about critical ICG reports; considerable media attention generated.
Myanmar’s first step on “road map to democracy” inaugurated 17 May. Against widespread expectations, National Convention started without release of National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi or deputy chairman Tin Oo, who remain under house arrest. NLD members invited but party boycotted event. Karen National Union (KNU) also refused; criticised other ethnic organisations for participating in Convention. 17 armed groups with ceasefire agreements in place with Rangoon sent delegates. Myanmar’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) continued to attract international criticism. U.S. extended sanctions for another year. Amnesty International 18 May report accused Burma's military of severe rights' abuses against Muslim minority, including eviction from ancestral land, forced labour.
Unofficial election results put Fernando Poe Jr. behind incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose political allies gained control of House of Representatives and Senate. Final results delayed until mid-June. 10 May elections marred by violence and fraud accusations. Over 100 killed in 3- month run-up to poll. Senior Abbu Sayyaf leader, Usman Lidjal, arrested 21 May. 3 militants killed, 7 captured in raid to free hostages 26 May. 4 other hostages freed 24 May after ransom paid.
Dili took over responsibility for defence and internal policing 19 May. UN declared 12-month "consolidation phase" during which peacekeepers can be used in extraordinary circumstances. Security Council cut UN peacekeepers from 3000 to 700; gave 6-month mandate. Nervousness about ability of indigenous forces to handle job alone, especially in border areas where militia activity reported in recent months.
Blasts 16 May hit 3 Buddhist temples in Narathiwat province in restive south; policeman shot dead 7 May. Thai government agreed to talk to Muslim separatist umbrella group, Bersatu, blamed for violence in south. Group’s leader, Wan Abdul Kadir Che Man, denied movement was behind 28 April attacks, in which police and soldiers killed 108 militants, or January raid on army camp in Narathiwat, in which almost 400 guns stolen. Thai Buddhist beheaded reportedly in retaliation for arrests of Malays in connection to southern violence.
PM Fatos Nano met Greek counterpart, who expressed support for Albanian efforts towards Euro-Atlantic structures. Albania hopes Stabilization and Association Agreement with EU will be signed in early 2005; clear timetable for NATO membership to be set up at June Istanbul summit.
Head of Bosnian Serb special police dismissed over bungled attempt to arrest war crimes suspect Milan Lukic. Reports emerged that Lukic, targeted in raid, was providing The Hague with information on Radovan Karadzic, who remains at large.
Head of UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Harri Holkeri, resigned 25 May on grounds of ill health leaving power vacuum and growing uncertainty. Arrest of former KLA commander Sami Lushtaku for March riots provoked unrest then mass celebrations in Drenica region upon his release. Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) and trade unions demanded UNMIK resume privatisation process, suspended last year. Nature of Serbian autonomy within decentralised Kosovo continued to raise questions; PISG leaders dismissed Serbian plan for 5 autonomous Serb regions. PDK proposed Macedonia’s Ohrid Agreement as decentralisation model, but other Kosovo Albanian parties denounced proposal. World Bank report acknowledged Kosovo’s unresolved status preventing economic growth.
Former PM Branko Crvenkovski sworn in as new president 12 May, named former interior minister Hari Kostov as PM. Authorities demanded extradition from Croatia of former interior minister Ljube Boskovski, who fled after being charged in connection with March 2002 murder of 7 migrants in alleged attempt to show support for "war on terror". Former customs director Dragan Daravelski arrested in Belgrade 28 May.
Campaigning in full swing prior to 13 June presidential election; frontrunner Tomislav Nikolic of ultra-right wing Serbian Radical Party (SRS). 2 main challengers -- Boris Tadic and Dragan Marsicanin. Nikolic calling for resignation of PM Vojislav Kostunica and new parliamentary elections. Serbian parliament unlikely to meet 3 June World Bank deadline for budget readjustments, putting at risk renegotiated World Bank loan and assistance from EU, EBRD and IMF. Foreign Minister Draskovic survived no-confidence vote in parliament. His party, Serbian Renewal Movement, repeated threat to withdraw from government unless amendments to Criminal Procedures Act adopted. South Serbia's ethnic Albanians formed ‘Consensus Council’ 10 May aimed at uniting supporters of secession and pragmatists who accept integration into Serbia. Seen as pre-cursor to Albanian National Council and could alarm Serbs. Hague Tribunal sent complaint to UN Security Council over lack of cooperation from Belgrade. Dusko Jovanovic, editor of Montenegrin conservative daily Dan, shot dead 27 May.
Following weeks of protests against President Robert Kocharian - and 13 April police crackdown on demonstrators - opposition's momentum appears to have stalled. Movement's leaders announced 2-week postponement of demonstrations 21 May to reassess strategy.
Preliminary hearings underway in trial of 7 prisoners arrested for alleged role in inciting October post- election violence. Prisoners said court biased and boycotted hearings. Opposition Musavat party activist Seyidali Mamedov arrested 2 May - also on charges related to October riots.
Crisis with Ajara resolved peacefully 6 May with resignation and departure for Moscow of Aslan Abashidze, region's authoritarian leader. After weeks of mounting tension between Abashidze and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, crisis came to head 2 May as 3 bridges linking Ajara to rest of country blown up on Abashidze's orders; local support for Abashidze fell away; Russia played constructive role. Saakashvili set 20 June date for new elections in Ajara, vowed to preserve region's autonomy. Attention now shifting to Georgia's other breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Officials there concerned Saakashvili will move to bring both regions under Tbilisi's control. Latter quoted as saying unification would take 2 years for Abkhazia, significantly less for South Ossetia. Tensions briefly rose as Georgian troops deployed to village of Tkviavi, 10km from Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, but troops quickly withdrawn.
Tenth anniversary of ceasefire between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces passed 12 May, with solution as distant as ever.
Pro-Kremlin Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov assassinated 9 May in bomb attack at Grozny stadium. Radical field commander Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility, though conspiracy theories rife. New elections set for 29 August. PM Sergei Abramov acting as head of state - not expected to run in elections. Kadyrov's 27-year-old son and chief of security forces, Ramzan, named deputy PM, but said will not contest constitutional age limit prohibiting presidential candidates under 30.
No progress made in second round of negotiations over separatist Transdniestria region 25-26 May. Next round scheduled for 21-22 June.
Banned Basque separatist party Batasuna reportedly in talks with mainstream Basque politicians on possible ceasefire by ETA separatists.
U.S. said now recognised northern Cyprus PM Mehmet Ali Talat - not Rauf Denktash - as leader of Turkish Cypriots. Talat had supported UN Secretary General Annan's peace plan for divided island.
Feud between loyalist groups reportedly ended 30 May. Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leading member was murdered 18 May, days after bullets sprayed Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) home in east Belfast. PMs Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern said governments had established basis for road map to restore devolved power by October. Democratic Unionist party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley vowed not to participate in power-sharing government with Sinn Fein without complete IRA disarmament. Sinn Fein’s national chairman Mitchell McLaughlin called for IRA to decommission in run-up to 10 June European elections.
Violence resurfaced in southeast. At least 12 rebels, 8 security personnel killed in clashes or landmine blasts. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), now known as Kongra-Gel (Kurdistan People's Congress), declared end to unilateral ceasefire after recent violence. British PM Tony Blair visited Ankara 17 May, discussed security, reforms and EU membership.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in office since 1991, said will run for new 7-year term in 2006.
Misir Ashirkulov, long-time friend of President Akayev, dismissed by latter as head of Security Council after joining Union for Honest Elections, new opposition group. Move may be prelude to run for presidency in elections set for October 2005. Akayev has promised not to run again. Chynybek Aliev, head of government anti-corruption department, gunned down by unknown assailants in Bishkek 5 May, adding to string of high profile assassinations over last 2 months.
President Saparmurat Niazov rescinded decree criminalising unregistered religious activity, but move unlikely to diminish widespread and systematic persecution of religious minorities.
Government increasing pressure on opposition activists and international NGOs. Following last month's closure of Open Society Institute's Tashkent office, authorities warned 3 other NGOs to stop supporting unregistered opposition movements. Members of 2 such groups, Erk Democratic Party and Berlik movement, reportedly arrested in recent days.
Future of President Mesa remains inextricably linked to controversial plans to export Bolivian gas: referendum on issue set for 18 July. Situation in capital La Paz extremely volatile with almost daily marches, demonstrations.
Wave of attacks in north killed 21, wounded over 100 as leftist FARC rebels marked 40th anniversary. Senior FARC commander Ricardo Palmera sentenced to 35 years in prison for kidnapping, rebellion. Suspected paramilitaries killed 11 alleged collaborators with leftist rebels. Leaders of AUC paramilitary group agreed to remain in rural area with OAS observers while negotiations continue with government.
Andean (Peru, Colombia, Ecuador) free trade talks with U.S. began 18 May amid anti-globalisation protests. Opposition and indigenous Pachakutik movement called for President Gutierrez's resignation.
Opposition claims sufficient signatures revalidated to secure 2.43 million required for recall referendum of President Hugo Chavez; awaiting National Electoral Commission (CNE) determination 4 June: significant unrest likely whichever way decision goes. Chavez supporters claim fraud and failure of revalidation. Over 100 suspected Colombian paramilitaries accused by government of assassination plot arrested, along with ex-Venezuelan military officers. Confusion surrounds affair. Plot denounced by opposition, seen by latter as government attempt to divert attention from referendum issue.
Former president Leonel Fernandez scored resounding victory over incumbent, Hipolito Mejia, in 16 May election, receiving 57% of votes. Election seen as largely fair, but voting marred by polling station shoot-out between supporters of Fernandez and Mejia, which left 3 dead. Fernandez must now move to reverse country's economic slide, made more difficult by devastating floods leaving hundreds dead and at least 13,000 homeless.
UN peacekeeping mission set to take over from U.S.-led multinational force 1 June. Headed by Brazil, with contributions from Chile, Argentina, and 10 other countries, force to include over 8,000 troops and military police. Deployment intended to help disarm population, reform police, and establish rule of law, but mission complicated by widespread crime and gang-related violence, along with devastating flooding that has left hundreds dead. Police broke up large 18 May rally by supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who claim persecution by interim government. Aristide arrived South Africa 31 May from Jamaica; said will stay until able to return to Haiti.
Unrest in southern town of Ilave subsided after deal with government. Security forces to be reduced, community grievances addressed. Interior Minister Rospigliosi forced to resign after failure to end 3 weeks of violence, including lynching of mayor. Coca growers continued to demonstrate, clash with police in Tingo Maria. Anti-government strike in Cusco 27 May killed 2 when bus hit road block set up by demonstrators. Protests continued in Lima prompting President Toledo to miss EU-Latin America leaders summit. President Toledo's approval rating reportedly down to 6%. Peru pressed Japan for response to extradition request for former President Fujimori.
Israeli army, citing need to flush out militants and destroy tunnels used to transport arms, launched massive incursion into Gaza Strip, leaving over 40 dead and 2,000 homeless. Raid prompted strong international criticism and UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon presented amended Gaza pullout plan to cabinet 30 May for approval, but after heated debate, adjourned meeting without decision. New plan calls for phased military withdrawal and evacuation of 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza. Likud party had rejected earlier draft in 2 May referendum. Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei gave cautious endorsement to plan, saying withdrawal was opportunity for movement towards wider peace agreement. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman said 24 May Cairo prepared to play security role in Gaza. Sharon given new political life with reports that Israeli attorney general will not indict him on corruption charges. Senior Hamas leader killed in Israeli airstrike 30 May.
On visit to Washington, King Abdullah secured assurances from President Bush that U.S. would not prejudice outcome of final negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. In April, Bush had said Israel could not be expected to give up all settlements or accept return of Palestinian refugees, sparking outrage in Arab world and causing Abdullah to abruptly cancel earlier trip.
Soldiers in Beirut killed 5 and injured dozens during protests against high fuel prices and poor state of economy. Unrest worst in decade. Series of clashes along Israeli border 5-7 May, as Hizbollah guerrillas fired shells into northern Israel following Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory. Violence left 1 Israeli soldier dead and 5 wounded. Negotiations on second round of German-mediated prisoner exchange reportedly nearing breakthrough.
In long-anticipated and largely symbolic move, U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Syria 11 May. Meanwhile, EU agreed wording of landmark trade accord with Damascus; includes clause with WMD benchmarks. Authorities said group of 4 Syrian radical Islamists responsible for 27 April bombing in diplomatic district of Damascus.
20 protesters injured in clashes with police during demonstrations against U.S. policies in Iraq. King said shared protesters' anger, sacked interior minister.
Tehran submitted second "complete" dossier to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 21 May, stating, as with first submission October 2003, that dossier was full account of its past and present nuclear programs. But report to be submitted by IAEA president Mohammed ElBaradei says numerous questions remain - progress unlikely before IAEA's 14 June board meeting. Tehran saw large demonstrations protesting U.S. actions in Iraq, especially in Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
U.S. and Britain tabled draft UN Security Council resolution calling for transfer of full sovereignty to Iraq on 30 June and authorising U.S.-led force to remain for initial 1-year period. Some countries, including France and Germany, concerned by absence of date for Coalition's withdrawal and lack of detail on status and powers of U.S.-led forces vis-a-vis Iraqi government. Similar concerns raised by members of Interim Governing Council (IGC). Resolution unlikely to be finalised before report of UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, expected early June. Process of selecting new interim government proceeding; IGC candidates Ayad Allawi and Ghazi al-Yawer designated PM and president, respectively. Situation on ground remains grim, with violence continuing in several areas. Izzadine Saleem, head of IGC, killed in Baghdad suicide attack 17 May. Fighting continued between Coalition forces and followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leaving dozens of insurgents dead and damaging Imam Ali Mosque, Shiites' holiest shrine. Sporadic fighting followed 27 May ceasefire. U.S. and Iraqi troops raided offices of IGC member Ahmed Chalabi 20 May, suggesting he passed secrets to Iran. Raid marked sea- change in Washington's support for Chalabi, who had been Pentagon's favourite to lead country. Support for Coalition continued to fall with publication of new photos depicting abuse in Abu Ghraib prison. 544 Coalition soldiers, including 487 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
4 suspected al-Qaeda militants attacked 2 oil industry compounds in eastern city of Khobar 29 May, killing 22. 3 of 4 gunmen allowed to escape after threatening to kill hostages. Attack was second in month on kingdom's oil interests, sparking instability fears - and higher prices - in world oil markets.
Chadian MDJT rebels claimed to hold Algerian-born Amari Saifi, leader of radical Salafist Islamic GSPC organisation. Saifi’s al-Qaeda affiliated organisation opposes Algeria’s secular government; was responsible for 2003 kidnapping of 32 European tourists. GSPC killed 2 Algerian soldiers 18 May and wounded 13 others in roadside explosion at Setif, eastern Algeria.
President Mubarak held talks with Palestinian PM on proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, strongly criticising recent Israeli army incursions into Rafah near Egyptian border. Egyptian security chief suggested Egypt could play security role in evacuated Gaza. Domestically, 54 members of Muslim Brotherhood arrested 18 May on treason charges. Chances of early repeal of Egypt’s 1981 Emergency Law faded after state- backed National Council for Human Rights failed to give support.
U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control John Bolton termed Muammar Qadaffi’s decision to ban military trade with Iran, North Korea and Syria an “important step forward”. IAEA reported evidence Libya received 2 tons of uranium from North Korea in 2001; denied by North Korea. IAEA said questions remained on Libya’s nuclear program. U.S. State Department kept Libya on list of non-cooperative states on terrorism, but hinted arms embargo could be eased.
Police arrested 3 terror suspects after Casablanca shoot-out, adding to 2,000 arrested on terrorist charges since 2003 Casablanca bombings. King Mohammed VI marked their anniversary 16 May by forming Ulema religious council to “shield” Moroccan Islam from extremism. Further Spanish arrests 10 May took number of Moroccans arrested in connection with Madrid bombings to 15.
No movement towards acceptance of Baker peace plan rejected by Morocco. Kofi Annan threatened possible UN pull-out if problem not resolved.