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
Thirteen conflict situations around the world deteriorated in May 2005, according to this month's edition of CrisisWatch.* In Uzbekistan, following months of public unrest, government troops in the eastern city of Andijon fired indiscriminately into protesters, killing as many as 750 mostly unarmed civilians, including women and children. More than 570 were killed in a wave of violence in Iraq. Pakistan suffered sectarian attacks that left dozens dead, and at least 19 were killed in violent anti-U.S. demonstrations in Afghanistan.
Lethal bomb blasts shook Central Sulawesi in Indonesia, site of serious Christian-Muslim fighting in 1999-2001. In the most serious attack on the Burmese capital Yangon in recent history, three coordinated blasts killed at least 19 and injured 162. Fifteen died in clashes in Somalia, threatening the fragile transitional government. Amid continued economic decline and fears of famine, conditions in Zimbabwe further worsened when the government announced plans for the demolition of shacks home to one million urban poor. The situations also deteriorated last month in Angola, Bolivia, North Korea, Papua New Guinea and Turkey.
May 2005 also brought improvements to the conflict situations in six countries. Georgia had a positive month with the signing of a major agreement that plots the full withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia by the end of 2008. Relations across the Taiwan Strait took a step for the better as China announced a lifting of its ban on most travel to the island. The peace process in Cote d'Ivoire made limited progress with a deal on disarmament. The situations also improved in Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines.
For June 2005, CrisisWatch identifies the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and Uzbekistan as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month. No new Conflict Resolution Opportunities were identified for June.
SomaliaAngolaZimbabweKorean PeninsulaAfghanistanPakistanIndonesiaMyanmarPapua New GuineaTurkeyUzbekistanBoliviaIraq
Central African RepublicCôte d’IvoireTaiwan StraitPhilippinesGeorgiaKyrgyzstan
Democratic Republic of CongoSomaliaGuineaGuinea-BissauUzbekistan
President Ndayizeye and leader of Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) rebel group, Agathon Rwasa, agreed ceasefire 15 May after Tanzania talks but intermittent fighting near Bujumbura caused collapse 10 days later amidst mutual recriminations. One source claimed 17 unarmed FNL rebels executed by army. Insecurity comes ahead of 3 June local elections. Burundi to reject asylum applications of 7-8,000 Rwandans fleeing “gacaca” courts; Ndayizeye threatened to expel UNHCR and ICRC, alleging support for Rwandans.
President François Bozizé re- elected in run-off vote; outcome accepted by challenger Martin Ziguele. Results announced 24 May awarded Bozizé 64.4% of vote and gave his Convergence Nationale Kwa na Kwa 42 of 105 National Assembly seats. Spokesman for UNSG Kofi Annan welcomed “return to constitutional governance”.
Frustration boiled over in Darfur refugee camps eastern Chad - sheltering approximately 200,000 - leading UNHCR to pull out from 4 camps; 2 refugees and 2 Chadian police killed in Goz Amer camp 11 May.
New Congolese constitution adopted 13 May; fears of unrest should 30 June elections be postponed. Violence continued across country: UN peacekeeper killed in ambush in Ituri province; 18 killed and 50 kidnapped in militia attack on string of villages near Bukavu ascribed to Rwandan Hutu “Rasta” and FDLR groups; 2 killed in Kasai Oriental province. 30 civilians arrested for alleged plot to secede Katanga province from country.
Up to 1,000 Rwandans who fled to Burundi to escape “gacaca” trials now believed returned; 6-7,000 remain. Rwanda rejected calls to engage in technical discussions with FDLR Rwandan Hutu rebels based in DR Congo. UNHCR warned of food shortages amongst Rwanda’s 60,000 refugee population.
As Eritrea faced growing food insecurity and Ethiopia held flawed elections, political rhetoric over border dispute continued. Eritrea’s President Afwerki said Ethiopian government “views war as only resort” and blamed U.S. for Ethiopia’s non-compliance with 2003 boundary ruling. Opposition gains in Ethiopian elections may reduce Addis Ababa’s room for manoeuvre and harden government line.
Political divisions continued to deepen, threatening fragile peace: transitional government (TFG) planned relocation to Baidoa and Jowhar 31 May saying Mogadishu too dangerous, while speaker Hassan Sheriff Aden moved to capital Mogadishu with 130 MPs. 15 died in clashes in Baidoa 30 May, casting doubt on TFG plans. Mogadishu-based warlords proceeded with plans to demilitarise capital with civil society support. President Yusuf dismissed initiative; PM Ghedi called for urgent deployment of AU peacekeepers to disarm 60,000 militia. AU sought UN approval for IGAD deployment and said would only deploy when situation more secure. Various Mogadishu leaders - including security minister Mohammed Qanyare Affrah - called on Somalis to prepare for war against foreign troops. Both sides reportedly amassing weapons.
AU Deputy Chairman Patrick Mazimhaka led fact-finding mission to self-declared republic. U.S. marines reportedly came ashore in Somaliland looking for terrorist suspects; U.S. forces in Djibouti denied claims.
On Darfur, 26 May AU/UN Pledging Conference in Addis Ababa saw $292m (including $134m from Canada) committed to expansion of AU mission (AMIS) to 7,700 by September; NATO agreed to provide logistical support, but discounted possible military presence. UNSG Kofi Annan subequently travelled to Khartoum, Darfur and Rumbek urging stronger civilian-protection mandate for AMIS, and expressing concern over funding for implementation of north-south peace. AU-sponsored peace talks Darfur rebels to resume 10 June; insecurity ongoing but delivery of humanitarian aid improving. Sporadic violence elsewhere: 75 killed and 4,000 displaced in clan violence southern Lakes state; 30 died in resettlement riots in Soba Eradi IDP camp south of Khartoum; 5,000 displaced by Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army raids. Eastern Front rebels threatened uprising eastern Sudan and kidnapped 3 ruling party politicians near Eritrean border 24 May. Conference organised between government and eastern parties resulted in $88m aid promise to Red Sea state over 3 years. 2 international aid workers arrested - both subsequently released - in attempt to silence NGO criticism of human rights abuse. Government confirmed Sudan’s rejection of ICC referrals and stated plan for Sudanese court.
Ongoing conflict between army and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); LRA killed 10 IDPs in attack on Koch-Goma camp, near Gulu, 5 May; army said LRA chief of operations killed 18 May; further LRA attack killed 8 civilians 27 May. UNHCR announced some 5,000 have fled to Uganda from south Sudan - further zone of LRA operations - since January. Meanwhile, rising criticism by donor nations over slow pace of reform; UK has already withdrawn some aid; Museveni accused critical donors of “meddling”. Opposition urged greater conditionality.
Clashes reported between government forces and separatists in oil-rich Cabinda province; FLEC separatists claimed 20 Angolan troops killed Buco Zau and Necuto regions; denied by provincial authorities. FLEC said Angolan forces massing Congo-Brazzaville and DR Congo in preparation for June offensive. Angolan reconstruction to cost $30b over next decade according to World Bank.
Continued economic decline amid famine fears and 45% currency devaluation; ongoing political upheaval with government retribution against opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters in wake of 31 March elections. Government announced plans to demolish shacks home to 1 million urban poor; 22,000 arrested (most later released) Mashonaland province, Mashvingo and Harare black market clamp-down. Campaign against street-vendors sparked clashes. MDC claimed government seeking pretext for declaring state of emergency.
Peace process progressed with agreement on disarmament to begin end June following month of false starts in negotiations; World Bank to provide half funding; 4 pro-government militias symbolically began disarmament 25 May. 4 main opposition parties, including those of former President Henri Bedié and former PM Alassane Ouattara, agreed common “platform for democracy and peace” 18 May to democratically remove current President Gbagbo in planned 30 October presidential elections.
Proposed June municipal and communal elections postponed to end 2005 to allow revision of electoral list. Economic crisis - fuel prices increased by 50% - and political uncertainty continued. 60 prisoners, including several involved in 1996 coup attempt against President Conté broke out of Conakry jail 15 May; most subsequently recaptured. No progress on Yenga dispute with Sierra Leone.
Tension continued to build ahead of 19 June presidential election; EU pledged 100 election observers. Visit by regional leaders 21-22 May failed to stem confrontation fears, while arms smuggling to support civilian militias confirmed by PM Carlos Gomes. Former president Kumba Yalla declared himself still head of state, hundreds rallied in support 22 May; armed police deployed. Yalla, other former president Joao Bernardo Viera, and opposition leader Francisco Fadul cleared to stand for election by Supreme Court. Yalla pressed claim by briefly occupying presidential palace 25 May.
Registration of 1.2m voters completed ahead of 11 October elections; IDP enrolment lower than hoped. Incomplete rehabilitation program for ex-combatants sparked Ganta riots 11 May. New national army recruitment, managed by U.S. DynCorp company, expected to begin June. Outgoing head of UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Jacques Klein, said mandate should have been stronger to achieve UN objectives.
Cameroon’s President Biya and Nigeria’s President Obasanjo agreed final pull-out from oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, awarded to Cameroon in 2002 ICJ ruling; timeline not finalised. Violence erupted in Sokoto town, northwest Nigeria, after Sunni Muslims attempted to prevent Shias from entering mosque. Human Rights Watch blamed politicians for religious manipulation leading to 900 deaths in interfaith violence in central Nigeria, February- May 2004; criticised government response as inadequate. 80 arrested for holding illegal Biafran secessionist meeting.
Pressure from Special Court for Sierra Leone led U.S. House and Senate to call for extradition to court of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from Nigeria; Nigerian President Obasanjo said Taylor would be sent to Liberia if that government, to be elected in October 2005, so requested.
Faure Gnassingbé inaugurated president 4 May, claiming 60% of vote in 24 April election; opposition claimed irregularities. Confidential EU report suggested up to 900,000 phantom voters; regional organisation ECOWAS accepted result while AU lifted sanctions. Nigerian President Obasanjo unable to craft government of national unity at Abuja meeting 19 May; 4 of 6 parties which backed opposition presidential candidate subsequently agreed to coalition talks with government 27 May, signalling split with Union of Forces of Change party led by exiled Gilchrist Olympio. Relative calm returned to Lomé by month-end, but opposition claimed nearly 300 killed in poll violence: Togolese government set up investigative task-force under former PM Joseph Koffigoh. UNHCR said at least 33,000 refugees had fled to neighbouring Benin and Ghana.
Authorities cracked down against family and associates of prominent advocate for Uighur community rights in Xinjiang province.
Tensions continued to rise between Pyongyang and Washington. U.S. decision to deploy 15 stealth bombers to South Korea provoked North charge of U.S. warmongering. Fears April closure of Yongbyon nuclear reactor precursor to fuel rod extraction confirmed by 11 May official statement. Both South and China reportedly warned Pyongyang against nuclear test. In positive move U.S. officials had “working-level contacts” with North Korean counterparts 13 May, urging Pyongyang to rejoin 6-party nuclear talks; later in month operations to retrieve remains of missing U.S. servicemen suspended due to restrictions placed on teams. Bilateral talks between North and South ended without breakthrough on nuclear issue though North agreed to resume cabinet-level talks in Seoul 21-24 June.
Cross-strait relations improved as China announced decision to lift travel ban - currently only limited business travel allowed. Decision came after visits by nationalist leader Lien Chan in April and head of opposition People First Party James Soong 13 May. Joint communiqué between Soong and Chinese President Hu Jintao said Taiwan must accept “One-China” principle before talks resume; rejected by President Chen Shui-bien but Chen still prepared to search for common ground. Month-long National Assembly on constitutional amendments, uncontroversial between parties, started 30 May; Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party won 42.5% of votes for assembly in very low turnout poll: better than expected result for Chen.
Anti-U.S. violence, ostensibly over Newsweek report of Guantanamo Bay Koran desecration, erupted 9 May in eastern province of Nangarhar. Directed at UN, NGOs, Pakistani consulate and local government offices, demonstrations spread to 10 provinces suggesting far from spontaneous; up to 19 killed, mainly by police fire. Over 5000 candidates nominated for 18 September parliamentary and provincial council elections, but low participation rates by women. President Karzai’s Washington visit overshadowed by Newsweek report and further allegations of Bagram base prisoner abuse. Suicide bomber killed at least 20 on 1 June at funeral of senior anti-Taliban cleric Mawlavi Abdullah Fayaz, shot dead in southern province of Kandahar 29 May. Several other incidents highlighted lack of security throughout country: gunmen abducted Italian CARE worker 16 May; 3 female Afghan aid workers killed in northeastern Baghlan province 3 May; suicide attack on Kabul internet café 7 May left 1 UN worker and 2 Afghans dead; suspected Taliban militants killed 11 Afghans working on U.S.-funded anti-drugs project in Helmand province. Clashes between U.S. forces and Taliban in Paktika province escalated with 3 simultaneous attacks by Taliban 31 May, at least 9 insurgents killed. U.S. soldier previously killed by Taliban bomb Zabul province 21 May.
Opposition Awami League (AL) supporters clashed with police following 17 May assassination of AL legal affairs secretary Khorshed Alam. Protest strike caused complete Dhaka shut-down 18 May.
Andhra Pradesh unrest continued; mixed developments in northeast while fighting broke out in Manipur state between rival separatist groups Zomi Revolutionary Army and United National Liberation Front 14 May. National Democratic Front of Bodoland signed ceasefire deal with federal government 25 May. Talks between government and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN (I-M)) ended without progress. Two bombs detonated in New Delhi cinema halls showing film considered offensive by some Sikhs 23 May, killing 1. At least 7 killed in southern Andhra Pradesh state 13 May: police shot dead 6 Telugu Desam Party opposition party supporters during violent clashes - sparking riot in which policeman stoned to death. Suspected Maoist insurgents killed 7 police, 1 civilian in Maharashtra state 30 May. Talks held with Pakistan 26-27 May to discuss Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek border disputes ended without progress.
Upsurge of violence since resumption of bus route between India and Pakistan across Line Of Control. Militant attacks in Srinagar 11-12 May killed 4, injured 84, including many school children. Separatist leaders from Indian-held Kashmir agreed to Pakistan’s invitation to discuss future of region 2 June, though hardline faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference refused to attend; 17 killed in clashes ahead of visit. Rise in militancy dampened hopes New Delhi would reduce troop numbers.
Despite no reduction of royal powers since 30 April nominal lifting of state of emergency, aid flow resumed. India announced decision to restart limited military assistance 10 May; UK also to resume non-lethal military assistance; no announcement on resumption of U.S. military aid but non-lethal supplies delivered. No discernable moves towards political reconciliation between king and parties. Main political parties formed united front 8 May to launch movement for restoration of democracy; largely peaceful joint protests held 22 and 27 May. Media censorship continued as did certain travel restrictions. Dozens more student activists arrested. Information on crisis outside Kathmandu, including several major military clashes, remained limited and unreliable.
Wave of sectarian violence killed at least 30: suicide bomber in Islamabad Shia shrine 27 May killed 19; second blast in Karachi mosque 30 May claimed 5, followed by riot in which 6 burned to death inside fast-food restaurant. Government continued attempts to silence civilian critics: “Mini- marathon” rally against arbitrary curbs on women by religious extremists held by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights attacked by police 14 May; founding member of HRCP and Crisis Group board member Asma Jahangir among 40 temporarily detained; second rally unimpeded 21 May. Nawab Bugti accused government of failing to implement troop withdrawal, as insurgent attacks continued in Balochistan. Talks held with India 26-27 May to discuss Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek border disputes ended without progress.
Agreement on joint mechanism for aid distribution remained elusive despite President Kumaratunga’s pledge to prioritise deal. LTTE blamed Kumaratunga for delays. Government coalition partner, leftist People’s Liberation Front, maintained threat to pull out of government if joint mechanism goes ahead. LTTE reportedly killed senior army intelligence officer 31 May while factional violence continued.
Bomb blasts 28 May in Tentena, majority Christian town near Poso, Central Sulawesi, site of serious Christian-Muslim fighting 1999-2001, killed at least 20. Indonesian negotiators and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) started fourth round of Helsinki peace talks 26 May: discussed GAM demand for locally-based political parties and document on security issues. Next round of talks set for July. Despite talks and 19 May end of civil emergency, Indonesian military stepped up operations in Aceh. On Moluccan island of Ceram, gunmen attacked paramilitary (Brimob) police unit 16 May, killing 6 and raising fears of return to sectarian violence. 14 arrested, 2 of whom were police, others believed members of Laskar Mujahidin militant group responsible for attacks in Maluku, February 2005. Apparently unrelated border dispute between 2 villages in Southeast Maluku 27 May killed 3, injured 51. U.S. embassy and consulates closed 26 to 31 May after detailed floor plans found on jihadist web site. Security stepped up at Australian, British, and Japanese embassies.
In most serious attack on capital Yangon in recent history 3 coordinated blasts 7 May killed at least 19 and injured 162. Ruling junta blamed ethnic groups and self-proclaimed pro-democracy government in exile. Karen and Shan ethnic groups denied any involvement. Two Shan guerilla groups announced merger to fight military regime.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with government representatives attending, met Mindanao 29 May in open consultation ahead of June peace talks with government in Kuala Lumpur. Communist National Democratic Front rejected ceasefire as government precondition for resumption of suspended peace talks 31 May.
Southern violence continued along with debate on future policy for region. Major reshuffle of southern security; regional army and police commanders changed; intelligence reorganised. Committee of security ministers drafting new security legislation to replace martial law in south in move recommended by government-appointed National Reconciliation Commission. New law likely to award similar powers to military, and widen police powers, but overall direction to come from PM rather than regional military chief. Roadside bombs killed 3 soldiers Narathiwat province 13 May. Dozens of other bombing, arson and shooting attacks throughout month killed at least 1 other soldier and 13 civilians.
Australian police, part of program to address growing lawlessness, withdrawn after Supreme Court decided visitors’ legal immunity unconstitutional. 60 reported killed in tribal fight in Western Highlands 27 May.
OSCE agreed to send over 400 observers to monitor 3 July parliamentary elections. Poll conducted by NDI suggested opposition Democrats have 6-point lead over governing Socialists with 30% of electorate undecided.
EU said Bosnia not ready for Stabilisation and Association Agreement talks - first step towards EU membership. Negative response due to failure to implement police and media reforms. Internal talks to create nationwide multi-ethnic police force collapsed 10 May when Bosnian Serb officials rejected changes.
UN Security Council meeting 27 May gave green light to proceed with mid-year review of progress on standards, to be initiated “this summer” under duly appointed special envoy. Improvements noted in outreach to minority communities and recent smooth transition of government though concerns raised over progress on government decentralisation and municipal pilot projects, inter-party rancour and violent incidents. Kosovo Assembly held first debate on decentralisation and pilot projects 19-20 May - government agreed to review plan after all parties expressed concerns. Thaci’s PDK party held out against participation in Political Forum for final status questions proposed by UN Special Rep. Soren Jessen-Petersen; submitted new dossier to UNMIK with evidence of governing LDK party private intelligence structure; police raided office of presumed LDK intelligence service 10 May. Kosovo’s President Rugova and PM Kosumi refused to meet Serbian counterparts.
NATO reported on Macedonia's annual progress 27 May; highlighted need for further reform.
Serbian government argued no Kosovo standards met and continued to pressure Kosovo Serbs to boycott participation in Provisional Institutions of Self Government. No more transfers to Hague tribunal after 3 months of consistent cooperation. President Boris Tadic and PM Vojislav offered repeatedly to meet Kosovo Albanian counterparts - both refused. Belgrade and Podgorica continued with radically opposing visions of state union's future. Serbia received extension until end of year on its 3 year IMF agreement. Influential Serbian Orthodox Church sent strong isolationist signals throughout month.
Parliament approved draft constitutional amendments 11 May aimed at partial rebalancing of government branches. Armenia likely to miss Council of Europe June deadline for referendum on changes. Electoral code altered, increasing proportional element and reducing president’s influence over electoral commission. Government accused human rights ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian of interference in judicial process; Alaverdian said government attempting to restrict her remit.
President Aliyev issued 11 May executive order against administrative interference in November parliamentary poll. Ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party and opposition agreed code of conduct for election. Atmosphere of intimidation continued however: 30 arrested prior to opposition rally 21 May and 149 detained following break- up of rally by police. BTC (Baku-Ceyhan-Tbilisi) oil pipeline opened, cementing Azerbaijan’s geopolitical importance. Azerbaijan expressed concern over Russia’s uncertain plans to transfer troops from Georgia to Armenia.
Russian forces reportedly killed Alash Daudov, third on most wanted list, and former rebel vice president, Vakha Arsanov. Mass protests held in Grozny after acquittal of Russian officers accused of murdering 6 civilians; verdict also criticised in Russia. Pro-Moscow Chechen President Alu Alkhanov revealed plans to hold local parliamentary elections in November. Chechen warlord Doku Umarov reiterated pledge to spread war outside of Chechen territory.
Signature of major agreement 30 May leading to full withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia by end of 2008; heavy armour pullout to begin 2005. Russia sought guarantees on non-deployment of third-country troops following withdrawal; joint anti-terrorist centre planned for Batumi. U.S. President Bush visited Tbilisi 9-10 May, while President Saakashvili boycotted Moscow celebrations of end of World War II. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice said U.S.-trained troops would not be used to help end secessionist disputes. In South Ossetia, 2 OSCE monitors were detained by Tskhinvali authorities; 1 Georgian and 4 Ossetians killed in gunfight in South Ossetian conflict zone.
Armenian President Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Aliyev gave green light for continuation of Prague Process in Warsaw meeting 16 May on sidelines of Council of Europe summit. Azerbaijani foreign minister claimed Armenia had already agreed pull- out from 7 border areas; Yerevan rejected assertion, stating its forces would only withdraw from occupied territories around N-K in return for international security guarantees for local Armenian population, and latter’s participation in determination of N-K’s future political status.
Representatives from Moldova and breakaway Transdniestria region met in Ukraine 16-17 May to discuss proposal put forward by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to resume negotiations, embracing earlier Moldovan call to include EU, U.S. and Romania. Though Transdniestra has not yet clearly indicated support for proposal, EU promptly declared its willingness to cooperate.
President Yushchenko’s first 100 days in office marked by developing tension wtih PM Tymoshenko. President issued decree criticising government’s fuel policy 19 May, including attempts to freeze fuel prices and ban exports in face of oil shortages Tymoshenko blames on Russia. President promised any future entry to NATO or EU would be subject to national referendum.
Madrid parliament voted to open peace talks with ETA if organisation disarmed; opposition Popular Party angrily denounced vote. ETA responded to overture with 25 May Madrid car bomb, injuring 50, following string of smaller explosions. Arrest of Batasuna party leader Arnaldo Otegi ordered on allegations of ETA membership.
Head of UN Dept. of Political Affairs visited 30 May following talks with Greek Cypriot diplomats in New York on possible revival of peace deal based on April 2004 Annan plan.
Elections for Westminster parliament 5 May confirmed shift away from moderate SDLP and UUP parties to Sinn Féin and DUP; UUP leader David Trimble lost seat though SDLP leader Mark Durkan held on. DUP leader Ian Paisley said result signalled end of Good Friday Agreement. Independent Monitoring Commission’s 5th report published 24 May claimed IRA still recruiting.
Upswing in confrontations between army and Kurdish PKK militants in southeast; at least 14 rebels and 13 soldiers killed. Army launched major security operation in Tunceli region involving as many as 10,000 troops pursuing 350 rebels. Army warned explosives smuggled from Iraq could be used to fabricate bombs; bomb exploded Kusadasi resort 1 May killing policeman; 2 suicide bombers killed in Siirt 16 May. European Court of Human Rights ruled original trial of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan neither independent nor impartial; Ankara indicated his guilt not in doubt and would face re-trial.
Meeting of opposition coalition in Shymkent broken up by pro-government youths; opposition blamed authorities. Government ordered closure of independent weekly, “Respublika”. Demonstrators increasingly took to streets in Astana, possibly inspired by Kyrgyz revolution.
Potential presidential contender Feliks Kulov announced will join team of Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev for 10 July elections, easing fears vote could spark further unrest. Kulov likely to be appointed Bakiev’s PM. Violence in Uzbekistan led to influx of hundreds of refugees: some 500 currently in temporary camp just inside border, facing uncertain future as authorities divided over how to handle situation in face of Uzbek government pressure for return. Concern further violence in Uzbekistan could lead to larger refugee flows and regional instability. Group of approximately 300 “people’s volunteers” attacked Supreme Court building 1 June, evicting group who had occupied building for 40 days in protest at alleged election fraud.
Opposition parties protested alleged fraud in February elections, suspending participation in Public Council advisory body. Pressure on civil society continued, with denial of registration to independent media and increasing scrutiny of activities of foreign embassies, international organisations and NGOs. Court in northern city of Khujand sentenced accused members of Islamic radical group “Bay'at”.
Major government shakeup led to removal of several high-ranking officials, including Deputy PM for fuel and energy Yolly Gurbanmuradov, seen as potential rival to President Niyazov. Begench Beknazarov, relative of imprisoned Turkmen opposition figure Boris Shikhmuradov, arrested in Ashgabat in connection with November 2002 assassination attempt on Niyazov.
Hundreds of mostly unarmed civilians, including women and children, killed by government troops 13/14 May. President Islam Karimov claimed forces acted to end revolt by Islamist extremists; rejected calls for international inquiry. Protests surrounding trial of 23 Andijon entrepreneurs on extremism charges escalated as armed group stormed prison and freed hundreds of inmates 12 May. With local administration building in anti-government protestors’ hands by following morning, thousands of unarmed civilians converged on central square. Uzbek forces responded with indiscriminate use of force. Hundreds of fugitives from violence crossed into Kyrgyz territory. Popular uprising briefly engulfed Qorasuv town on Uzbek- Kyrgyz border; uprising suppressed and leaders arrested. Renewed government pressure on human rights activists and journalists. Risk of further protests high, as frustration rising steadily over government’s ruinous economic policies.
Energy bill continued to generate tension. Thousands marched through La Paz opposing bill throughout month - police forcibly restrained crowd. President Carlos Mesa opposed law, deeming 50% tax rate on foreign energy firms as unworkable, but allowed it to go to Congress. Protests escalated amid demands natural gas be nationalised and constitution rewritten. Opposition MAS party and El Alto residents organised large marches and massive road blocks. Army high command announced intention to preserve national unity - stemming fears of imminent coup attempt.
Trend of intensifying FARC operations and heightening economic and social discontent persisted, driving President Uribe approval ratings down from 74 to 59 per cent since December. Debate continued on paramilitary demobilisation law. Peace talks with paramilitaries continued despite attempts to arrest senior leader accused of assassinating legislator in April. FARC ambushes in Chocó and Putumayo departments killed 13 police. Government reported 16 FARC members killed in Caquetá, further 27 in departments of Antioquia, Meta and Arauca. FARC attack on local officials in town of Puerto Rico Caquetá province killed 11, 25 May.
Political turmoil continued in wake of April ousting of President Lucio Gutierrez. Former president Abdala Bucaram again granted political asylum in Panama; ex- President Gustavo Noboa placed under house arrest 9 May due to reinstatement of past charges following change in government. Executive adopted “non-aggressive stance” toward Congress; unclear whether any wide-reaching reforms will be achieved or consensus on restoring judicial branch. Calls for constituent assembly continued while government pushed option of popular consultation instead.
Relations with U.S. continued to sour: Defence Minister Jorge Garcia Carneiro signed arms agreement with Russia 17 May despite U.S. opposition; government claimed interest in nuclear energy and possible talks with Iran to study atomic projects 22 May; President Hugo Chavez threatened to cut diplomatic ties over U.S. failure to extradite Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles - terror suspect held in U.S.
UNSG Kofi Annan called for additional 750 troops/250 police and year extension for UN mission to support upcoming elections (municipal vote 9 October, legislative and presidential elections 13 November and 18 December). MINUSTAH given 4-week extension from 1 June. Prime Minister Latortue issued strong statement 20 May on need for national reconciliation, day after 5,000 protesters in Port-au-Prince called for Aristide’s return. Haiti's Supreme Court overturned convictions of military leaders found guilty in 2000 of murder of Aristide supporters - decision criticised as “partisan”. Dominican Republic expelled as many as 2,500 Haitian immigrants after 4 Haitians arrested for murder.
First summit talks between U.S. and Palestinian leaders since 2000 held 26 May; U.S. President Bush met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, committed $50m in direct aid for housing and infrastructure projects in Gaza and reiterated commitment to roadmap and creation of Palestinian state. Israeli cabinet approved release of 400 Palestinian prisoners. February ceasefire increasingly fragile: Israeli soldier and member of Islamic Jihad killed in clash near West Bank town of Tulkarm 2 May; violence escalated after Palestinian militant killed in Rafah 17 May, Hamas mortar attack on Israeli settlements in Gaza followed, triggering first Israeli air strike since January; 2 Palestinians killed in West Bank 29 May. In change of tone 1,000 of 1,600 families in Gaza indicated willingness to move to Israel on condition relocated together. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon confirmed Gaza pullout to take place mid-August.
First of 4-round parliamentary elections held 29 May in Beirut under international supervision. Opposition figures, including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Saad al- Hariri, son of slain former PM, won landslide victory but turnout lower than 30%. Michel Aoun, former army commander and prime minister returned 7 May to Lebanon after 14-year exile. Opposition split 25 May led Aoun to announce his Free Patriotic Movement would run independently. Hizbollah looking to increase political power through election: 13 candidates already won uncontested seats. Latest in series of bombs in Christian areas killed 1, injured 7 in town of Jounieh 6 May.
Security forces made series of arrests in crackdown against activists with supposed ties to Muslim Brotherhood. Eight members of only active political forum, Jamal Atassi or Al-Atassi Forum for National Dialogue also arrested. Crackdown comes prior to planned 6-9 June conference of ruling Baath party where reforms to be announced. U.S.-Syrian relations reached new low: Syria announced halt of military and intelligence co-operation with U.S. in reaction to U.S. extension of economic sanctions and allegations Syria not doing enough to stop Iraqi insurgency.
Signs of tension and sectarian frustration continued. Principal Shiite political opposition society Al-Wifaq announced intent to boycott 2006 parliamentary elections. Four main opposition societies organised rally for constitutional reform 6 May. Crowd of several thousand mostly Shiites demanded 25 May government hold accountable state officials responsible for past acts of torture.
Ministerial meeting between Iran and EU-3 (UK, France, Germany) 25 May, agreed to continue negotiations after Iran threatened to restart uranium enrichment program and EU threatened referral to UN Security Council; EU-3 to present implementation proposals for Paris agreement (on suspending uranium enrichment until long-term agreement in force) by August. Guardian Council approved law to develop nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment, 28 May. Council only approved 6 of 1,010 candidates to run in 17 June presidential election. Two reformists later reinstated, including sole Islamic Iran Participation Front candidate Mostafa Moin, following intervention by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and reformers’ threat to boycott election. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi travelled to Iraq 17 May in highest-level visit from Iran since ousting of Saddam Hussein. In joint statement, Iraq acknowledged role in provoking Iran-Iraq war.
Wave of violence killed more than 570 since 1 May. At least 20 killed in 2 separate suicide bomb attacks in predominantly Shia town of Hilla 30 May. Defence minister announced 26 May more than 40,000 Iraqi soldiers to be deployed in Baghdad in largest operation against insurgents. Joint U.S.-Iraqi operation detained 285 people in effort to halt violence; U.S. operation near Syrian border killed 125 insurgents. Sunni clerics, possibly targeted to spark sectarian violence, closed mosques in protest. Final 6 cabinet ministers appointed 8 May, though post for human rights minister remains vacant. U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice visited Iraq 21 May followed by Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi 23 May. Joint Iran-Iraq statement issued identifying Iraq as aggressor in Iran-Iraq war likely to further inflame Sunni Arab resentments. 1280 Coalition soldiers, including 1171 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations 1 May 2003.
Continued clashes between police and militants. Riyadh gunfight 10 May after police discovered explosives in car, led to arrest of suspected militant. Protests took place in reaction to Newsweek report on U.S. desecration of Koran, later retracted. Government rejected estimates 2,500-3,000 Saudis in Iraq. Concern as King Fahd admitted to hospital 27 May
Violence continued between government forces and members of outlawed Believing Youth group, accused of attempting to overthrow regime: 21 rebels arrested for grenade attack on state forces and planning to assassinate political and military officials. President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced group leader agreed to renounce campaign in return for amnesty. Mass demonstrations in capital due to reports of American desecration of Koran in Guantanamo.
Recent spike in violence continuing. Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat killed 11 troops in bomb attack near Khenchela, eastern Algeria 15 May; 2 further attacks at month- end claimed lives of 1 soldier and 2 security guards. Eleven militants arrested in Bouïra province security operation; 3 troops and 2 militants killed.
Government claimed 83% support for constitutional changes to allow multi-candidate presidential elections in 25 May referendum and 54% turnout; opposition claimed turnout figure dubious and warned restrictions on candidate eligibility render changes meaningless. Run-up to poll marked by violent harassment of both secular Kifaya (“Enough”) movement and Muslim Brotherhood; at least 800 members of Muslim Brotherhood arrested, including secretary-general Mahmud Ezzat. In establishment revolt, judges voted not to supervise September presidential elections without full independence and judges-only electoral committee; government-appointed Supreme Council of Judges criticised move. U.S. President Bush, meeting with Egyptian PM, welcomed President Mubarak’s “historic initiative”, calling for free and fair elections.
Government continued to detain 37, claiming links of at least 9 to Algeria-based and al Qaeda-linked Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat. Claim met with scepticism. Visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom 3 May accompanied by violent protests.
Exiled Sahrawi government claimed protests in Rabat and Western Sahara turning into “intifada”; Moroccan officials said 33 would be charged with criminal conspiracy. Planned Arab Maghreb Union meeting in Tripoli cancelled following diplomatic dispute between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara; no progress towards diplomatic resolution of issue.