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
Northern Ireland (UK)
Talks between government and Palipehutu-FNL to resume early June on implementing September 2006 ceasefire agreement. Palipehutu-FNL leaders condition participation in talks on recognition as political party and their allocation of positions within government, parliament and army. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for strengthened judiciary in visit to Bujumbura 18-23 May. Government agreed in principle to transitional justice mechanisms for crimes during 12-year civil war: no amnesty for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious violations; national consultations to follow. Donors pledged $665 million to 3-year economic recovery plan 25 May.
Rival Oku and Mbessa villages in north west clashed over farm land 5 May; 5 killed, 60 homes destroyed.
Reports of continued clashes in north west between government forces, APRD rebels and bandits. Civilians regularly attacked and 2 aid workers abducted near Bozoum 19 May, released 27 May. UFDR rebels in north east agreed with UNICEF to release up to 400 child soldiers. ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced investigation into rapes and other violations during 2002-03 conflict between regime of former President Ange- Félix Patassé and former Army Chief of Staff François Bozizé.
President Idriss Deby and Sudan’s President Omar al- Bashir signed reconciliation agreement at 3 May summit hosted by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Agreement to stabilise Darfur and neighbouring region in Chad sees formation of joint border force, deployment of observers and cooperation with AU and UN. Observers doubt sincerity as each side continues to support proxy militias to destabilise the other, though N’djamena asked Darfur rebels to leave capital. Chad reiterated refusal of foreign peacekeeping force on eastern border because it fears neighbours may see foreign troops as threat. Government lifted state of emergency 25 May despite continuing violence in east.
Congolese armed forces FARDC fought Rwandan FDLR rebels in Kivu, killing 40. Reprisal attacks by rebels on civilian populations 26-27 May killed at least 22. Insurgent Gen. Laurent Nkunda threatened to pull his troops from army units leading to increased tensions in North Kivu. In Ituri 223 fighters of Peter Karim’s FNI militia joined disarmament program north west of Bunia. Independent candidate Kengo wa Dondo, former PM of Mobutu, elected President of Senate, beating President Kabila’s candidate.
April peace agreement between former rebel group Conseil National de Résistance (CNR) and government potentially destabilised as CNR criticised government’s decision to change post offered to leader Frédéric Bintsangou. President Nguesso stated CNR must disarm its militia and hand in weapons before it could be considered genuine political organisation.
President Paul Kagame stated intention to work with DR Congo to solve continued problem of FDLR rebels. FDLR clashed with DRC forces in North Kivu early May (see DRC above).
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki called border security zone, which his troops occupy, “meaningless”, and blamed U.S. for 5-year border stalemate in 24 May independence-day speech.
Violence reportedly escalated in Ogaden region as Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) claimed they killed up to 157 Ethiopian troops in joint attacks in east throughout month; denied by government. At least 16 killed in 2 grenade attacks in Ogaden 28 May: ONLF denied government accusation they were responsible. 3 New York Times journalists held for 5 days in Ogaden region, released 21 May.
UN’s chief humanitarian officer, John Holmes, called Somali humanitarian and refugee crisis worst in world. Up to 400,000 displaced by fighting between ousted Islamists and clan militias against Ethiopian troops and Transitional Federal Government forces. Some displaced reportedly returning to Mogadishu. UN food aid temporarily halted after ship attacked by pirates 19 May. PM Ali Mohammed Ghedi escaped unhurt after his convoy targeted by bomb in Mogadishu 17 May. U.S. and AU urged Ethiopia to keep forces in Somalia until full deployment of AU peacekeepers: Ethiopia and Uganda called for full deployment of AMISOM as pledged troops from Burundi, Ghana and Nigeria yet to arrive. 4 Ugandan peacekeepers killed by roadside bomb 16 May marking first targeted attack of peacekeepers. Ethiopian troops killed 5 civilians in aftermath of roadside bomb attack on army convoy in western town of Belet Weyne 30 May. National Reconciliation Congress to begin in Mogadishu 14 June amid concern over independence of organising committee and participant selection.
President Dahir Rayale Kahin ruled out union with Somalia and welcomed Swedish recognition of Somaliland as “self-governing area” on development issues.
U.S. President Bush imposed largely symbolic new unilateral economic sanctions on Sudan 29 May and sought support for international arms embargo in response to Khartoum’s refusal to end conflict in Darfur. UN and AU drafted plans for 23,000-strong hybrid force to be approved by UNSC and AU Peace and Security Committee. SPLM initiative to unite Darfur rebel groups given support by UN and AU envoys Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim 10 May. Office of UN High Commission for Human Rights reported Sudanese security forces killed more than 100 in indiscriminate attacks on villages in south Darfur January-March. Eastern rebels finally agreed on list of 3 candidates for government posts to allow delayed October 2006 peace plan to go forward. Key national census, set for November, may be postponed to January/February 2008. NCP and SPLM engaged in high-level meetings on status of 2005 CPA implementation and their political partnership; Abyei and oil issues remain unresolved.
Talks between government and LRA in Southern Sudanese capital of Juba resulted in 2 May agreement on comprehensive solutions to the conflict, second of 5 issues on agenda. Talks resumed 31 May to tackle contentious issue of accountability and reconciliation: government reportedly seeks LRA acknowledgement it committed atrocities and is willing to undergo traditional reconciliation ceremonies, while LRA wants ICC indictments of 4 leaders including Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti dropped before it will sign comprehensive agreement. While calm prevails in northern Uganda, LRA continues to target civilians in South Sudan, and have not assembled at Ri-Kwangba, along Sudan/DRC border, as required by revised cessation of hostilities agreement. UN WFP convoy attacked in north eastern Karamoja region 30 May leading to temporary suspension of food aid.
First signs of movement for South African-led SADC mediation initiative after Pretoria arranged mid-month meeting between representatives of ZANU-PF and both factions of opposition MDC. Meetings scheduled early June to cement framework for further talks. Earlier visit by South African aides to Harare had secured President Mugabe’s grudging acceptance of initiative. Harassment of opposition continued with new wave of mass arrests 25 May, while power severely rationed in much of country to 4 hours/day. 1800 Zimbabweans living illegally in South Africa deported mid-month.
Dismantling of militias, central measure of 4 March Ouagadougou accord, started 19 May after delays. Integration of military and census-taking for new elections yet to begin. Obstacles include budget constraints for retraining former fighters. President Laurent Gbagbo and PM Guillaume Soro publicly denied rumours of secret “deal”: their quick rapprochement has caused turmoil in G7 opposition alliance with Soro’s Forces Nouvelles accused by G7 of betraying their cause and siding with Gbagbo to secure political interests.
Agreement reached between government and political parties to postpone legislative elections until year-end. Investigation into January/February army attacks on civilians cited 137 deaths – more than previously reported. Parliament voted to set up year-long commission to further investigate killings. Soldiers protested non-payment of salary corrupt high- ranking officials in several towns leaving 10 dead 2-15 May. President Lansana Conté dismissed defence minister, army chief of staff and 6 top officers in response. Army chief replaced by retired officer perceived as close associate of former army high-ranking officials. Violence subsided following meeting between Conté and soldiers 15 May. New Defence Minister General Mamadou Bailo Diallo pledged not to prosecute soldiers; talks started to determine pay settlement.
Diamond mining relaunched 1 May after 6-year UN ban lifted in April. Major donors, including IMF, threatened to withdraw support if Financial Autonomy Act passed by legislature to grant the House and Senate right to administer own budget is made law.
Tuareg rebels led by insurgent chief Ibrahima Bahanga killed 2 military police in attack near Tinzaouatene in north east 11 May, first such raid since June 2006 peace deal. Attack possibly related to leadership quarrel among rebels in newly formed Democratic Alliance for Change ahead of 1st and 22nd July legislative elections. President Amadou Toumani Touré re-elected for second term with 70% in 29 April election. Coalition of opposition parties finally recognized Touré’s victory after Constitutional Court rejected fraud complaints. Observers reported overall fair and clean vote despite isolated incidents of concern.
Parliament approved over $60 million in extra funds to help confront northern Tuareg rebels threatening uranium mining and oil exploration. New Tuareg rebel group, Mouvement des Nigeriens pour la Justice, claimed responsibility for recent violence as response to neglect of northern region by Niamey.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua inaugurated president 29 May after month of moderate protests over badly flawed April elections. Civil society groups called for national unity conference and re-run of elections within 18 months. Government warned disruption of 29 May ceremonies for new administration would be treated as “coup attempt”. 7 opposition candidates filed separate petitions with Court of Appeal in Abuja, seeking annulment of results. Most major powers embraced new president despite conclusion by international observers elections not credible: German G8 presidency invited Yar’Adua to June summit with 5 other African leaders. Election of Goodluck Jonathan (an Ijaw from Bayelsa State in Niger Delta) as Vice-President did not dissuade Delta militants: attacks on oil pipelines and kidnappings of foreign workers and some Nigerians worsened; Jonathan’s house attacked with explosives 16 May, 3 policemen killed. 10 killed in violent local council elections in Oyo state 24 May; 15 in gang violence linked to governor change in Rivers State 29 May.
Sporadic clashes erupted between rival factions of Movement of Casamance Democratic Forces in Sindian area north east of Ziguinchor. Campaigning began 13 May for 3 June legislative election; opposition groups pledged boycott over President Wade’s refusal to change electoral process. Senegal Sporadic clashes erupted between rival factions of Movement of Casamance Democratic Forces in Sindian area north east of Ziguinchor. Campaigning began 13 May for 3 June legislative election; opposition groups pledged boycott over President Wade’s refusal to change electoral process.
No movement by Pyongyang on February pledge to shut Yongbyon reactor. 6-party talks on hold as difficulties in unfreezing Banco Delta Asia funds continued. After test run of cross-border rail links saw first trains to cross border region in over 50 years, end-month Seoul-Pyongyang bilateral talks ended without agreement as Seoul withheld dispatch of 400,000-tonne food aid. North Korea fired shortrange missiles into East Sea 25 May in “annual military exercise”.
U.S. urged Taipei to pass long-stalled defence spending bill allowing it to purchase U.S. missiles. Mainland China and Taiwan each held high-profile simulations of cross-strait attack.
Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah killed 13 May in Kandahar after reportedly arriving from Pakistan: highest-ranking Talib to be killed since 2001. 3 bombs in Kandahar followed killing, 1 targeting governor. Border clashes between Afghan and Pakistani forces killed over 12 mid-month; Kabul protested to UN over Pakistani incursions. In response to further 21 civilian deaths reported during U.S. airstrikes 9 May in Helmand, parliamentary upper house passed motion calling for negotiation with Taliban and withdrawal date for foreign forces; resolution unlikely to pass. UN said 380 civilians dead in first 4 months of year; U.S. maintained toll lower than Afghan authorities insist. Attack on German soldiers in Kunduz 19 May killing 3 Germans, 7 Afghans raised concern over potential German withdrawal. Possibility of further instability in north highlighted by clashes in Shiberghan 29 May that killed 8 after protests by supporters of Uzbek warlord Dostum.
Awami League (AL) head Sheikh Hasina returned to Dhaka from London 7 May after caretaker government’s efforts to exile her failed. Former PM and BNP President Khaleda Zia also resisted pressure to leave country. Ban on all political activity remains in place. Crackdown on corruption continued with arrests of senior politicians, including AL secretary general and BNP figures such as former interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury. Government asked for army’s help in cleaning up voter registration list, with reported 12 million duplicate or fake names, ahead of elections now pledged by end 2008, but Election Commission still unclear on process. 2006 Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus dropped plans to form new political party, citing poor public response. Army chief insisted that army not interested in involvement in politics and had already withdrawn from many local bases established in January emergency.
Violence spiked again in Assam state, as suspected United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) rebels launched further attacks, including series of market bombings, and ethnic clashes broke out in east. Bombing by Maoists in Chhattisgarh killed 10 policemen 29 May.
Talks in Islamabad 17-18 May on Sir Creek boundary dispute failed to produce any agreement after exchange of survey maps. General strike observed 21 May in Indian Kashmir to mark anniversary of killings of 2 separatist leaders. Several separatists and Indian troops killed in clashes along Line of Control.
Tensions continued in south as moderate Madhesi activists came closer to talks with government but fringe groups stepped up violent campaign and major parties resisted concessions. Government agreed to pay salary to former rebel fighters, one of conditions Maoists set before allowing UN verification of combatants to proceed. Maoists vowed to return seized land and property but yet to do so; affiliated Young Communist League also promised better behaviour but continued illegal activities. Madhesi parliamentarians continued to block business. Maoists maintained pressure for immediate declaration of republic; Nepali Congress student wing elected pro-republican president, adding to pressure on leadership to adopt anti-monarchy line. Constituent assembly polls postponed to late November.
Instability and violence intensified as President Musharraf’s crisis deepened. Supporters of suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry continued protest against Musharraf’s rule, including 6 May procession from Islamabad to Lahore by tens of thousands. Over 40 killed in street violence 12 May after members of Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) party, Musharraf’s local coalition partner, attacked opposition supporters of Chief Justice. Police failed to intervene and government refused enquiry. Hearing on Chaudhry’s suspension referred to Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), but hearing delayed until Supreme Court rules on SJC’s competence in matter. Musharraf ruled out return of former PMs Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif before end-year elections. Bhutto and Sharif insist they will return. Over 25 killed in 15 May suicide bombing in Peshawar hotel; 10 in 29 May car bombing outside courthouse. Border clashes in Paktia province involving Pakistani and Afghan forces led to deaths of over 12 Afghans, as well as 1 U.S. and 1 Pakistani soldier killed by suspected local militia. Clashes followed NATO meeting on easing border tensions.
Fighting continued in north and east - dozens killed, primarily in continued government assault on rebel positions. LTTE rebels attacked naval base on Jaffna peninsula 24 May, killing at least 10 sailors. Maldives military sank Indian vessel reportedly hijacked by LTTE and took 5 prisoners south of Maldives archipelago 17 May in first direct involvement in conflict. LTTE suspected of 24 and 28 May bomb attacks in Colombo killing 9. Sri Lankan air force reportedly ordered 5 Russian Mig 29 fighter jets to combat new air threat from LTTE; Colombo’s civilian airport announced suspension of all further night flights. ICRC announced pullback 23 May from front line in Vavuniya district, citing increased safety concerns for staff. UK declared will withhold half of promised debt relief until human rights and military spending concerns are addressed; U.S. also suspended some aid and urged Colombo to control paramilitaries.
Rise in violent incidents in Aceh continued, including armed robberies and grenade attacks. Tensions with Jakarta grew over disagreements over province’s share in oil and gas revenues.
Ruling junta signed deal with Russia to build small nuclear research reactor. Peace talks between Shan State Army and government 22 May failed to produce any concrete statement. Despite pressure from ASEAN, EU, U.S. and UNHCHR, Myanmar renewed detention order on democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for another year 26 May. U.S. earlier renewed sanctions, accusing regime of becoming “more brutal”.
National legislative elections 14 May marred by fraud allegations and violence, though number of incidents lower than in 2004. 114 killed in poll-related violence since January. Polling postponed until 26 May in Lanao del Sur province after persistent armed clashes obstructed voting, while “mass fraud” under investigation in neighbouring Maguindanao. Jailed MNLF leader Nur Misuari lost bid for Sulu governorship. 8 militants with links to Abu Sayyaf surrendered in Manila; government alleged group was planning new Manila bomb attacks.
Jose Ramos-Horta scored landslide victory in 9 May second round presidential elections with 69%; sworn in 20 May. Fretilin candidate “Lu-Olo” Guterres conceded defeat and encouraged supporters to accept results. Campaign period relatively peaceful, elections pronounced generally free and fair, but accusations of electoral fraud, voter intimidation and vote-buying persisted. 14 parties to contest 30 June parliamentary election, although only 4 expected to win seats: Fretilin, CNRT (headed by Xanana Gusmao), PD, and ASDT/PSD coalition. Clashes between CNRT and Fretilin supporters reported 31 May. Court of Appeal upheld 7 and half year sentence against former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, for arming civilians in 2006 violence.
Violence continued in the south with continued militant attacks on civilians, police and military forces. Mass protest by Muslim villagers over martial law detentions shut down Betong-Yala road for over a week from 3 May; Buddhist residents held 3-day counter-protest 6 May. Anti- government protests continued in Bangkok, where 3 radio stations broadcast messages by deposed PM Thaksin; 1 subsequently shut down. Constitutional Tribunal announced verdicts on electoral malfeasance cases 30 May: Democrat Party acquitted, 2 members of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party found guilty. TRT dissolved and all 111 party executives banned from politics for 5 years. 200 TRT supporters protested on night of decision, 3,000 next day. Draft constitution still under discussion by cabinet ahead of national referendum scheduled for September.
State of emergency lifted 31 May 2007, in keeping with EU aid conditions. Finance minister said elections due June 2010; date that fails to satisfy March 2009 EU roadmap deadline. Continued reports of harassment of members of pre- coup administration.
Preliminary hearings held in sedition trial of 5 pro- democracy activists involved in November riots, as state of emergency extended for sixth month.
President Moisiu urged governing and opposition parties to focus on reform and seek consensus over presidential selection; current term ends 24 July.
Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak to succeed Christian Schwarz-Schilling as High Representative from 1 July. Lajcak’s announcement would use “Bonn Powers” to govern BiH challenged by Republika Srpska PM Dodik. BiH Presidency member Silajdzic and Dodik visited U.S. to discuss constitutional reform but no major progress achieved.
International community remained divided over UNSC resolution on final status; Russia rejected U.S.- and EU-backed draft resolution, insisting status decision must be acceptable to Belgrade. U.S. Sec. State Rice’s mid-May visit to Moscow and 18-19 May EU-Russia summit failed to resolve differences. NATO warned further delay on status could trigger violence in province. Serbian police arrested nationalists in Krusevac protesting against possible Kosovo independence 5 May.
Ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity joined ruling coalition 20 May. Main ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration ended parliament boycott 29 May.
Parliament approved new government led by acting PM Kostunica, minutes before constitutional deadline 15 May. Coalition includes Democratic Party (DS), Democratic Party of Serbia, G-17 and New Serbia party. Parliamentary Speaker Tomislav Nikolic, from ultranationalist Radical Party, resigned after 5 days in post; Oliver Dulic (DS) elected in place. 31 May arrest of war crimes suspect General Zdravko Tolimir seen as positive signal to EU. Special Court for Organised Crime sentenced 12 men, including former police officers, to 8-40 years for 2003 assassination of PM Djindjic.
Ruling Republican Party won 64 seats of 131 in 12 May parliamentary elections. Pro-presidential parties, Prosperous Armenia and Armenian Revolutionary Federation, won 24 and 15 seats; opposition parties, Rule of Law and Inheritance, 10 and 7. Alliance Party and 9 independent MPs also won seats. OSCE observers said elections “clear improvement” despite shortcomings. Opposition complained of pre-poll intimidation including 7 May arrest of campaigner.
Pressure on independent media intensified. Editor-in-chief and journalist of weekly Sanat sentenced 3-4 years on charges of inciting ethnic, racial and religious hatred for article allegedly critical of Islam 4 May. Editor and reporter of opposition Mukhalifat sentenced 2.5 years for libel on charges pressed by Jalal Aliyev, President Aliyev’s uncle, 16 May; activists said case attempt to silence exposure of corruption cases. Office of largest opposition dailies, Gundelik and Realny Azerbaijan, closed by authorities citing “lack of safety mechanisms” 20 May. Authorities said would no longer cooperate with Reporters Without Borders, saying organisation biased. EU and OSCE condemned deteriorating media situation.
3 police and 3 suspected militants killed in 6 May clash in southern Vedeno district.
President Saakashvili appointed alternative de facto South Ossetian leader Dmitri Sanakoev as head of recently created temporary administrative unit for region 10 May. Deterioration of security situation followed: heavy military equipment observed in conflict zone; de facto police held OSCE and Joint Peacekeeping Forces officers at gunpoint 7 May and closed access roads between de facto-administered and Georgian-administered areas. Shelling occurred between Georgian and Ossetian positions north and south of Tskhinvali. De facto leader Eduard Kokoity said Tskhinvali would consider withdrawing from peace process if Tbilisi continued to undermine negotiating format by promoting “puppet government”. Russia also criticised promotion as potentially destabilising. Abkhaz de facto authorities released 3 Georgian students arrested March. In exchange, Abkhaz officials demanded Georgia free ethnic Georgian de facto official David Sigua in Gali district missing, feared dead, since February. Former MP and leader of Language Motherland Faith movement Guram Sharadze shot dead in Tbilisi 20 May; suspect detained but motive unknown. Ombudsman Subari delivered critical human rights report to Parliament 25 May after earlier recommendation senior Ministry of Internal Affairs official be suspended; Opposition welcomed findings; ruling National Movement dismissive.
Minsk Group Co- chairmen held separate consultations with Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs 11 May, focusing on Yerevan and Baku’s responses to group’s latest proposals on outstanding differences. Russian co-chair Merzlyakov said meetings “productive”. Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev to meet at 10 June CIS summit in St Petersburg. Azerbaijani soldier reportedly killed by NK forces sniper near Agdam region 11 May.
Violence in Dagestan continued: at least 3 militants reported dead in police raid 12 May; railroad official survived car-bomb 14 May; 2 bystanders killed by police chasing suspect 21 May.
Opposition coalition, Political Council of United Pro- democratic Forces, voted out leader Alexander Milinkevich; 4 co-leaders to serve on rotating basis. 2 opposition activists serving 3-year sentences for organising 2005 mass protests released early 22 May, for good behaviour. Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad, on 21-22 May visit, granted Belarus Iranian oil reserve access; President Lukashenko said signalled “strategic partnership”. Belarus denied seat on UN Human Rights Council; outvoted in favour of Bosnia & Herzegovina 18 May.
President Voronin met Russian national security council deputy leader Zubakov 23 May to discuss reopening talks on Transdniestria. EU hosted talks on fresh negotiations 25 May, Talks reported to resume June. Moscow denied April leaked document allegation that it had presented planned bilateral settlement. De facto Transdniestrian MP Emelyanov shot dead 27 May in unclear circumstances.
President Yushchenko and PM Yanukovych agreed 27 May to hold early parliamentary elections 30 September. Deal followed rapid escalation of political tensions which saw Yushchenko take control of interior troops 25 May in response to occupation of newly appointed, and sacked, Prosecutor- General Piskun’s office by Interior Minister Tsushko and interior troops. Latter tried to prevent Piskun’s dismissal by Yushchenko. President dismissed 3 Constitutional Court judges late April-early May on charges of procedural and ethics violations; chairman of Court resigned 17 May. Month-end Yushchenko threatened to call snap elections if reconvened parliament missed 1 June deadline to pass legislation needed for September elections.
27 May local elections saw moderate Basque Nationalist Party retain dominance in municipalities; pro-Basque Naforra Bai party came second in regional poll in neighbouring Navarre. Run up saw low-level violence and protests against exclusion of many Basque nationalist lists. Constitutional Court confirmed Supreme Court bar of 246 Basque Nationalist Socialist and 133 Basque National Action candidates as continuation of banned Batasuna Party. Bilbao rally protested decision 12 May. Home-made car-bomb targeting local socialist party candidate Jose Antonio Elola failed to detonate in Zarautz 24 May. ETA member Jon Bienzobas sentenced to 30 years for 1996 assassination of former head of Constitutional Court Francisco Tomás y Valiente. Government denied media reports diplomats had met ETA members in April.
Ankara rejected claims Turkey blocking plans to enhance EU-NATO cooperation in Kosovo but insisted on exclusion of Republic of Cyprus from future Kosovo police mission.
Devolved power-sharing government resumed under leadership of First Minister Ian Paisley (DUP) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) 8 May. Paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) declared 3 May renouncing violence and ceasing to exist as a terrorist organisation. Arms decommissioning body said UVF pledge to keep weapons “beyond reach” did not meet legal requirements; urged weapon destruction. 3 Sinn Fein representatives took seats on Policing Board.
Constitutional Court declared parliamentary vote in favour of presidential candidate Abdullah Gul unconstitutional 1 May. Gul withdrew candidacy but uncertainty grew as government called early parliamentary elections for 22 July and parliament passed constitutional reform package including provisions for popular election of president. President Sezer vetoed package 25 May; parliament readopted election provisions 31 May. Further anti-government/pro-secular rallies held in Izmir, Manisa, Samsun and Denizli. Suicide bomber killed 6 in Ankara 22 May; police said dead suspect had PKK ties. Casualties in clashes between armed forces and PKK continued, including 7 soldiers in mine explosion 24 May and 10 rebels 29 May. PM Erdogan signalled parliament ready to support any military decision to launch cross-border attack on PKK in Northern Iraq amid military build-up on border. Ankara warned U.S. against further airspace violations after 2 U.S. fighter jets entered Turkish airspace over Iraq border 24 May.
Official medical report supported PM Atambayev’s claim poisoned after receiving death threats over nationalisation of industrial plant. Atambayev’s motorcade attacked by stone-throwing crowd after visits to 2 disputed gold mines in Talas province, several arrested. Parliament called on government to end agreement with U.S. to use Manas air base as controversy continued over December 2006 killing of Kyrgyz civilian by base guard. Explosion in newspaper offices in Osh 30 May investigated by police.
Alleged Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan member Mirzoqodir Muminzoda sentenced to 11 years prison 8 May for terrorism, criminal activity and attempting to overthrow constitutional system.
President Berdimuhammedov dismissed presidential security service head and former political ally Akmurad Rejepov 15 May; rail transport minister Orazberdy Khudovberdiyev and Ashgabat Mayor Orazmyrat Esenov 22 May. Subsequent purges and arrests in security sector reported. President announced military reform program and new ministry to manage emergencies. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour described 3-4 May visit “very promising”.
Rights activist Umida Niyazova sentenced to 7 years prison 1 May; sentence suspended 8 May after confession of all charges including smuggling. Reports that activist Gulbahor Turayeva’s 6-year sentence increased by nearly 6 years denied by authorities. EU extended sanctions imposed after 2005 Andijon uprising, but dropped 4 of 12 officials on visa ban list.
Constitutional Court (TC) and President Morales at loggerheads over Supreme Court judge appointments, as government seeks to push through corruption charges against former President Sánchez de Lozada. Morales accused of attempting to dismantle TC after filing breach of legal duty charges against its justices; lower House of Congress (with pro- Morales majority) to rule whether accusation has merit. 600 landless peasants occupied Madidi National Park in Apolo 17 May, demanding development in the region and more equitable land rights. Protestors vowed to mobilise additional 10,000 Apolo inhabitants if government does not heed their call.
President Alvaro Uribe said will unilaterally release 300 FARC guerrillas in hopes of reciprocal liberation of hostages; FARC called move “smokescreen” and reiterated demilitarisation of Florida and Pradera municipalities prerequisite for hostages/prisoner swap negotiations, but up to 300 guerrillas have reportedly accepted. While armed forces announced killing of 18 guerrilla fighters in 4 separate incidents 20 May, attacks by FARC killed 22 soldiers and police in month. Reports of possible French role in negotiation as 1 senator said release of Ingrid Betancourt “imminent”. Head of National Police, chief of police intelligence agency, and 10 other police generals sacked 14 May after media leaked reports of series of illegal tapping operations. Taps showed imprisoned paramilitary commanders running outside criminal operations under lax conditions; other taps targeted politicians and journalists.
President Correa began campaigning for Constituent Assembly Elections due 30 September, said his party seeks control of 80% of seats.
Government forced closure of private channel RCTV, consistently critical of President Chávez’s policies, after refusing to renew its licence 27 May, prompting large scale protests. Orinoco Belt oil-production facilities formally nationalised 2 May; Chávez said banking sector to follow.
Security remained volatile in Gonaives with killing of local radio administrator Alix Joseph 16 May and arrest of gang leader and former Artibonite resistance front member “Ti Will” 26 May. 2 policemen killed 20-21 May in Port-au-Prince and radio journalist/artist François Latour kidnapped and killed 23 May though overall kidnappings continued to decline.
Dramatic surge in Israeli Palestinian and internal Palestinian conflict, with direct participation of Hamas in both. November 2006 Gaza ceasefire in ruins with air strikes and rocket attacks escalating after 15 May Israeli decision to respond to continued attacks from Gaza. Sustained attacks on Sderot and nearby towns on Gaza border killed 2 Israelis 21/27 May. More than 40 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes in month. Israeli PM Olmert stated Israel will no longer “coordinate our actions with those of Hamas”, suggesting Israeli attacks to continue even if rocket attacks stop. Palestinian Education Minister Nasser al-Shaer and cabinet member Wasfi Kabha among 33 Hamas officials arrested by Israeli forces in West Bank. Olmert resisted military pressure to commit ground forces in Gaza. FM Tzipi Livni joined calls for Olmert resignation 2 May. Coalition government in doubt as 28 May Labour party primaries led to defeat of leader Amir Peretz; 2nd round vote due 12 June between former PM Ehud Barak and former intelligence chief Ami Ayalon – both reportedly hold position that Olmert must resign for Labour to remain in coalition. Factional clashes in Gaza killed 50 in month. Growing chaos created new openings for radical salafists with agenda opposed to that of both Fatah and Hamas. Egyptian-mediated Fatah-Hamas talks began end May. Video of captive BBC journalist Alan Johnston released 1 June by Army of Islam.
Worst internal fighting since end of civil war in 1990 erupted from 19 May. Army battled with Islamist militant group Fatah al-Islam after security forces targeted it for criminal activity; 79 killed in ensuing clashes in Tripoli and nearby Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared; 25,000 refugees reportedly fled camp. Damascus denied allegations of involvement. 20 Fatah al-Islam members, including 1 Syrian, charged with terrorism 30 May. UNSC voted 31 May to establish international tribunal to try suspects in killing of former PM Rafik Hariri under Chapter VII (allowing military enforcement); supported by PM Fouad Siniora but denounced by Hezbollah as foreign interference.
Parliament nominated President al-Assad for second term, endorsed in 27 May referendum with 97% of vote. Syrian FM Walid Muallem and U.S. Sec. State Rice met on sidelines of regional conference on Iraq in Egypt 3 May in highest-level contact in 2 years. Dissident Kamal Labwani and prominent political writer Michel Kilo sentenced to 12 and 3 years in prison respectively.
Police clashed with supporters of Shiite opposition movement Haq (Right) in Nuwaidrat, Maamer and several Shiite villages 20-21 May. Violence sparked by police break-up of demonstration over planned trials of Haq leader Hassan Mushaima and executive director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, on security charges including calling for overthrow of regime. King Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa ordered public prosecution to withdraw its case 19 May.
International Atomic Energy Agency reported to UN Security Council 23 May that Iran expanded its uranium enrichment in defiance of UN demands. Washington called for tough international action and expanded sanctions while 9 U.S. warships deployed to Gulf for exercises. U.S. and Iran held talks at ambassadorial level 28 May in Baghdad, highest-level talks in almost 30 years. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qumi exchanged respective positions on Iraq security. Tehran started campaign of intimidation of journalists, scholars and activists: U.S.-Iranian scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh imprisoned and accused of “spying”; another activist Ali Shakeri believed to be in detention; 2 dual-nationality journalists barred from leaving country.
Both houses of U.S. Congress passed compromise bill 25 May allocating $100bn new funding for Iraq war; no timetable given for U.S. troop withdrawal following President Bush’s veto threat. International Ministerial Conference on Iraq held in Sharm al-Sheikh 3 May. Foreign Ministers of Iraq, its 6 neighbours, Egypt, Bahrain and G-8/P-5, heads of UN, Arab League and Organisation of the Islamic Conference, issued 19-point final consensus statement 4 May but no real progress made beyond initial 10 March meeting in Baghdad. Ambassador-level talks between U.S. and Iran on security situation in Iraq held 28 May. Violence continued throughout Iraq. U.S. troops suffered third worst month since 2003 with over 120 killed. U.S. announced additional deployment of 3,000 troops in Diyala province where use of suspected chlorine bombs continued with 30 killed 16 May. 45 killed by suicide truck bombing of offices of Kurdistan Democratic Party in northern town of Makhmur 13 May.
King Abdullah held Iraq talks with U.S. Vice- President Cheney in Riyadh 12 May. Riyadh earlier announced arrests of 172 al-Qaeda operatives in recent months.
Clashes continued between government and rebel forces in north western Saada province. Army backed by tribesmen retook town of Qalaa and government building in Razih area from Shiite rebels Yemen accuses Iran and Libya of supporting; 60 reportedly killed 13 May. Suspected Islamists killed 12 police in ambush 21 May.
Up to 18 soldiers and 22 Islamist rebels killed in fresh clashes before 17 May parliamentary polls. Bomb attack 16 May in Constantine killed policeman. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb called for boycott of elections 14 May, but feared election-day violence did not materialise. Ruling coalition won reduced majority, losing 67 seats, with lowest ever turnout of 35%. Security forces reportedly arrested 12 suspected Islamic militants linked to 11 April triple suicide bombings in Algiers, and seized large quantities of explosives.
Supreme Administrative Court overturned earlier ruling against presidential order to try 40 Muslim Brothers before military court. At least 87 Brothers reportedly arrested, including 30 in Dakhaliya 22 May, allegedly after group named 2 candidates in province for 11 June elections for upper house of parliament. Total 19 Brothers reported to be running in vote. Around 135 al-Jihad members, active in 1990s, released from prison after renouncing violence. Clashes between Christians and Muslims over church construction next to local mosque injured 10 in Bamha, south of Cairo.
Trial of 21 suspected Islamist militants began 21 May. Suspects accused of trying to set up wing of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly GSPC) with aim of threatening security “inside and outside” state.
Security forces announced break-up of recruitment network for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb 6 May; 20 arrested. Courts continued to examine those suspected of links to March, April suicide bombers.
Police clashed with students in Moroccan capital Rabat staging sit-in for independence in Western Sahara 17 May amid reports of student-police clashes and arrests in other towns. 7 Marrakech University students given 8-12 month sentences 25 May.