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
Four actual or potential conflict situations around the world deteriorated and none improved in May 2010, according to the new issue of the International Crisis Group’s monthly bulletin CrisisWatch, released today.
Korean PeninsulaIndia (non-Kashmir)ThailandIsrael/Palestine
Israeli commandos killed at least nine people when they raided a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on 31 May. Full details are not yet clear but the incident has already thrown into question recently launched proximity talks between the Palestinians and Israel. The international community has been swift to condemn Israel’s actions and the UN Security Council has called for an impartial investigation. However, the event has underscored the failure of a much broader policy for which Israel is not solely responsible. Many in the international community have been complicit in isolating Gaza in the hope of weakening Hamas, an approach that has ultimately harmed the people of Gaza without loosening Hamas's control.
May also saw renewed violence in the streets of Bangkok. Clashes between anti-government Red Shirt protesters and security forces that resulted in scores of deaths in April escalated this month, leaving at least 54 people dead. Soldiers removed the Red Shirts from the capital on 19 May and the government has since lifted a curfew imposed on Bangkok and 28 other provinces. But a state of emergency remains and divisions between the Thai establishment and the protesters, many of whom support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have widened. The government has so far failed to address the underlying causes of the protests, which are likely to have long-term implications for Thailand’s stability.
Tensions continued to mount on the Korean Peninsula after investigators announced that a South Korean ship that sunk in March had been hit by a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang continues to deny responsibility for the sinking which killed 46 people. With Seoul now threatening to take the case to the UN Security Council, recent events have highlighted the challenges facing South Korea – as well as China and the international community more broadly – in dealing with its volatile northern neighbour.
Security also deteriorated in India, where suspected Maoist rebels derailed a train on 28 May leaving at least 147 civilians dead. The Maoists have denied responsibility, but the incident has once again underlined the government’s failure to curb escalating insurgent violence that has become increasingly deadly in recent months.
Ruling CNDD-FDD won 24 May local elections, held after last-minute 2-day postponement, with 64%, followed by FNL 14%. 90.7% turnout reported; national and international observers said vote peaceful and fair; opposition challenged results and alleged fraud; riots in Bujumbura 29 May after FNL demonstration against alleged fraud, police arrested 50. Responding to CNDD-FDD and FNL skirmishes, police 4 May imposed curfew in Bwambarangwe (North). Govt 18 May expelled HRW researcher Neela Ghoshal after report on electoral violence.
Riot police 3 May clashed with demonstrators accusing govt of 22 Apr death in prison of journalist Bibi Ngota. 2 foreign vessels attacked 16 May in Douala bay; 3 Russians, 1 Lithuanian taken hostage; attack blamed on Nigerian MEND movement. Russian ambassador 24 May started negotiations with captors. Cameroon-Nigeria mixed commission 3 May started further demarcation of boundaries mandated by 2002 ICJ decision.
Constitutional Court 28 May validated constitutional amendment allowing extension of president’s mandate, adopted 10 May by parliament; amendment allows only PM, appointed by president, to request mandate extension; though criticised by opposition, only 6 of 27 opposition members voted against bill. Head of MPLC (opposition) Martin Ziguélé 8 May prevented from leaving country amid opposition calls for political deal instead of constitutional change. Police reported 50,000 marched 19 May in support of President Bozizé in capital. Presidential guards 20 May reportedly forced way into home of presidential candidate and ex-Minister of Regional Development Marie Reine Hassen; Hassen left minister post 2009 after death threats. Numerous LRA attacks in region (see Uganda).
UNSC 25 May extended MINURCAT mandate, but announced complete withdrawal by 31 Dec; UNSG Ban 6 May had recommended 1 year extension; President Déby had requested departure before 2011 polls. Rebel leader Mahmat Nouri 20 May defected from UFR, created new rebel coalition ANCD with UFDD, CDR, MDRI, FSR; Nouri argued armed struggle still necessary as credible elections unlikely. Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim (JEM) 19 May denied entry to Chad; authorities cited improved ties with Khartoum; incident triggered impromptu 300-400 people demonstration of solidarity with Ibrahim in N’djamena (see Sudan). Voter registration began 5 May as decreed by Déby 4 May; very low turnout attributed to lack of information; 4m voters expected.
UNSC delegation 13-15 May discussed MONUC future in Kinshasa; govt reportedly insisted on troop drawdown to demonstrate sovereignty but also requested support for military, police, judicial reforms and elections. UNSC renewed MONUC mandate 28 May; MONUC to become stabilisation mission (MONUSCO) in June when up to 2,000 troops withdrawn from west; peacekeeping to continue in east; future drawdowns guided by joint monitoring mechanism. MONUC chief Doss 19 May announced retirement; govt had often called for his departure. Ondjani Mangbama, leader of Enyele rebels responsible for 4 Apr attack on Mbandaka (northwest), arrested 10 May. Despite Mai Mai and FDLR still active in N Kivu, killing 1 UN soldier 23 May, MONUC-FARDC joint operation Amani Leo focused on S Kivu; increasing tactical alliances between armed groups unsatisfied with peace agreement implementation in N Kivu reported, including CNDP dissidents and Mai Mai, and some collaboration with FDLR. Constitutional deadline for decentralisation expired 14 May; some deputies, including from ruling AMP, expressed frustration. Several provincial deputies early month announced de facto decentralisation measures. Opposition 14 May issued censure motion against PM Muzito (PALU); motion withdrawn 19 May because of forged signatures. PALU supporters 19 May besieged National Assembly, assaulted Assembly President Boshab; Senate 26 May summoned Muzito to explain stalled decentralisation. 20 arrested 23 May, charged of planning attacks on Lubumbashi (southeast). Law establishing new electoral commission (CENI) adopted 7 May; civil society criticised law for excluding them from CENI board. Numerous LRA attacks in region (see Uganda).
President Kagame 15 May elected RPF presidential candidate; opposition figures Victoire Ingabire (FDU) and Bernard Ntanganda (PS Imberakuni) 18 May requested postponement of elections due to insecurity and biased electoral commission; EU 19 May said will not deploy electoral observers because of budgetary constraints; U.S. Asst Sec State for African Affairs Carson 25 May “worried” by crackdown on opposition. Peter Erlinder, U.S. attorney defending opposition leader Ingabire against divisionism charges, arrested in Kigali 28 May and charged with genocide negation. Double grenade attacks killed 2 in Kigali 15 May, no suspects named. Genocide fugitives arrested: Eugene Rwamucyo 26 May in France; Charles Bandora 11 May in Belgium; Bandora reportedly financed Interahamwe, ordered killing of 400 Tutsis and killed 2 people himself; Kigali demanded extradition. German police 17 May arrested 2 presumed FDLR commanders.
Ruling EPRDF won 97% of seats in 23 May parliamentary elections according to provisional results. Opposition Medrek coalition accused govt of fraud, 26 May called for re-run. Chief EU observer 25 May said elections calm but conducted on “uneven playing field” favouring EPRDF; many reports of voter intimidation. Opposition, govt 26 May announced 2 opposition members shot in Oromia region. Govt 9 May claimed Medrek responsible for killing policeman. Govt 19 May confirmed ONLF insurgents had attacked Malqaqa (East) but denied rebel claims they had captured town, killed 95 soldiers. Govt denied ONLF 29 May claims they had seized Hilala gas field (Somali Region). Bus bomb 20 May wounded 13 in Sheraro near Eritrean border; no claims of responsibility. At least 7 killed 21 May in clashes near Ethiopian-Somaliland border (see Somaliland).
Interim Independent Electoral Commission 14 May said referendum on new constitution approved by parliament last month to be held 4 Aug; said over 12m people registered to vote. ICC Chief Prosecutor Ocampo visited Kenya 8-12 May to begin investigations into 2008 post-election violence which left estimated 1,000 dead; said intends to prosecute up to 6 suspects. Judges 24 May ruled Islamic “Kudhi“ courts illegal; critics say such courts could be expanded under new draft constitution; Attorney General Wako announced plans to appeal decision. 7 reportedly wounded in suspected al-Shabaab attack near Somali border.
Deadly clashes between govt/AU forces and Islamist militias continued amid heightened political uncertainty. PM Sharmarke and govt reportedly lost vote of no confidence 16 May when parliament met for 1st time since Dec. President Sheikh Sharif 20 May reinstated Sharmarke after earlier calling for his resignation. Parliamentary speaker Madobe, reported rival of Sharmarke, resigned. Sharif Hassan Sheik Adan, reported ally of president, elected new speaker 28 May. In Mogadishu at least 30 killed, dozens injured in 1 May blasts; at least 14 killed when al-Shabaab insurgents attacked presidential palace 23 May. UNSG Ban 22 May urged international support for transitional govt at UN-sponsored Somalia conference in Istanbul. EU High Rep Ashton visited region 18 May to discuss piracy; several hijackings reported during month.
26 June date for presidential election set by National Electoral Commission formally approved after President Kahin gave backing 13 May. At least 7 killed 21 May when Ethiopian army clashed with Somali residents in Buhudle district on Ethiopian-Somaliland border.
Security deteriorated in South and Darfur following last month’s flawed elections. Carter Center 10 May reported April polls were “chaotic, non-transparent and vulnerable to political manipulation”. UNSG Ban 5 May noted failure to include “large groups of Darfurians”. SPLM 8 May said NCP-led govt arming militias ahead of 2011 referendum on southern independence. President Bashir 30 May dissolved govt ahead of forming new cabinet. Failed Jonglei gubernatorial candidate George Athor 3 May said he had taken command of group of mutinous soldiers, called for removal of victorious SPLM candidate citing fraud; Athor said 50 Southern soldiers killed in clashes 7 May, 83 killed 12 May; further clashes reported 14 May. 26 killed in 5 Apr tribal clashes over livestock in Warrap (South). Govt said 100 JEM Darfuri rebels killed when army seized Jebel Moon stronghold 15 May; JEM denied reports. Followed JEM’s 3 May suspension of peace talks with govt citing ongoing army attacks. Chad 19 May refused entry to JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim (see Chad). ICC 26 May referred Sudan to UNSC for failure to arrest 2 suspected Darfur war criminals. 2 UNAMID peacekeepers killed 7 May in southern Darfur.
Voter registration started 3 May; enrolment deadline postponed from 15 May to 4 June due to low turnout and delays; President Museveni 9 May acknowledged delays but refuted accusations of political repression in run-up to vote. Parliament 19 May rejected opposition amendment bill to limit presidential mandates, exclude army from parliament and reform electoral commission; opposition 20 May threatened to boycott polls unless reforms adopted. HRW 20 May reported 74 killed in LRA Feb attack in NE DRC; 2 Sudanese govt officials killed 16 May in Western Equatorial State; at least 38 civilians including 2 ICRC staff killed in CAR during month. OCHA-chief Holmes 2 May said UN will investigate massacres; Ugandan army 6 May demanded budget raise to fight LRA; CAR army 18 May deployed 600 troops in SE to protect civilians.
President Sambi remained in power despite end of mandate 26 May and Supreme Court 8 May rejection of constitutional reform extending mandate. Riots in Moheli 26 May when Sambi appointed new govt. Opposition called for elections before 27 Nov 2011 date decreed by Sambi; negotiations to resolve crisis stalled 26 May, but Sambi reportedly open to earlier polls.
Interim President Rajoelina 1 May declared Apr Pretoria talks failure; announced constitution of neutral govt after 3-4 May meetings with army; army had issued 1-month ultimatum for roadmap to end political crisis. In state address Rajoelina 12 May said he would not run for president in next elections; reportedly due to army and international pressure. President also announced organisation of national dialogue 27-29 May (later postponed), constitutional referendum 12 Aug, legislative elections 30 Sept and presidential elections 26 Nov, and requested exclusion of ex-presidents from polls. Govt reshuffled on 24 May to become “neutral” but only 10 new ministers (out of 32) including 5 members of army. At least 3 killed in 20 May clashes between national army mutineers and loyalists in Antananarivo; army re-established order same day; mutineers allegedly supported by Protestant pastors present during clashes and ousted President Ravalomanana; Ravalomanana 22 May denied charges.
MDC-T treasurer Roy Bennett 10 May acquitted of treason charges; state prosecution 12 May announced appeal; ZANU-PF refused Bennett’s appointment as deputy agriculture minister despite acquittal, fuelling tensions in inclusive govt. PM Tsvangirai (MDC) 17 May called for SADC meeting to address stalled implementation of Global Political Agreement; followed early May visit by SADC envoy after ZANU-PF-Bennett row. President Mugabe appointed former electoral commission chief George Chiweshe as High Court’s Judge President and swore in 5 new judges; appointment likely to heighten tensions; critics say undermines judiciary. Tsvangirai 11 May welcomed reviewed U.S. sanctions legislation targeting individual politicians and voiced hopes to hold constitutional referendum by end 2010 and elections 2011. Tsvangirai and MDC-T Sec Gen and Finance Minister Biti downplayed infighting within MDC widely reported in state-media. Tsvangirai 3 May urged implementation of Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act to be more orderly and planned than 2000 land reform; Biti 5 May appointed new Central Bank board, hoped to implement reforms. New Zimbabwe Media Council 27 May granted publishing licenses to 4 private newspapers.
UNSC 27 May rolled over ONUCI mandate until 30 Jun 2010. PM Soro 4 May announced complete revision of all voter lists by 10 May; 415 appeal commissions will be established for voters with unclear citizenship; ruling FPI welcomed decision; RHDP (opposition) criticised review of entire lists and resulting delays. President Gbagbo and Soro met opposition: held first meeting in 6 years with Bédié (PDCI) 10 May, met with Ouattara (RDR) 17 May; Soro claimed talks fruitful. Following talks, main opposition parties (RHDP, PDCI, RDR) 13 May canceled big demonstration to prevent clashes; though respected, decision frustrated youth-wings. Gbagbo 31 May refused to participate in 35th Africa-France summit; Gbagbo set dialogue on 2002 French military intervention as condition.
Interim President Konaté 4 May signed decree putting new constitution into force and 6 May set presidential election date of 27 June; International Contact Group on Guinea 16 May warned against ethnic campaigning; 40-day electoral campaign started peacefully 17 May; 24 candidates include long-time opposition figure Alpha Condé (RPG), former PM Sidra Touré, Francois Fall, Celou Dalien Diallo and Lansana Koyaté. Konaté 28 May denied supporting RPG candidate Condé. Army chief col. Noukou Thiam 19 May guaranteed army’s neutrality and urged politicians to refrain from agitation. Azaro movement, led by Dadis Camara’s uncle Etienne Ouomo, allegedly threatened to prevent polls in Dadis’ home province (Guinée Forestière) unless Dadis allowed to return. ICC delegation in Conakry 24 May to investigate Sept 2009 violence.
ECOWAS fact-finding mission 5 May examined circumstances of PM Gomes’ detention during 1 Apr coup attempt. Former head of navy José Americo Bubo Na Tchuto trial started 13 May; accused of complicity in 2008 coup attempt and drug trafficking. Charges dropped 31 May.
Sahel-Saharan military exercise, part of Pentagon’s Africa Command, took place 3-22 May involving around 1200 troops: U.S. special forces trained troops from Mali and neighbouring countries to fight al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and drug traffickers.
CSRD junta 5 May announced transition of power to civilian rule by Feb 2011 as recommended by National Transitional Council. Referendum on new constitution in Oct; presidential elections by 26 Dec with 2nd vote in Jan 2011, if necessary. Military to be barred from standing. AQIM 14 May claimed responsibility for kidnapping Frenchman 20 Apr; AQIM demanded release of its members in exchange for hostage. Nigerien soldiers participated in Sahel-Saharan military exercise (see Mali).
President Yar’Adua died 5 May after long illness which fuelled uncertainty in recent months; acting President Jonathan sworn in next day. Jonathan appointed Namadi Sambo, relatively unknown governor of northern Kaduna state, VP 13 May; confirmed by parliament 18 May. Appointment raised speculation Jonathan may contest 2011 election despite party’s practice of alternating power between country’s north and south. Jonathan 30 May pledged electoral reform by end 2010. Ruling People’s Democratic Party Chairman Vincent Ogbulafor 14 May said he would resign next month after facing court on corruption charges 11 May. 4 killed in religious clashes in and near Jos 22, 23 May. Army 3 May reported increase in oil bunkering in Niger Delta amid delays in govt amnesty program for former militants. Jonathan 14 May promised to improve security, development in Delta and better coordinate education, reintegration efforts. Several kidnaps reported in Delta during month.
North-South Korean relations deteriorated further after investigators 20 May announced N. Korean torpedo caused March sinking of S. Korean ship despite NK denials. S.Korean President Lee Myung-bak 20 May pledged “stern action” against NK; S. Korea 23 May stated intention to take case to UNSC. S. Korea 24 May froze trade with NK, resumed propaganda broadcasts on DMZ; NK threatened to fire artillery at loud speakers. NK 25 May severed all ties with S. Korea; NK 27 May scrapped 2004 accord aimed at preventing accidental naval clashes with S. Korea. UNSG Ban 26 May expressed confidence UNSC would “take measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation”. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao 30 May during regional summit, warned of need to diffuse tension but stopped short of condemning NK over attack. NK leader Kim Jong-il 5 May visited China; met President Hu Jintao; Chinese media 7 May reported NK prepared to negotiate over nuclear weapons. UN OCHA 18 May stated intention to send team to NK to assess aid situation.
Taiwan 4 May opened tourism office in Beijing in sign of improved relations; China followed by opening office in Taipei 7 May. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou 7 May maintained “premature” to meet with Chinese leaders.
President Karzai visited Washington mid month: U.S. President Obama 12 May said tensions with U.S. “overstated”, offered qualified support for Afghan efforts to reintegrate Taliban fighters. UNSG Ban 15 May pledged to attend 20 July Kabul conference on reintegration. Officials postponed late-month Peace Jirga where reintegration was to be discussed until 1st week of June, citing “technical factors”. Attacks by Taliban insurgents intensified ahead of planned ISAF summer offensive in Kandahar: 4 NATO officials, 2 U.S. soldiers, 12 Afghan civilians killed 18 May in deadliest attack on foreign troops in Kabul since Sept 2009. 1 protester shot dead by police 14 May as hundreds demonstrated in Nangahar province against NATO “night raid” that reportedly killed 11 civilians; NATO denied civilians harmed in raid.
Police 25 May detained head of Islamist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh. 9 BDR border guards sentenced up to 7 years prison 2 May for involvement in Feb 2009 BDR mutiny; followed Apr sentencing of 192.
At least 147 civilians killed, scores injured after suspected Maoists 28 May derailed train in West Midnapore district, West Bengal; Maoists denied responsibility, but police claimed strong evidence. At least 35 civilians, police killed in 17 May bus bomb by Maoists in Danteweda district, Chhattisgarh; at least 20 reported killed in other attacks. Ruling Congress Party split on whether to launch air strikes against rebels. Protesters calling for govt to lift its ban on Nagaland rebel leader Thuingaleng Muivah entering Manipur continued to block supply roads to state. 6 suspected separatist rebels killed 14 May in Manipur near Myanmar border.
Indian PM Singh 24 May said “major effort” underway to build trust with Pakistan after early month meeting with Pakistani PM Gilani. Continued militant activity in Valley: 4 suspected militants, 2 soldiers killed in 7 May gun battle in Bandipora district. 1 Pakistani soldier killed in cross-border shooting 23 May. Indian anti-terrorism court 6 May sentenced to death Pakistani found guilty of Nov 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Maoists 28 May backed parliamentary bill to extend term of Constituent Assembly for 1 year; PM Madhav Nepal in return reportedly agreed to resign, opening up for new unity govt including Maoists. But political deadlock remained late-month as Maoists 31 May warned of “serious crisis” if PM does not resign within “promised” 5 days; Nepal said he will only resign if Maoists first disband own army, return property captured during civil war. Early month saw heightened unrest as estimated 150,000 Maoist supporters rallied in Kathmandu 1 May demanding coalition govt be replaced by Maoist-led govt. Maoists held general strike 2-7 May shutting down transport, schools, businesses; occasional clashes between protesters and merchants, residents attempting to break strike; estimated 20,000 rallied against the strike in Kathmandu. UNSC 12 May extended UNMIN mandate by 4 months.
At least 90 members of minority Ahmadi sect killed after gunmen 28 May attacked two Lahore mosques; “Punjabi Taliban” militant group claimed responsibility. Violence continued across northwest: army said 10 soldiers, 30 militants killed in clashes in Orakzai Agency 10 May. U.S. urged tougher Pakistani action against militants after saying “plausible links” between Pakistani Taliban and early May failed car bomb attempt in NYC; at least 5 Pakistanis, reportedly including army officer, arrested in connection. In N Waziristan, intensified U.S. drone strikes reportedly killed over 20 suspected militants during month. President Zardari 18 May pardoned Rehman Malik, former interior minister and Zardari ally accused of corruption in 2004, highlighting continued dispute between judiciary and president. Supreme Court continued hearing challenges to Apr constitutional amendments. More than 30 killed in targeted killings by ethnic-based political factions in Karachi.
Govt marked 1-year anniversary of defeat of LTTE amid heightened calls for international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by govt and LTTE during final months of war. Govt dismissed allegations but announced new “Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission” to examine last years of war; local activists and international observers criticised its limited mandate and pro-govt membership; U.S. Sec State Clinton 28 May urged govt to give commission powers to probe war crimes allegations. UNSG Ban late month reiterated his own advisory panel on Sri Lanka accountability would soon be named. Parliament 5 May lifted parts of emergency laws; but right to detain suspects without trial and other broad emergency powers continue in wide use. Decision to place Attorney General under President’s office alarmed lawyers and rights activists. Court of Appeal 21 May allowed suspended court martial against ex-army chief and defeated presidential candidate Fonseka to proceed. Fonseka 12 May appeared before civilian court on separate charge of inciting unrest and falsely charging President Rajapaksa’s brother with war crimes.
Round up of suspected terrorists continued during month; 30 arrested, 5 killed in separate raids. Aris Susanto, aide to late militant leader Noordin Top, sentenced to 8 years on terrorism charges 31 May. Justice and Human Rights Minister Tarialis Akbar 17 May stated intention to release several Papuan political activists. Thousands demonstrated 18 May in Jayapura demanding govt implement decree requiring regional election candidates be indigenous Papuan amid continuing confusion over electoral laws. In Puncak Jaya regency, military 17 May killed suspected separatist; 21 May attack by suspected separatists on military post left 3 injured. Tribal conflict erupted in Timika 24 May. In East Java, police 21 May arrested 70 following violent protests over local electoral dispute outside Mojokerto regency assembly, 8 injured.
Opposition National League for Democracy officially disbanded 6 May after March decision to boycott polls set for later this year over restrictive electoral laws. Several cabinet ministers resigned from military during month in preparation for elections; PM Thein Sein launched campaign 20 May after late Apr registering new Union Solidarity and Development Party. U.S. Asst Sec State Campbell 10 May met govt officials and opposition including Aung San Suu Kyi; expressed “profound disappointment” about election preparations; U.S. 14 May extended sanctions. Police chief 5 May announced arrest of suspect linked to Apr Rangoon bomb blasts; said 4 members of Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors involved.
10 May elections produced decisive win for Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III; outgoing President Arroyo won seat in congress; Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife and family killed in Nov 2009 massacre, won governorship of Maguindanao; Andal Ampatuan Sr, currently on trial for massacre, lost bid for vice-governor. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and govt early month agreed terms of reference for civilian protection and unexploded ordnance clearing in Mindanao. Under pressure from Organisation of the Islamic Conference, MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) 20 May signed agreement on closer coordination but unclear any practical significance. Clashes between govt and communist New Peoples Army (NPA) continued in eastern Mindanao.
Police reportedly clashed with 13 men of illegal armed group 16 May in Ermera district; followed recent reports illegal weapons circulating in area. Police alleged group, which remains at large, led by retired Indonesian soldier.
Violence in Bangkok between security forces and “red shirt” protesters left 54 dead over May. Months-long stand-off continued despite PM Abhisit’s 3 May offer of early elections, later withdrawn. Pro-“red shirt” army general Khattiya Sawasdipol shot 13 May. Soldiers raided “red-shirt” encampment 14-19 May, fired live rounds. Majority of protesters surrendered 19 May and camp disbanded as several buildings, including stock exchange, damaged by protesters. Govt 19 May imposed curfew in Bangkok and 23 other provinces; curfew lifted 29 May but state of emergency remains. Thai court 25 May approved arrest warrant for former PM Thaksin on “terrorism charges” linked to unrest; Thaksin denied fomenting violence. Opposition MPs 25 May began process to impeach PM Abhisit. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay 31 May called for investigation into violence. In restive south, 2 bombs exploded 26 May in Yala killing 2 and injuring 55.
In 24 May report to UNSC, High Rep Inzko said internal politics in Bosnia deteriorated, blamed Republika Srpska leadership for undermining state institutions. European Commission 26 May adopted proposal recommending lifting of visa regime for Bosnia provided latter meets outstanding requirements in areas of law enforcement, fight against organised crime, corruption, penal code reform. Terror suspect Maksim Bozic arrested early May; 2 alleged Wahhabi members with ties to Bozic arrested 21 May. 45 detained 25 May in large-scale operation against organised crime.
Serbs in north 30 May held local elections organised by Serbia, prompting violent clashes between ethnic Albanian protesters, Serb voters in ethnically divided Mitrovica, intervention by NATO peacekeepers and EUPOL officers. EULEX 23 May said will not recognise results of elections; followed by orders to stop Serbian officials from making unauthorised visits to region. Decision triggered by former Serbian PM Kostunica’s campaign trip to Mitrovica and Zvecan 23 May. UNMIK said will maintain neutral stance on elections. In 17 May report to UNSC, UNSG Ban reiterated concerns Kosovo govt strategy for north could increase tensions if implemented without dialogue with local communities. Serb refugee returns obstructed by local ethnic Albanian harassment, attacks in western village of Zalac mid-month. NATO Sec Gen Rasmussen 21 May said security improved, NATO to continue downsizing troops. Police in Prizren region 22 May arrested 2 Kosovo Albanians, 3 Bosniaks suspected of Wahhabi links for illegal arms possession. Djibouti 13 May, Somalia 19 May recognized Kosovo’s independence.
Growing interethnic tensions, armed violence over month. Group claiming to be National Liberation Army (NLA), ethnic Albanian rebels officially disarmed under 2001 Ohrid Agreement, 3 May claimed responsibility for 29 Apr shootout with police near Kosovo border after discovery of large arms cache. 4 gunmen killed in 11 May shootout near Radusa when Macedonian police stopped van carrying arms across border; despite discovery of NLA insignia, NLA link not confirmed. 4 arrested after discovery of another large weapons stash 13 May in operation in Novo Selo. Officials believe 2 groups connected. Some 2,000 ethnic Albanians rallied in Skopje 10 May against alleged govt discrimination.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Fuele 19 May said next month’s report by Hague tribunal Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz on co-operation by Serbia crucial to country’s EU integration bid. Tribunal 19 May announced receipt from Serbia of diaries of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic to be used in trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic. FM Jeremic 16 May said agreement reached on holding 2 June EU-Western Balkans summit with Kosovo’s participation. Summit to be held in so-called Gymnich format with countries represented without state symbols. Govt 20 May pledged to undertake investigation into possible mass grave discovered 10 May in Raska, believed to contain remains of some 250 ethnic Albanians killed in 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict.
Yerevan court 4 May sentenced former senior Defence Ministry official Armen Sarkisian to 2 years in prison, gave his former subordinate and accomplice 1 year suspended jail term for leaking in Dec 2009 secret govt order sanctioning military’s involvement in suppressing 2008 post-election protests. Directive issued Feb 2008 amidst opposition demonstrations in Yerevan and gave specially created command structure unlimited control over military units in capital. Highest criminal court 5 May rejected appeals against 2 lower-court rulings, upholding 3.5 year jail term of opposition leader Nikol Pashinian sentenced for alleged role in 2008 post-election unrest.
Continued stalemate over normalisation of relations. In 17 May visit to Baku Turkish PM Erdogan reiterated Turkey will not sign rapprochement protocols with Armenia before resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) conflict. Armenian delegation at Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) resisted efforts by current PACE President and Turkish politician Mevlut Cavusoglu to restart talks on N-K settlement in PACE subcommittee before mission of committee is clarified. Cavusoglu 13 May made first trip to Armenia; stirred controversy by refusing to visit genocide memorial, traditional site for visiting foreign delegates.
In 17 May visit to country, Turkish PM Erdogan discussed Nagorno-Karabakh with President Aliyev; they pledged to set up high-level strategic cooperation council. Opposition parties 15 May attempted rally in Baku calling for free parliamentary elections in Nov 2010. Police dispersed rally, detained some 50 protesters; 11 sentenced to 5-6 days in jail.
Incumbent mayor of Tbilisi and ruling party candidate, Gigi Ugulava, set for landslide victory according to preliminary results of 30 May local elections. Outcome of mayoral contest in Tbilisi, home to 1/3 of country’s population, believed to foretell results of 2013 presidential elections. OSCE monitoring mission said vote transparent, approaching international standards, but marked by systemic irregularities, uneven playing field. Russian PM Putin 8 May said Moscow ready for dialogue with “constructive political forces” in Georgia at ceremony to inaugurate World War II memorial in Moscow, replicating one blown up by Georgian govt in Kutaisi in Dec 2009. Ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze and ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli attended ceremony. After series of releases, new detentions of Georgians by South Ossetia (SO) over month, 12 Georgians currently in prison in SO for allegedly illegally crossing administrative border.
European Parliament 20 May non-binding resolution on new EU strategy in South Caucasus called for Armenian withdrawal “from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan”; welcomed by Azerbaijani MFA, criticised by Armenia. N-K 23 May held fifth parliamentary elections since de-facto independence. Ruling Free Fatherland party led results with 47% of vote. Azerbaijan 23 May denounced vote as illegal under Azerbaijani, international law. Armenian FM Nalbandian 24 May praised elections as sign of democratic consolidation. EU High Rep Ashton warned ahead of vote holding elections illegal, should not prejudice against peaceful settlement of N-K conflict.
Rumoured presidential nominee for PM post of Cherkess origin, Fral Shebzukhov, shot dead 12 May. Appointment of ethnic Cherkess as PM part of unwritten rule to preserve ethnic balance in Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic leadership. Head of FSB 13 May announced 3 aides of 29 March Moscow suicide bombers killed. Rise in violence in Kabardino-Balkaria including killing of deputy prosecutor in Baksan 20 May; bombing of house of cabinet minister 16 May; bombing of VIP lounge at Nalchik hippodrome 1 May killing 1, reportedly injuring 27, including cabinet minister. In Dagestan: 2 bomb explosions, several shooting incidents left at least 3 policemen, over half dozen civilians dead over month. 3 suspected militants reported killed 28 May in Bata-Yurt village. In Nazran, Ingushetia 2 militants killed 1 May, 5 May in shootouts with police.
President Kadyrov 23 May announced 2 militants killed in special operation on outskirts of Serzhen-Yurt village. At least 3 law enforcement officers killed, 3 wounded in explosions, shoot-outs with militants over month, including 17 May killing of head of investigative bureau in Grozny.
President Lukashenka 4 May refused to extradite ousted Kyrgyz President Bakiyev after request by interim Kyrgyz govt. Russian PM Putin 28 May announced Russia, Kazakhstan to launch customs union 1 July leaving Belarus out. Energy deal between Russia, Belarus failed earlier same day.
Russian President Medvedev, Ukrainian President Yanukovych 17 May signed joint statement referring to Transdniestria and Moldova as separate entities, calling for Transdniestria to be given “special status”. EU High Rep Ashton 17 May issued statement reaffirming commitment to 5+2 negotiations format, Moldovan territorial integrity, sovereignty. Govt in 18 May statement asked Russia to pull troops, ammunition out of Transdniestria.
In continuing sign of rapprochement between countries, Russian President Medvedev 17-18 May visited Kyiv, pledged economic support, signed agreements on security, border demarcation, statement on Transdniestria (see Moldova). Hundreds of Yanukovych supporters 11 May surrounded parliament to fend off over 2,000 anti-Yanukovych protesters. Latter rallied against perceived relinquishing of national sovereignty to Russia.
Spain’s National Court 21 May sentenced 3 ETA members to 1,040 years each for Dec 2006 Madrid airport car bomb. French police 20 May arrested ETA military chief Mikel Karrera Sarobe and 2nd-in-command, along with 4 other suspected ETA members in Bayonne; 1 suspect sought for 17 March killing of French police officer in shootout near Paris.
Turkish PM Erdogan 14 May made 1st official visit to Athens since 2004, reiterated backing for Annan peace plan to reunite Cyprus. Turkish FM Davutoglu 21 May announced Turkey to reopen ports to Cypriot ships if EU trade restrictions on Turkish Cypriots lifted in return. UN-backed reunification talks resumed 26 May in Nicosia after 18 Apr suspension; UNSG Ban 26 May said agreement could be reached “in the coming months”.
Major security operation launched 5 May ahead of 6 May UK general election. 7 suspected IRA dissidents arrested 5 May after bomb exploded outside Lurgan police station. Police 6 May destroyed car bomb outside voting centre in Derry. New PM Cameron 20 May stated commitment to peace process and continued devolution. 6 police officers injured by petrol bombs near Lurgan 17 May.
Jailed separatist PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan 29 May reportedly abandoned efforts to seek dialogue with govt. PKK increased attacks in southeast over month after spring thaw: rocket attack on Iskenderun naval base 31 May killed 6 soldiers, injured 7; 7 members of security forces killed 29 May in clashes with rebels near Iraqi border. Earlier, in response to PKK incursions, including 7 May killing of 2 soldiers in Daglica area, Turkish airstrikes 7 May, 20 May killed at least 24 rebels in Northern Iraq. Parliament 6 May approved constitutional reform bill but failed to reach 2/3 majority triggering 12 Sept public referendum on amendments. Govt 7 May said reforms will help meet EU accession requirements, CHP opposition 16 May criticised bill as undermining secular courts. Parliament 3 May rejected govt proposal to make it harder for Constitutional Court to ban political parties on grounds of safeguarding constitutional integrity. Turkish-Israeli relations deteriorated following deaths of at least 9 people in 31 May Israeli raid on Gaza aid flotilla; Turkish nationals comprised majority of activists; around 10,000 marched in Istanbul (see Israel/ Occupied Palestinian Territories). Turkey 17 May joined Brazil in brokering new nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran (see Iran).
Govt 1 May dispersed May Day demonstration by opposition in Almaty, detained most protesters. Russian PM Putin 28 May announced Russia, Kazakhstan to launch bilateral customs union 1 July. Lower house of parliament 12 May, upper house 13 May approved constitutional amendment granting President Nazarbaev status of “leader of the nation” giving him ultimate say on all policy decisions, lifetime immunity from investigation and prosecution.
Persistent unrest and violence in south over month. 1 killed, at least 60 wounded when supporters of ousted former President Bakiyev 14 May briefly took over local govt buildings in Jalal-Abad, Batken, Osh; demanded return of Bakiyev as country’s “legitimate president”. Clashes in large Uzbek minority town of Jalal-Abad 19 May left 2 dead, dozens wounded as Kyrgyz protesters attempted to storm local university connected to Uzbek community, demanded arrest of local Uzbek leader accusing him of provoking hostility in region. Govt charged Bakiyev supporters with stirring up interethnic tensions; 19 May declared state of emergency in town. Some 5000 demonstrators rallied again in Jalal-Abad 20 May, reportedly assaulting regional governor who tried to reach out to crowd. Phone conversations of provisional govt leaders released online 20 May sparked accusations of corruption, govt infighting. Interim govt 21 May unveiled new draft constitution transferring many presidential powers to PM, allowing only 1 presidential term of 6 years. National referendum scheduled for 27 June to approve constitution, appointment of interim govt leader Roza Otunbayeva as acting president till Dec 2011. Parliamentary elections to be held 10 Oct, to be followed by formation of new govt, appointment of PM.
Court 18 May handed down 6 month to 6 year prison sentences to 36 people for membership of banned Islamic group Jamaat ut-Tabligh; several other alleged followers received suspended sentences. President Rahmon 12 May reinstated State Committee on Religious Affairs to oversee country’s religious organisations. During visit to country, Iranian Defence Minister 13 May said Tehran ready to mediate between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan on contentious hydropower construction projects.
In address to national Council of Elders, President Berdymukhammedov 14 May reiterated calls to parliament to draft law on political parties to create multiparty system, suggested formation of agrarian party. President 14 May signed into law new criminal code approved by parliament 10 May. Amendments reduced maximum term of imprisonment from 25 to 15 years.
President Karimov 18 May signed amendment to penal code allowing offenders’ terms to be reduced by up to 1/3 if they repent. Move touted by govt as defending prisoners’ rights. Court late month handed down suspended jail terms and terms of up to 6 years in prison to 16 people, including prominent sports journalist Khairulla Khamidov, for setting up illegal religious group. Further stalemate in Uzbek-Tajik relations: govt late month continued delaying cargo to Tajikistan citing technical breakdowns.
President Morales 25 May enacted law enabling suspension of governors facing criminal charges; protests in eastern opposition-controlled Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni departments where governors charged. Main union umbrella group COB 10 May launched “indefinite” general strike, demanding higher pay raise than 5% announced by govt; called off strike 12 May after reaching deal with govt, but some sectors continued action. Morales 1 May issued decree nationalising 3 energy suppliers, one partly-owned by French govt.
Juan Manuel Santos (ruling U Party) won 46% of vote in 30 May presidential elections; defeated candidates from govt coalition expected to support Santos against 2nd-placed Anatanas Mockus (Green Party, 22%) in 20 June run-off vote. 350,000 troops deployed amid fears of FARC attacks, but govt said election day “calmest in 40 years”: 2 soldiers killed, dozens of rebels arrested in southwest. Venezuelan President Chávez 30 Apr said Santos victory would endanger region; govt said Chávez interfering in campaign. Prosecutor 19 May interrogated Bernardo Moreno, President Uribe’s personal secretary, about DAS (secret police) illegal wiretapping; Uribe said move intended to discredit party before elections. Army Chief Freddy Padilla resigned 24 May; no official reason given but alleged lack of army morale and military law breaches thought to contribute. FARC killed 9 marines 24 May in Caqueta. ICC 3 May asked govt for “false positives” scandal reports, said will continue monitoring; local rights group 24 May reported more than 3,700 extrajudicial executions 2002-2009.
President Correa 1 May said foreign oil companies would be compensated for assets govt has threatened to seize if negotiations over new contracts allowing more state control of industry fail. Indigenous protesters 6 May clashed with riot police outside parliament building in Quito as legislators debated controversial water reform bill.
5 of 8 Colombians arrested in March transferred to military court 12 May to face espionage, sabotage charges; 3 others released. Chávez-critic and ex-defence minister Raúl Isaias Baduel 7 May sentenced to nearly 8 years’ prison for corruption. President Chávez continued crackdown on currency speculators and traders he blames for economic woes.
Amid rising political tensions, govt officials and aid agencies continued to warn heavy rains could trigger floods, landslides affecting 1.3m IDPs left homeless by Jan earthquake. Police in Port-au-Prince 11 May fired tear gas at 2,000 demonstrators calling for President Préval to stand down in largest political protests since earthquake; followed parliament vote to allow Préval to stay in office for 3 months after mandate ends Feb 2011 if successor not elected by then. Préval 18 May promised to step down at end of his term as originally scheduled. Govt, UN 26 May announced joint commission of inquiry into alleged killing of prisoners by police in post-quake Les Cayes riot.
At least 73 killed in late month clashes between police and alleged supporters of drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, wanted for extradition to U.S., in Kingston slum “Tivoli Gardens”; Coke still at large. Residents claimed abuse, use of unwarranted force by security forces.
30-day presidential emergency powers expired 25 May; originally granted Apr to combat Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) in 5 northern departments. Emergency deployment of 1,000 extra troops 6 May led to capture of EPP logistics coordinator, but no other significant arrests.
At least 9 people reported killed 31 May by Israeli soldiers boarding flotilla carrying activists, aid to Gaza; full details not yet clear. UNSC 1 June condemned “those acts which resulted in the loss of at least ten civilians” and called for “credible and transparent investigation”. Israeli PM Netanyahu cancelled Washington visit, gave full backing to action of Israeli troops. Israel said soldiers acted in self-defence, accused convoy of “premeditated” provocation, campaigners denied accusations. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas condemned incident as “massacre”. Turkey withdrew ambassador, called Israeli actions “murder by a state”. Followed 9 May start of U.S.-mediated indirect talks between Israel, PA after 17-month halt in negotiations. Netanyahu 21 May spoke of possible goodwill gestures towards Palestinians. Announcement of talks followed by rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza 8 May, Israeli bombing of targets in response. At least 12 injured in 25 May airstrikes in Gaza in response to 24 May rocket and mortar attacks. IDF troops 21 May killed 2 Islamic Jihad militants near Kissufim crossing; 14 May shot dead Palestinian civilian near border fence; 2 suspected militants killed by IDF 1 June after entering Israel from Gaza. Palestinian youth killed by Israeli settler in West Bank 14 May.
UNIFIL Commander Cuevas 5 May stated no evidence of Scud missiles in southern Lebanon. President Suleiman 10 May said Lebanese govt cannot ask Hizbollah to disarm during increased tension with Israel and before agreement on national defence strategy. In message via Spanish FM Moratinos, Israel 13 May sought to ease tension, expressed willingness to negotiate. Ahead of 24 May Washington meeting with U.S. President Obama, PM Hariri visited other Arab leaders to discuss Arab position on Middle East peace process, and ensure Arab countries’ support for Lebanon against alleged Israeli threats. 23 May municipal elections triggered several violent political disputes in south. 2 people reportedly killed 28 May in pre-election clashes in N Lebanon.
Hizbollah weapons row continued: Israeli PM Netanyahu 29 May claimed Hizbollah operating Scud missiles from within Syria. Israeli intelligence chief Yossi Baidatz 4 May alleged organised and official Syrian weapons transfers to Hizbollah. French FM Kouchner 2 May, U.S. Asst Sec State Feltman 20 May called for Syria to increase efforts to prevent arms shipments to Hizbollah. FM Muallim 23 May said Syria will not be “policeman” for Israel. President Assad 22 May met with U.S. Sen. Kerry, 23 May with Kouchner. U.S. President Obama 3 May said Syria posed “extraordinary threat” to U.S., extended for 1 year U.S. sanctions, 1st imposed in 2004, restricting U.S. exports to country, access to U.S. financial system for some Syrians. During visit to Syria, Russian President Medvedev 11 May indicated willingness to support construction of Syrian nuclear power plant. Visit followed by signing of Russia, Syria weapons deal 14 May.
President Ahmadinejad 17 May signed new nuclear fuel swap deal with Brazilian President Lula, Turkish PM Erdogan. Per agreement Iran to deposit 1.2t low-enriched uranium in Turkey in exchange for 120kg research reactor fuel to be provided within 1 year by U.S., Russia, France, IAEA, pending their consent. U.S., EU 17 May expressed “serious concerns” over agreement but no formal rejection; China 18 May welcomed deal. After compromise agreement between P5+1 countries, U.S. 18 May submitted draft resolution to UNSC on further UN sanctions against Iran. Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani 23 May said no fuel swap to occur if new sanctions are imposed. IAEA report 31 May said Iran continuing uranium enrichment, increasing stockpile. Police 25 May said will confront any “illegal” demonstrations on 1-year anniversary of disputed elections 12 June. Iranian security forces 5 May reportedly killed 5 members of PJAK Kurdish guerrilla group in Kermanshah. 5 pro-Kurdish activists hanged in Tehran 9 May on convictions of membership of armed opposition groups, involvement in bombings. Iranian Kurds 9 May reportedly rallied in large numbers to protest executions.
Impasse continued in formation of coalition govt. Supreme Court 1 June ratified results of March parliamentary election; former PM Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats, PM Maliki’s State of Law 89 seats in 325 seat parliament. Presidency council must call new parliament within 15 days. Followed 3-16 May recount of Baghdad votes demanded by Maliki which resulted in no change in total parliamentary seat allocation. 2 biggest Shiite coalitions, State of Law and Iraqi National Alliance, 4 May agreed to become single parliamentary bloc, 4 seats short of parliamentary majority. Appeal court 17 May ruled 9 winning candidates not to be excluded from parliament for alleged Baath ties. Bashar Hamid Agaidi, MP of Iraqiya bloc assassinated in Mosul 24 May. Over 100 reportedly killed, hundreds wounded in 10 May coordinated bombings, shootings in Baghdad, Basra, other towns blamed by govt on al-Qaeda. Scores killed in other bombings during month. U.S. 11 May said troop drawdown on schedule despite bombings, political impasse. Body of kidnapped Kurdish journalist discovered early month outside Mosul; supporters claimed Kurdish security services involved. Iraqi Kurdish President 21 May criticised Turkey’s attacks on Turkish-Kurdish PKK rebels in Northern Iraq (see Turkey).
President Saleh 21 May announced amnesty for nearly 300 jailed Houthi-led rebels and southern separatists in speech on 20th anniversary of Yemeni unity. Clashes between security forces and secessionist Southern Movement during govt tour of country for unification celebrations: President Saleh’s convoy attacked 15 May in al-Hablin, 1 army official, 1 assailant killed; convoys of 2 other ministers attacked during month. Southern unrest continued as separatist ambushes 28 May killed 3 soldiers, injured 11. Series of clashes in southern Ma’arib province between security forces, Al-Shabwan tribesmen after Deputy Governor killed 25 May in failed airstrike on al-Qaeda suspect. In north 2 soldiers, several rebels killed 10 May in 1st clashes between army and Houthi rebels since 12 Feb truce. Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula 12 May claimed responsibility for 26 Apr failed attack on UK ambassador in Sanaa.
Abu El Abbas, a leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), 25 May surrendered to authorities, 2nd in month as part of govt reconciliation initiative. Security forces 16 May killed 3 suspected members of AQIM, captured 1 in Jijel region. Military airstrikes 20 May hit terrorist bases near Bejaia, site of 3 Apr killing of 7 civilians. 2 soldiers killed, 18 injured by roadside bomb in Boumerdes 19 May.
Govt election panel 18 May approved 12 of 14 Muslim Brotherhood affiliated candidates to stand in 1 June elections for the Shura council (Upper House). President Mubarak 11 May extended for 2 more years Emergency Laws in place since 1981 assassination of President Sadat. Police 3 May beat protesters in Cairo who opposed laws for restricting political, civil freedoms. Some 10,000 people remain detained without charge under emergency legislation.
Trial of 19 alleged AQIM members began 16 May. Suspects include 3 accused of 2007 killing of 4 French tourists, sentenced to death 25 May. Police 12 May reportedly arrested 3 suspects with al-Qaeda links, allegedly travelling to northern Mali training camps. Mauritanian soldiers 3-22 May participated in Sahel-Saharan military exercise (see Mali).
Suspected leader of Moroccan al-Qaeda-linked militant cell arrested 30 Apr in France. 12 people convicted 6 May for terrorist activities including fundraising to finance terrorism, drug trafficking, forgery. Expulsions of 23 foreign Christians reported mid-month.
Polisario Front 2 May criticised UN for not including human rights monitoring in Apr UNSC resolution to extend MINURSO mandate. Morocco 4 May welcomed resolution reportedly seeing it as supporting W Saharan autonomy rather than independence.