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
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Mixed month for Burundi. Positive development with largest Hutu rebel group, FDD, signing final peace agreement with government on 16 November, endorsing political, defence and security power sharing arrangements reached in earlier agreements. Government reshuffled to include four FDD leaders as ministers. But last remaining Hutu rebel group, FNL, continues fighting, shelling capital Bujumbura, and causing estimated 12,000 civilians to flee.
UN agencies warned CAR could face severe food crisis in next four months, resulting from displacement of 1.5m of 3.8m population during civil war which ended in March 2003. 200,000 remain internally displaced.
Situation improving but still dangerous. In significant move, leader of Rwandan Hutu rebel group in Congo, FDLR, and over 100 followers surrendered to Rwandan officials 15 November. Remains to be seen if move leads to surrender of other FDLR leaders. DRC and Rwanda presidents met with South Africa’s President Mbeki in Pretoria 27 November and committed to repatriation of remaining Rwandan Hutus in eastern Congo to Rwanda within 12 months. UN MONUC mission to deploy more widely, with focus on Ituri province, city of Kisangani and Kivus region.
Eight ministers and senior officials from former government went on trial before International Criminal Tribunal, charged with planning genocide. President Paul Kagame met with new tribunal prosecutor, Hassan Jallow, 13 November, and pledged cooperation. U.S. relaunched $5m reward for capture of suspected leaders of genocide still at large. Surrender of Rwandan leader of Hutu rebel group in DR Congo greeted as positive step by government – hopes that other DRC-based Rwandan Hutu rebels will follow lead.
Little movement in border dispute. Members of independent international border commission met with representatives of Eritrea and Ethiopia in the Hague 19 November, but process remains stalled. International community engaging in shuttle diplomacy to resolve impasse. Government suspended country’s independent journalists association.
UN urged Somalia’s neighbours to uphold arms embargo against country. UN panel also claimed al Qaeda using Somalia for training and arms smuggling. 3 days of fighting between rival clan groups in central Somalia left over 50 dead.
Concern over growing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Darfur region, western Sudan – hundreds of thousands remain displaced, threatened by Arab militias. Rebels in Darfur claim 210 killed in fighting with militias during last week of November. Human Rights Watch also accused government and foreign oil companies of complicity in displacing hundreds of thousands in southern oil region of Western Upper Nile.
Rebel group Lords Resistance Army (LRA) continues vicious campaign in north. Over 100 civilians killed in Lira district, some beheaded, 300,000 forced to flee since August. Senior UN official claims humanitarian situation in north Uganda worst in world. President Museveni criticised foreign donors for imposing limits on military spending, hampering efforts to counter LRA.
Delivery of humanitarian assistance impeded by landmines, poor roads and approaching wet season. DR Congo and Congo-Brazzaville military chiefs offered full co- operation to Angola to deal with secessionists in oil rich province of Cabinda. Continued human rights abuses by Angolan army alleged in Cabinda, denied by government.
Government troops fired on demonstrators protesting against government policies: at least 15 protesters wounded. Five arrested for alleged coup plot.
Presentation of new constitution, due 14 November, delayed for further review. Commonwealth team criticised October elections as largely devoid of meaning. King appointed friends and family to join elected members of assembly.
Zimbabwe’s economy deteriorated further, government continued to deal harshly with dissent. Police now seizing foreign currency from tourists and businesses. Official inflation reached 526%, unemployment 70%. Dozens arrested and detained for several days for protesting against President Mugabe, subsequently charged and released. Commonwealth banned Mugabe from attending December heads of government meeting in Nigeria. Mugabe threatening to pull out of Commonwealth.
Rebels declare state of emergency in north of country, claiming army is preparing to attack them. President Gbagbo called on rebels to lay down arms. French peacekeeping troops clashed with about 100 Ivorian government troops who entered demilitarised zone 30 November. Soldiers briefly seized television station 30 November and broadcast demand that Gbagbo attack rebels. UN SG Kofi Annan warned country may slip back into conflict. West African leaders trying to find solution to crisis - urged UN to consider replacing stretched ECOWAS forces with UN peacekeeping forces. Human Rights Watch accused pro- government militias of killings and torture of citizens in government controlled parts of country.
Tension rising as 21 December presidential elections approach. Supreme Court announced only one candidate, largely unknown, permitted to challenge President Conte in election. Conte warned army against coup. Subsequently dozens of soldiers reported to have been arrested and detained. Opposition parties announced boycott of elections. Opposition politician arrested after “insulting” Conte, released after two days.
President Henrique Rosa requests UN Security Council backing for transitional government and for assistance in paying public service wages. Election, in wake of September 2003 coup, due by March 2004.
Stability slowly being restored but much still to be done. Large areas of country totally devastated. UN peacekeepers began expanding operations beyond capital Monrovia. Estimated 55% of population malnourished. Mains electricity restored to parts of Monrovia for first time in decade. Nationwide disarmament and reintegration program due to start 7 December – and some soldiers have already disarmed - but talks between former government militias and rebel groups broke down 28 November. Still sporadic fighting in countryside. Nigeria’s President says ex-President Taylor will be surrendered to Liberia for war crimes trial if requested by Liberia. Human Rights Watch briefing paper says Guinea armed rebel LURD forces.
Government continues crackdown on media. Director of one newspaper jailed for “defamation” for 6 months. Three radio journalists briefly detained for broadcast on dispute between farmers.
Muslim militants burnt to ground 13 churches and several houses in north of country – no deaths reported. Ethnic Ijaw militants attacked and occupied two offshore oil rigs, driven off by navy. In subsequent attack, militants took 7 foreign oil workers hostage 28 November – released after 2 days. Decision of International Court of Justice that Nigeria cede disputed territory, particularly oil rich Bakassi peninsula, to Cameroon causes tension.
UN says Sierra Leone’s human rights record has improved markedly over last year, but still some security concerns. Liberia’s interim president expressed regret for his country’s role in Sierra Leone’s civil war.
Chinese military held anti-terror exercises in Tibet, ostensibly to practice fighting “terrorists” aligned with Dalai Lama. Repression of devout Muslims continues in northwestern province of Xinjiang.
Despite verbal sparring between Washington and Pyongyang, expectation that six-way talks will resume 17-19 December in Beijing on basis of written multilateral security guarantee linked to North Korean steps on dismantling nuclear program. U.S. Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld and Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly conducted East Asian tours to prepare for multilateral talks. Pyongyang announced 6 November it had a nuclear deterrent powerful enough to deter any U.S. attack and was ready to use it; in part a response to U.S. announcement of suspension of KEDO power station project. U.S. reiterated had no intention of attacking North Korea. U.S. also announced plans to reposition its troops stationed in South Korea further from the border.
Chinese officials responded sharply to Taiwanese President Chen Shui-ban’s calls for new constitution and right to hold referendums, saying moves toward independence could make use of force “unavoidable”. Threat to use force first since 2000. In step thought designed to boost re- election chances by provoking China, President Chen set timetable for referendum on new constitution (December 2006) and implementation (May 2008). But Taiwanese parliament voted down controversial bill allowing referendum on independence; instead passed watered-down version permitting such a vote only in extreme circumstances. China cut ties with Kiribati after island chain recognised Taiwan.
Grip of central government outside Kabul still weak; insecurity hampering reconstruction and political progress. Fighting between Afghan factions in north continues despite plans to recall commanders Atta and Dostum to Kabul. Government team dispatched to merge their forces and integrate them into national army. Serious concern about power vacuum in southern Zabul province, scene of deadly clashes this month. French UNHCR worker killed 16 November in Ghazni; car bomb exploded outside Kandahar UNAMA office 12 November; UN humanitarian operations now suspended in several southern and eastern provinces. 11,500- strong U.S.-led coalition force continues to focus on south and east where regrouped Taliban forces target internationals and Afghan police and troops; also launched new counter-terror campaign in northeast. At Brussels NATO meeting 30 November U.S. defence chief Donald Rumsfeld indicated U.S. would like NATO eventually to take over military mission. Draft constitution unveiled 3 November leaves fundamental rights subject to future legislation, concentrates power in presidency and fails to delineate respective powers of centre and provinces. Process widely criticised as rushed and favouring those already in power; similar fears expressed about upcoming electoral process. Border with Pakistan, calm since July, saw renewed clashes 2 November.
Violence surged in northeast where some 30 banned insurgent groups (separatist and communist) operate. At least 57 killed (mostly Biharis) and hundreds of homes torched this month in Assam, in clashes between locals and Hindi-speaking Bihari settlers. 500 arrests made and 600 additional troops deployed. Also in Assam, nine died when NDFB Bodoland separatist guerillas clashed with civilians and 14 more died in fighting between Kuki and Karbi tribal groups. In Manipur, separatist militants kidnapped and murdered seven-year-old daughter of state minister and 11 rebels killed in gun battle between rival groups. Hindu-Muslim clashes in Gujarat - site of bitter fighting in 2002 - killed four and injured dozens in several incidents this month.
Hope tempered by scepticism as ceasefire on Line of Control (LOC) began midnight 26 November – first formal ceasefire since start of insurgency in 1989 but longer term significance remains to be seen. Pakistani PM Jamali announced unilateral ceasefire on LOC 23 November, one month after India’s surprise peace initiative proposing 12 concrete steps toward Indo-Pak normalisation. Indian offer included restoration of further transport links and renewal of sporting ties; but, crucially, no discussion on Kashmir itself. After stumbles over preconditions, Indian Deputy PM Advani ready for unconditional talks with All Party Hurriyat Conference (umbrella organisation for Kashmiri separatist groups). PM Vajpayee agreed to attend long-delayed SAARC regional summit in Islamabad in January 2004 but ruled out bilateral talks. Pakistan offered 30 November to allow direct overflights, banned since January 2002, opening way for full resumption of air links. Meanwhile violence continues unabated in the valley. Kashmiri rights groups reports that abuses by Indian security forces fuelling indigenous recruitment into extremist groups. Government sources estimate 40,000 casualties since 1989; separatists claim more than 80,000.
Situation seems stabilised after capital, Malé, rocked by unprecedented anti-government riots in September. After October referendum reinstated President Gayoom (sole candidate) for sixth five-year term, he sacked attorney general and another cabinet minister for attempting to register a political party (opposition parties are banned).
Bloody conflict dragging on since collapse of talks between government and Maoist rebels 27 August. More than 1,000 killed since breakdown of ceasefire. Rebels continue to insist on new constitution reducing role of King; monarchist government refuses. PM’s party joined opposition calls for his resignation 20 November because no progress made in instituting all-party government or restoring normal democratic process. Worrying new government policy of arming villagers to defend themselves against 'evil Maoist terrorists’ threatens to broaden conflict. Vague discussion of local elections being held within year but unlikely prospect in current security environment.
Karachi and Quetta appear stabilised after bouts of sectarian violence in recent months. Hunt for militants in northwest continues; dozens of militants rounded up in raids across the country, including hundreds of illegal Afghan immigrants in Quetta, after outlawed organisations regrouped under new names. Groups banned in recent weeks were, for most part, already banned and Lashkar-e-Taiba, key Kashmiri militant group, only put under surveillance, raising questions about seriousness of crack-down. U.S. has lauded government’s efforts; Afghanistan says Pakistan should do more.
Ceasefire holding but peace process also on hold as country paralysed by political crisis. Days after LTTE (Tamil Tigers) finally presented power-sharing proposal to government, President Kumaratunga suspended parliament, took control of defence, interior and media ministries and deployed troops to guard government buildings 4 November. Move read by many as attempt to undermine PM Wickremesinghe who president has criticised for compromising security by conceding too much to rebels. Norway suspended mediation efforts until crisis resolved. Agreement reached 18 November in meeting between PM and president to form peace committee to work out mechanics of power-sharing. PM offered broader role for president in peace process; she responded by setting 15 December deadline for resolution of stand-off, offered deal on sharing defence responsibilities which Wickremesinghe then rejected. Talk of snap election if stand-off not resolved by mid- December. EU envoy, Chris Patten, met Kumaratunga, Wickremesinghe and, controversially, LTTE chief, Prabhakaran, on trip planned before political crisis.
Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regrouping after arrests and reportedly planning new attacks; new operations chief Aris Sumarsono, alias Zulkarnaen, still at large. Attacks by suspected Muslim radicals continue in Central Sulawesi despite deployment of 3200 extra police and soldiers. In Papua, 22 killed, including Free Papua Movement (OPM) leader Yustinus Murib, in clashes between rebels and government troops this month. Governor of West Irian Jaya, new province carved out of Papua, was formally installed by Minister of Home Affairs. Full scale military operation against separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) ongoing; military emergency declared in mid-May extended for six months on 6 November. EU, U.S. and Japan responded immediately with joint statement of concern, urging political settlement; dismissed by Jakarta as “regrettable interference”. Access to province still almost entirely closed to foreigners, including humanitarian workers. GAM called for European mediation but Jakarta has ruled out ceasefire unless rebels renounce independence demand and disarm. Communal violence erupted in Bangka, southern Sumatra, 25 November, first day of Islamic Idul Fitri festival, two dead.
UN human rights envoy Paulo Pinheiro reported significant deterioration since March to General Assembly following 3 - 8 November investigative trip. U.S., EU, Japan and UN continue to demand Suu Kyi release and substantive talks with opposition, dismissing government road map to democracy as non-participatory, non-transparent and lacking timeline. Pinheiro reported after meeting Suu Kyi that she will refuse liberty until 35 NLD colleagues arrested in connection with 30 May violence released. Eight of these 35 released November 9, but 27 still incarcerated. Five other NLD leaders released 25 November.
Anti-government sentiment rising in wake of President Arroyo’s u-turn announcement to run in 2004 elections. Fernando Poe, film actor and close friend of deposed President Joseph Estrada, also announced intention to run. Government declared military “red alert” 3 November to preempt instability from opposition-led impeachment bid against chief justice; military vowed to stay neutral. Three-hour siege by two armed men (including former aviation official with links to July mutineers) at Manila airport 8 November protesting corruption resulted in deaths of both. Thousands took to streets 11 and 14 November calling for president to step down. Formal peace negotiations with MILF expected to resume soon after Malaysia agrees to send team of 25 observers to Mindanao. Despite July ceasefire, government forces clashed with MILF rebels 11 November, killing 13, including two rebels and two police.
Australia to deploy administrators, public sector specialists and 200-300 police to address growing lawlessness, as condition of U.S.$220 million Australian aid program. PNG government unhappy at conditionality of Australian aid but formal agreement expected at December bilateral meeting. Opposition leader and former PM, Mereke Morauta, called for Australia to strengthen conditionality. Draft constitution, proposed by Bougainville leaders to resolve final status of semi-autonomous province, being considered by Bipartisan National Committee. Secessionist conflict claimed 20,000 lives between 1988-97.
Security situation stabilising. Australian- led multinational intervention force completed troop withdrawal from Weather Coast, one of two major trouble spots. Rapid reaction force will remain on high alert in Townsville, Australia, deployable within 24 hours. 300 arrests made over course of mission including leaders of all main rebel groups and 3,700 weapons collected and destroyed. Millions pledged for reconstruction at 20 November donors meeting in Honiara.
NATO-assisted defence restructuring continues: integration of Serb and Bosniak- Croat armies under single national command finally underway, 7,500 soldiers to be disarmed and 1,000 metric tons of weaponry destroyed by year-end. European Commission feasibility study gives Bosnia good chance of beginning negotiations for EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2004. One notable shortcoming is cooperation with ICTY. Officials stated that NATO Partnership for Peace membership and European integration hinged on Karadzic arrest. Funding secured for new domestic war crimes court to begin work early 2004.
Prime Minister Crvenkovski sacked four cabinet ministers for incompetence 1 November, approved by Parliament 5 November. Voluntary disarmament program commenced 1 November. EU military monitoring mission “Concordia” scheduled to wind up 15 December by which time 200-strong EU police mission “Proxima” will be largely deployed. President Boris Trajkovski announced Skopje's plans to apply for EU membership by February 2004 at Berlin conference 15 November.
Political crisis continues. PM Zivkovic dissolved Parliament 13 November and called new parliamentary elections. Third attempt at presidential elections failed 16 November due to low voter turnout (32%), boycotted by two largest opposition parties: Kostunica’s DSS and the G17+ party of Miroljub Labus. Ultranationalist presidential candidate Nikolic won 46% of vote raising concerns for 28 December parliamentary elections. Former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic indicted by ICTY 18 November. War crimes prosecutor Vukcevic insists on domestic competence to try all cases, but ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte adamant The Hague try senior figures. Ratko Mladic (indicted 1995) still at large with Belgrade denying knowledge of his whereabouts after he escaped police dragnet.
New president Ilham Aliyev showing no signs of acquiescing to calls by OSCE, Human Rights Watch and others for investigation into irregularities and violence during and after 15 October election. Arrests and dismissals of opposition supporters continue, and government cracking down on independent press.
Newly-installed Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov set end of winter deadline for security forces to wipe out remaining rebels, but attacks continue despite government’s apparent optimism. Nine Russian soldiers and four policemen died in separate incidents in neighbouring Ingushetia. Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev granted asylum in Britain after judge rejected Russian extradition request. Italian PM Berlusconi widely criticised for comments supporting Putin on Chechnya.
Peaceful revolution swept President Eduard Shevardnadze from power, but risk of violence and fragmentation of country remains. Uprising, dubbed “Rose Revolution” and led by 35-year-old lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili, spanned three weeks of mass protests against fraudulent 2 November elections; culminated 22 November when Saakashvili and supporters stormed parliament while Shevardnadze delivered speech inside. Georgian police and interior ministry troops offered no resistance. After visit from Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, and call from U.S. Secretary of State Powell, Shevardnadze resigned following day. Presidential elections set for 4 January 2004: Saakashvili expected to win. Aslan Abashidze, authoritarian leader of autonomous region of Ajara, declared state of emergency and partially closed border with rest of Georgia. Concern that Ajara will follow secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in demanding independence; Russia, in slap to Tbilisi, hosted leaders of three regions for talks in Moscow.
OSCE Minsk Group reportedly planning attempt at kickstarting peace talks in coming weeks, but group’s efforts have brought little progress to date.
Russia presented proposal for resolution of dispute with Transdniestria region, sidestepping OSCE-led mediation process. Signing ceremony scheduled for 25 November cancelled by Moldovans at last moment after pressure from U.S. and EU, who were dissatisfied with proposed federal structure, in particular influence it would have given Transdniestrian separatist leadership over Moldovan economic and foreign policy. Peace process now back to square one under OSCE auspices. Anti-government demonstrations sparked by collapse of agreement continue. Evacuation of Russian military equipment from Transdniestria resumed after months-long pause, but troop withdrawal unlikely before second half of 2004.
Plan to become ‘free-associated state’ (sovereign state associated with Spain) approved by Basque regional government 24 October causing considerable tension. Plan to be debated by regional parliament and if approved, put to referendum. Central government declared moves unconstitutional, filed appeal 13 November with Constitutional Court and passed law 28 November criminalising calling of referendum without permission of central government. Two ETA suspects arrested by French police 17 November; Spanish police captured 12 alleged leaders following day.
Corsican nationalists FLNC announced unilateral ceasefire in surprise move 14 November after surge of violence since failed July autonomy referendum.
U.S. and EU keen to broker reunification before Greek Cypriot part of island joins European Union May 2004. Progress unlikely, however, until after 14 December elections in Turkish Cyprus – last round of talks broke down in March with Turkish Cypriot leadership insisting on two state solution. Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos requested UN sponsorship of new peace talks 26 November. UN SG Kofi Annan called for six-month extension of UN peacekeeping force on the island.
Good Friday peace agreement and continued functioning of Northern Ireland Assembly thrown into doubt by 26 November election result. Hardline unionist and nationalist parties gained ground: 30 of 108 seats went to anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 27 for Trimble’s Ulster Unionists; Sinn Fein won 24 seats, six more than moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party. No new executive government can be formed without agreement of both DUP and Sinn Fein, so no resolution likely while DUP continues to refuse to work with Sinn Fein. Assembly still suspended; DUP to hold talks with Blair 1 December but unlikely power-sharing government will resume in near future.
Devastated by four truck bombs in six days; 61 killed and 750 injured. Two Istanbul synagogues attacked 15 November, then British Embassy (killing Consul General) and HSBC Bank 20 November. Three Turkish militant Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for attacks; 21 arrested and many more being interrogated. 22 suspects that had fled to Syria extradited 30 November. Kurdish rebels attacked military outpost in southern Turkey 5 November, killing one soldier. Political wing of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK or KADEK) renamed itself People’s Congress of Kurdistan (KONGA-GEL) 11 November, claims to seek political solution but refuses to disband military wing; Ankara dismissed move as political stunt.
Media under fire in region’s wealthiest country. Editor of independent paper “SolDat” banned from journalism for five years following conviction on financial charges unrelated to his writing. Supreme Court rejected appeal of Sergei Duvanov, opposition journalist accused of rape and jailed in January after flawed trial.
Security services claimed terrorist attack on U.S. airbase foiled; arrested three alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members. U.S.-funded independent printing house opened 14 November in Bishkek. Activists hope new printer will increase media freedom and limit state press’s ability to censor opposition. Tension persists on Uzbek border.
Land mines laid by Uzbekistan along common border continue to kill and maim civilians. Two Tajiks killed and three injured while gathering wood in frontier area 4 November.
New law prohibiting unregistered religious activity came into effect 10 November, effectively banning all faiths but Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Church. Reporters Without Borders said RFE/RL correspondent under constant harassment from police. President Niyazov continues to run region’s most repressive regime.
Lower than expected cotton harvest will further undermine economic situation. No sign of relaxation of damaging restrictions on private trade. Human rights activists under continued pressure: Freedom House representatives harassed and threatened by local authorities in Namangan 21 November. Tension persists on borders: Uzbek residents of Sokh exclave, located on Kyrgyz side, demanding land corridor to Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Uzbek land mines on frontier with Tajikistan killed two Tajik civilians and injured three others 4 November. Continuing repressive policies in Uzbekistan, and difficult economic situation, risk future unrest.
Country stable after October riots and resignation of President Sanchez de Lozada. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan pledged greater UN attention to region, following visit to Bolivia. Latin American neighbours also pledged assistance.
Government shake-up following 25 October elections has seen resignations of defence, interior and environment ministers. Armed forces commander and police chief also resigned and another general sacked. Resignations have damaged perceived strength of President Uribe. Colombia also facing economic problems. 800 members of rightwing AUC paramilitary group disarmed in public ceremony. Leftist ELN rebels released two of seven foreign tourists taken hostage in September. Other leftist rebel group, FARC, blamed for grenade attacks on two Bogota bars 15 November, killing one and injuring over 70. Each side accused other of planning violence during campaigns.
President Gutierrez facing accusations he received $30,000 in campaign contributions from alleged drug lord for last year’s elections.
President Chavez alleged yet another coup plot by opposition after weapons caches seized 7 November. Competing recall drives lead to continued tension. Chavez supporters sought signatures during campaign from 21-24 November to recall 38 anti-Chavez politicians. Opposition campaigning for signatures from 28 November-1 December for referendum to recall Chavez.
Ex-dictator Rios Montt unsuccessful in bid for presidency, coming distant third in 9 November elections. Run-off election between leading two candidates, Oscar Berger and Alvaro Colom, to be held 28 December.
President Alejandro Toledo apologised for estimated 70,000 deaths during 20 year fight against Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) rebel group. Peru’s Congress approved new charges against ex-President Fujimori, lifted his presidential immunity. Fujimori, in exile in Japan, still plans to run in 2006 presidential elections. Prominent leader of Shining Path captured by army.
Diplomatic activity behind scenes as pressure mounts for both sides to make concessions. Growing sense that time running out on Quartet-backed Roadmap. UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 19 November endorsing Roadmap, but other initiatives, including “Geneva Initiative”, gaining momentum. Launched 1 December by group of Israelis and Palestinians led by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abbed Rabbo, Initiative offers full blueprint for settlement following on from Camp David and Tabah negotiations discontinued in January 2001. Four former heads of Israeli Shin Bet security service warned Sharon’s policies risk “near- catastrophe”, echoing October comments by army chief. New government of Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei approved; Arafat retained control of security services. Islamic Jihad and Hamas said to be considering truce, but talks with Egyptian mediator at preliminary stage. Violence diminished in November, though sporadic attacks continued.
Political situation stable. No significant changes from last month.
Negotiations ongoing between Hizbollah, Israel, and German mediators over possible prisoner swap. Deal would see about 20 Lebanese prisoners and some 400 Palestinians freed in exchange for Israeli businessman and bodies of three soldiers, but Hizbollah insisting on release of Samir Kantar, Lebanese man imprisoned for killing Israeli family in 1979.
U.S. Senate approved sanctions bill threatening tough measures if Syria found to be supporting terror groups or pursuing WMD. In Beirut, leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said his fighters would retaliate if Israel attacked Lebanon or Syria; Israeli airstrike near Damascus in October was first attack in 30 years.
Revealed it had been carrying out secret nuclear research for 18 years, including production of low-enriched uranium and separation of plutonium, but claimed for civilian purposes. IAEA, which reviewed Tehran’s disclosures, said no evidence intention was to build bomb. U.S. unhappy with this but backed off on demand that Iran’s violations of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) be referred to Security Council; instead, reached agreement with Britain, France, and Germany that future breaches be referred. IAEA resolution 26 November reflected compromise. Iran agreed to abide by NPT and Additional Protocol allowing snap inspections, and said had suspended enrichment. Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi took up case of slain Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi.
Major revision of U.S. political plan for Iraq, as timetable for handing over sovereignty moved up and decoupled from constitutional process. Under new plan, provisional assembly to be selected by local councils by 31 May 2004, and assembly to elect executive by 30 June 2004, at which time Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to dissolve. Adoption of permanent constitution and holding of elections left till 2005. Iraq’s most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Husseini Ali al-Sistani, called for elections in June 2004, but expected to compromise. New plan emerged amid mounting pressure in Washington for exit strategy. Anti-Coalition attacks said to have decreased toward end of month, but sophistication increasing; November bloodiest month since start of war. Two helicopters, and likely third, shot down by insurgents, killing 39. Attackers also targeting U.S. allies: Italian military police HQ, in Nasiriyah, bombed 12 November, claiming 25, including 19 Italians. Seven Spanish intelligence agents and two Japanese diplomats killed 29 November, and two South Korean civilians shot dead following day. Meanwhile, international exodus from Iraq continues: Spain announced withdrawal of diplomats 4 November, and CARE Australia pulled foreign staff after grenade attack on its office 22 November. 229 Coalition soldiers, including 189 Americans, killed by hostile fire since 1 May, declared end of combat operations.
Increasing terrorist activity causing anxiety in Kingdom. Blast at residential complex 9 November killed 17. Two days earlier, two men blew themselves up in Mecca, which was also site of police raid 3 November killing two and resulting in weapons find and several arrests: Al Qaeda suspected.
Government captured Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal, senior al Qaeda leader believed to have played major role in October 2000 attack on U.S.S. Cole.
Sporadic violence continues in country’s 11-year conflict. Security forces killed ten Islamist rebels and recovered large quantity of arms 7 November. Abassi Madani, chief of banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party, stated violence would end only if government authorities freed all prisoners, accounted for those missing and lifted state of emergency. U.S. General and NATO Commander James Jones said Algeria (along with Morocco and Tunisia) potential haven for Islamist extremist groups.
Presidential elections held 7 November. Incumbent of 19 years, President Taya, re-elected with 67% of vote. Leading opposition candidate Mohamed Haidalla received 19%. Taya promptly arrested Haidalla and his deputy campaign director for allegedly plotting coup. At least 12 opposition figures now in detention.
Report to UN committee raises grave concerns over rise in torture and ill-treatment of detainees following change in ‘combating terrorism’ laws after May Casablanca bombings. Three journalists convicted of insulting King. Authorities charged 100 people with links to terrorism as part of crackdown on hardline Islamists. U.S. General and NATO Commander James Jones said Morocco (along with Algeria and Tunisia) potential haven for Islamist extremist groups.
Polisario Front announced release of 300 Moroccan POWs from camp in Algeria. Baker peace plan remains under consideration by all four parties involved - Morocco, Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania. UN Special Rep. for Western Sahara, Alvaro de Soto, toured region meeting representatives from four parties.