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
November overtook July 2006 as the worst month for conflict prevention since CrisisWatch began publication 40 months ago. Fourteen situations deteriorated in November, with seven conflict risk alerts (in anticipation of new or significantly escalated conflict). Improvements were noted during November in only three situations, and no new conflict resolution opportunities were identified for the coming month.
Sectarian killings in Iraq rose to their worst levels since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Violence in eastern Chad increased dramatically, with over 60 villages attacked and hundreds killed. Major fighting erupted in south Sudan between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Sudanese Armed Forces in the first major violation of the 2005 north-south peace agreement. In Somalia, a draft UN Security Council Resolution recommending a regional intervention force and a partial lifting of the arms embargo threatened to generate a full-scale war. Political killing and Shiite resignations in Lebanon increased polarisation and brought the government close to collapse. Côte d’Ivoire became potentially explosive as relations soured further between the prime minister and president, and security forces allied to the latter took to the streets of Abidjan. The situation also deteriorated in Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Fiji, India (non-Kashmir) and Tonga.
Three conflict situations showed improvement in November 2006. In Nepal, rebel Maoists and the interim government signed a historic peace deal, ending a 10-year war. Senegalese President Wade met with Casamance leaders in an effort to consolidate peace, announcing several measures for reconstruction and reconciliation. A newly adopted constitution in Kyrgyzstan establishing parliamentary checks on presidential power was ratified, thus easing tensions after mass opposition protests.
For December 2006, CrisisWatch identifies Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Lebanon and Somalia as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month.
BurundiCentral African RepublicChadSomaliaSudanCôte d’IvoireIndia (non-Kashmir)FijiTongaAzerbaijanBoliviaColombiaLebanonIraq
Central African RepublicChadSomaliaCôte d’IvoireBangladeshFijiLebanon
September ceasefire between government and FNL rebels held, but implementation of agreement increasingly divisive. Law granting temporary immunity for rebel signatories adopted but FNL refused to join Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism while some rebels remain political prisoners. Government set up commissions to determine those entitled to demobilisation benefits but without FNL input - contrary to agreement. South African contingent of UN peacekeepers to stay on as first part of AU deployment to avoid security vacuum after UN departure mid-December. Pressure on media increased as 3 leading journalists arrested on questionable grounds.
Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) rebels intent on toppling President François Bozizé took town of Birao 3 November, near border with Darfur and continued towards Bria 600 km from capital Bangui. Government later retook Birao with help of French troops attacked by UFDR. 45,000 fled fighting to refugee camps in Chad. Central African Economic and Monetary Community responded positively to request for help from Bangui and pledged support.
Violence in east increased dramatically, with state of emergency declared 13 November. Gunmen killed 220 villagers in east; over 60 villages attacked in month. MSF aid worker also killed and over 3,000 IDPs reported missing following incident near Koloy 100km northeast of Goz Beida 16/17 November. Sudanese-backed rebels briefly captured key eastern town of Abeche 25 November. Government forces retook it following day, but rebels claimed to be 200km from N’djamena and closing. UN aid agencies evacuated non-essential staff and set up HQ in Cameroon after Abeche supplies looted. Security concerns prevented UN fact-finding team from visiting eastern Chad to consider options for deployment of monitoring mission or peacekeeping force.
Election Commission announced incumbent Joseph Kabila’s victory over Jean-Pierre Bemba in October presidential run-off vote: Kabila received 58%, Bemba 42%. Supreme Court confirmed Kabila’s victory, while Bemba, after initially rejecting result, accepted outcome 28 November and said would play role of opposition through legal means. Bemba supporters set fire to Court and battled with security forces 21 November. Earlier, fighting in Kinshasa between Bemba supporters and security forces killed 4. Kabila inauguration due 6 December. Tribal clash in western Bandundu province 20 November killed 8. MONUC and army/11th brigade clashed with forces of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda from 25 November around city of Sake in North Kivu.
French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, said President Paul Kagame should be arrested and tried by International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and French courts respectively in connection with 1994 downing of plane carrying Hutu President Habyarimana which sparked genocide. Kagame responded by breaking diplomatic relations with France.
Both sides continued to back opposing sides in Somalia, raising fear of full-scale proxy war. Meanwhile, both rejected mid-November proposal by independent boundary commission to demarcate border on maps but leave physical demarcation to two countries to complete within a year.
Parliament, including opposition, backed PM Meles in war against Somalia’s Council of Somali Islamic Courts (CSIC) 23 November, responding to CSIC’s September call for jihad. Over 100 trucks carrying Ethiopian troops arrived in Somali city of Baidoa 24 November; more massing on border. Ethiopian soldiers killed in CSIC ambushes in Somalia (see Somalia section). Eritrean-backed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebels called for mediation by African nations. Oromo media reported OLF killed 35 soldiers in south 13 November.
U.S. submitted draft UNSC resolution recommending IGAD peacekeeping force to support Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and monitor compliance with agreements reached in Khartoum, but any deployment without prior agreement by Council of Somali Islamic Courts (CSIC) widely seen as likely to generate full- scale war. CSIC fighters clashed with Ethiopian troops backing TFG in Adale and Qasah-Omane near Baidoa 19/20 November; 6 Ethiopians reported killed. CSIC claimed 30 November ambush killed 20 Ethiopian soldiers. Talks between CSIC and TFG in Khartoum collapsed 1 November, postponed to 16 December. Report by UN Monitoring Group stated 10 countries, including members of IGAD, continued to violate UN arms embargo on Somalia: UNSC unanimously voted for continuation of monitoring group 29 November.
UN Monitoring Group reported Somaliland authorities’ concern over Ethiopian military support for Puntland, with which it has long-standing border dispute. Council of Somali Islamic Courts leader stated intention to maintain unified Somalia and offered apology for misrule of Somaliland under late President Siad Barre.
Major fighting erupted in south between Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in first major violation of 2005 north-south peace agreement. Fighting between SAF-aligned southern militia led by Maj Gen Gabriel Tang Ginye and SPLA escalated into major clashes between SAF and SPLA in Malakal, Upper Nile state 28 November: casualties reportedly in the hundreds. Calm restored to Malakal, following high-level interventions by SAF, SPLA and UN. Deterioration of security situation in Darfur continued as hopes raised by international talks with Khartoum, then ebbed with government backing away from agreement. UK, U.S., EU, China, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Arab League met in Addis Ababa 16 November to discuss 3-phase plan. Khartoum agreed in principle to phases 1 and 2: light technical support to existing AU force, followed by heavy support including deployment of military, police and civilian personnel as well as possible aviation and logistical assets. AU and UN reported Khartoum also agreed, in principle, to “hybrid” AU/UN operation (Phase 3), pending clarification of force size. China reportedly encouraged Khartoum to accept plan. President Bashir later rejected hybrid force in preference for “African solution”, and claimed less than 9,000 have died in Darfur. SPLM called for UN force even without consent of Khartoum. U.S. and UK suggested 1 January deadline for Khartoum to consent to AU/UN hybrid plan, or face “tougher measures”. AU PSC met in Nigeria on 29 November, agreed to extend mandate of AU mission for another 6 months.
Peace talks between government and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) suspended by LRA 29 November, ostensibly for killing by Ugandan army (UPDF) of 3 rebels on way to assembly point: army denied involvement. Revised cessation of hostilities agreement had been signed 1 November to specify assembly points, provide for security and humanitarian assistance, and removal of UPDF from near assembly points; included 1 December deadline for LRA to collect at Owiny Ki-Bul and Ri-Kwangba, and subsequent resumption of talks. Negotiations plagued by dissatisfaction within LRA delegation and lack of monitoring mechanisms of LRA and UPDF. LRA leader Joseph Kony met with UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland 11 November and asked for ICC indictments to be removed; Egeland asked for release of non-combatants, sick and wounded fighters: neither agreed. UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour urged Uganda to halt “forced disarmament” operations against semi- nomadic Karamoja warriors in northeast after 55 civilians killed early November.
Voter registration began ahead of first elections since 1992. No date set yet for 2007 poll to select president and legislature. 63 members of opposition arrested in attempted protest over alleged government embezzlement of public funds.
Retired General Fidy led failed military coup attempt 17 November after he was barred from contesting 3 December elections; 1 killed in exchange of fire near capital.
Speculation over President Mugabe’s successor intensified ahead of ZANU-PF’s December annual congress, where announcement expected on timetable for 2008 presidential elections; 2-year deferral possible. Government announced compensation 16 November for white farmers who have faced land seizures, but did not make public terms of deal. In concurrent bid to raise production by providing collateral for resettled black farmers, government announced new series of 99-year leases on farming land. South Africa announced it would hand SADC Zimbabwe portfolio to troika of Tanzania, Namibia and Angola, leaving its own future role in question. Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo reportedly planning task force to begin new effort to clear country of informal dwellings, in wake of rebuilding after Operation Murambatsvina.
Situation potentially explosive as relations between PM Banny and President Gbagbo deteriorated. Security forces under Gbagbo control took to streets of Abidjan 28 November and demonstrations against Gbagbo’s reinstating government officials suspended over September’s deadly toxic waste scandal erupted 30 November. UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1721 1 November backing AU call to prolong transition for further 12 months. Resolution notably allows Banny to legislate independently of president and parliament, and to exert “necessary authority” over armed forces; Gbagbo refused to implement clauses contrary to constitution. Clashes between residents of Yopougon suburb and pro-government Patriot Grouping for Peace militia 3 November killed 4, while UN official briefly abducted 6 November by pro-Gbagbo militia in western town of Duekoue.
Reforms inched forward. Judicial reform process initiated by UNMIL and justice ministry faced new problems over salary payments for UNMIL-hired lawyers. Security sector reform criticised as “deactivated” security personnel demanded additional benefits including salary arrears and insurance.
Tuareg rebels reportedly reneged on peace agreement with government by simply withdrawing but not disarming, though army pledged not to react. Tuareg have vowed to remove Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat form their territory in north.
Political chaos, electoral violence and Niger Delta insecurity continued. 2 more state governors (Anambra and Plateau) sacked by factions of their state legislatures. Ongoing feud between President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar: 2 courts ruled in Abubakar’s favour on his right to challenge indictment by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; another overruled government’s attempt to dismiss his challenge of competence of Code of Conduct Tribunal to try him. Obasanjo dented by 2 high-profile scandals connected to his office. Insecurity continued in Niger Delta region with several attacks on oil and police stations. 4 died in rescue attempt after 7 oil workers seized by militants. Obasanjo turned down request by Ijaw elders for release of leader of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force Asari-Dokubo, currently standing trial on treasonable felony charges. 14 killed as ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held its ward congresses nationwide 4 November in preparation for April 2007 elections; further violence reported at 25 November primaries including bombing of PDP secretariat in Bayelsa state. Upsurge in unrest anticipated in run-up to April elections.
President Wade met with Casamance leaders 24 November in effort to consolidate peace, announcing several measures for reconstruction including amnesty law, 60 million CFA francs in aid and rebuilding of roads.
Deadline for repatriation of 25,000 Liberian refugees from SL set for 30 June 2007. Rumours of coup plot sparked by arrest of soldier and former RUF fighter Abdul Sesay with arms cache 7 November and subsequent escape.
No date set for 6-party talks, despite Beijing talks between U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill and NK envoys. Disparate agenda expected; NK seeks easing of economic sanctions, U.S. full nuclear dismantlement. U.S. officials suggested incentives might include bilateral talks, unfreezing of NK bank accounts and perhaps formal treaty to mark end of Korean War. South Korea announced would not join U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative; however Seoul supported for first time UN Human Rights Committee resolution 17 November condemning NK’s human rights situation.
President Chen Shui-bian continued to face leadership challenges, surviving another opposition attempt at forcing recall referendum 23 November, and facing indictment of his wife and 2 aides on corruption charges. 7 December mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung will test support for Chen’s DPP party. Chen continued to push 3 proposals provocative at home and abroad: constitutional reform, admission to UN, and redistribution of improperly obtained Kuomintang assets.
Violence subsided in some areas with onset of winter. Overseers of Afghanistan Compact, Joint Coordinating and Monitoring Board, reported 3700 deaths due to insurgency since January 2006 - four-fold increase over 2005. Report noted deteriorating security one reason for slow progress on development goals, and approved new controversial Auxiliary Police initiative, which gives locally recruited police teams only 10-day training, raising fears of rearming militias and heightened ethnic tensions. UK PM Blair, in visit to Kabul 20 November, pledged military support for Afghanistan for “as long as it takes” and urged NATO to renew focus on country. NATO members lifted some geographical restrictions on their respective deployments at Riga summit 28 November but little concrete consensus.
Major new violence feared, as country steeped in political crisis with opposition to interim caretaker administration installed ahead of January elections. Opposition Awami League (AL) launched 3-day national transport blockade 12 November, citing interim administration’s failure to prove its neutrality. Chief Election Commissioner M.A. Aziz stepped down 22 November after renewed blockade accompanied by widespread violence between opposition and government supporters. UN sent electoral assistance envoy 29 November. But AL protests continued, with end of month Dhaka rallies calling for resignation of president and head of interim administration Iajuddin Ahmed, while ruling BNP accused AL of trying to destroy democracy.
Violence escalated in Assam, raising fears of new offensive by ULFA separatist rebels. Assam capital Guwahati hit by series of bombings 5 and 23 November killing 16; ULFA also suspected of train bombing in neighbouring West Bengal state 21 November that killed 12. Delhi announced deployment of 2000 extra troops to region. At least 3 killed in late month violence by “low-caste” Hindus in Maharashtra state prompted by desecration of statue of revered constitution framer B.R. Ambedkar in Kanpur.
Foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan 14-16 November yielded little progress on Kashmir sticking points. Both countries agreed to implement mechanism to improve communication on anti-terrorism measures; agreement not expected to produce much shared intelligence or policy, but sign that normalisation process not derailed by July Mumbai train bombings.
Maoists and interim government signed historic peace deal 21 November, ending 10-year war. Maoists will join interim government, with constituent assembly elections scheduled for mid-2007. Details on arms management, sticking point of negotiations, finalised 27 November. Sides agreed to lock up weapons under UN supervision, state army will stay in barracks and armed Maoist fighters will be cantoned. Accord also contained provisions for truth and reconciliation commission but interim constitution and plans for restructuring security sector not yet agreed. Judicial commission submitted report to PM Koirala holding King Gyanendra, his ministers and security officials responsible for violent suppression of pro-democracy movement in April.
Major suicide attack 9 November on military camp in North West Frontier Province killed 42; possible revenge attack for 30 October madrasa bombing in Bajaur. President Musharraf visited Balochistan 17 November to announce increased investment in region, but greeted by “shutter-down strike”, while clashes between troops and Baloch militants near Kohlu intensified in month. In visit to Lahore, UK PM Tony Blair reaffirmed shared commitment to fighting terrorism.
War between LTTE rebels and government troops continued in parts of north and east in month of heavy fighting. No short-term prospect for negotiations as LTTE leader Prabhakaran declared ceasefire “defunct” 27 November and said group renewing “freedom struggle” seeking independent state. Land clashes intensified near Batticaloa, while army bombed Tamil targets, and naval battles continued off Trincomalee and Mannar peninsula. Influential Tamil MP Nadarajah Raviraj shot dead 10 November in blow to moderate Tamil politics. Humanitarian access extremely restricted with few aid corridors available. Government shelling attack on Vakarai refugee camp in east killed 45, as attacks on civilians by both sides continued.
Official election campaigning in Aceh began 24 November, ahead of 11 December polls. 2 days earlier Humam Hamid, candidate for governor supported by one GAM faction, attacked by rival faction in Bireuen. Differences over candidates have split GAM leadership, raising questions about movement’s political future. 87% of eligible voters registered. Trial of Hasanuddin and 2 other in 2005 beheading of 3 Christian schoolgirls in Poso began in Jakarta. Free Papua Movement rebel Antonius Wamang given life sentence 7 November.
UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari made second visit to country 9 November, included meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, who said favoured dialogue between UN and ruling junta. U.S. called Myanmar “threat to international security” and said planned Security Council resolution, which is unlikely to avoid Chinese and Russian veto. Ruling junta ordered ICRC to close all field offices, in blow to already restricted humanitarian access. Newly installed Thai government announced more distant relations with Myanmar and said it would review development deals.
Prosecutors dropped charges against MILF leader Ebrahim Murad in October bombings; MILF had denied involvement and sharply objected to charges. No timeline set for MILF-Manila talks. 30 soldiers face court martial for February coup attempt; gov’t said would adopt hard line.
PM Ramos-Horta asked Australian and New Zealand troops to stay in Dili alongside UN police; said seeking trilateral accord with UN and Australia on command structure. Peace rallies in Dili to mark 15th anniversary of Santa Cruz massacre united rival gangs in Dili, but gang violence erupted again 19 November, killing Brazilian missionary. Former PM Mari Alkatiri announced would not stand for re-election in 2007.
PM Surayud, in one of several recent visits to south, made historic apology 2 November to families of those killed by army in suppression of protests in Tak Bai in 2004. Despite recent positive signals of Bangkok’s engagement in south, insurgent violence escalated in month; over 100 local Buddhists fled homes in Yala and Narathiwat and over 1000 schools closed indefinitely in south after Pattani teacher burned alive 24 November. Defence Minister Somtad announced 28 November lifting of martial law in about half of country’s 76 provinces; those considered unstable, including southern border provinces and areas of north alleged to be former PM Thaksin’s strongholds, to remain under martial law.
Coup tensions escalated as rifts between government and army deepened. Chief of armed forces Frank Bainimarama demanded resignation of PM Laisenia Qarase over controversial measures including preferential land rights for ethnic Fijians and amnesty for those implicated in 2000 coup, some of whom are ministers in current government. Government threatened to invite intervention from Pacific Island Forum nations, while Bainimarama said would begin “clean-up campaign” 1 December if demands not met. New Zealand brokered talks between Bainimarama and Qarase in Wellington 29 November in last-ditch effort to prevent military coup. Australia acting PM said would consider intervention. 1 December deadline passed peacefully but Bainimarama set new 4 December deadline as army planned military exercises around capital.
Spat continued between Canberra and Honiara as PM Sogavare pledged to review legal immunity granted to RAMSI peacekeeping force, alleging troop involvement in illegal prostitution. Australia rejected allegations.
Thousands rioted in capital Nuku’alofa 16 November after parliament appeared poised to recess without voting on proposals for greater democracy. Riots killed 8 and destroyed 80% of commercial district. Anti-ethnic Chinese sentiment cited by some as root of violence; 355 charged with riot-related crimes, while 200 Chinese nationals flown out of country in aftermath. Parliament voted to expand from 9 to 21 number of directly elected seats in 30-seat legislature, measure will take effect from 2008 elections. Coronation of new King postponed by 1 year. 150 Australian and New Zealand police and troops arrived 18 November at request of government; military component due to withdraw early December.
President Moisiu set local elections for 21 January; parties unable to agree whether to participate with some calling for delay until after Serbia elections. PM Berisha supported announcement by Athens to offer citizenship to “ethnic Greeks” (anyone who can prove in writing their Greek ethnicity) in and from Albania; opposition in Tirana and Athens criticised plan.
Haris Silajdzic, Nebojsa Radmanovic and Zeljko Komsic sworn into collective presidency 6 November. Radmanovic will be chairman for first 8 months of 4-year rotating presidency. In Republika Srpska, PM Milorad Dodik formed new entity government. UN Security Council extended mandate of EU Stabilization Force (EUFOR) to November 2007; troop levels for 2007 remain uncertain. NATO announced would admit BiH to Partnership for Peace program despite failure on ICTY conditionality.
UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari announced would delay his status proposals until after 21 January Serbian parliamentary elections. Fears of significant further delay to final status process, due to Russian insistence that Ahtisaari package should serve as basis for further Pristina-Belgrade negotiations, and lukewarm engagement of some other Contact Group and EU members. Kosovo Albanians met announcement with calm, but PM Ceku and co-governing AAK party began broaching idea of unilateral independence declaration if no decision in early 2007. “Self-Determination” demonstration targeted provisional government and UN mission with stones, paint bombs 28 November. In east Kosovo, local Albanian leaders angry Pristina-Belgrade negotiations conceded formation of several new Serb-majority municipalities; arguing blow to integration efforts, and price exacted for ethnic cleansing by other Kosovo regions. Serb shot in head in south-eastern Letnica village 9 November; grenade exploded in empty Serb school classroom, eastern Ropotovo village, 21 November.
Parliament passed police reform bill despite opposition Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) boycott. DUI-PDP coalition warned their mayors, in control of 15 of 16 Albanian majority municipalities, would not cooperate with police. In positive step for judicial independence, 8 members elected to new Judicial Council by fellow judges; council will handle election and dismissal of judges, previously controlled by parliament. EU Commission said progress slowed in 2006, highlighting political hiring and firing of officials, and lack of cooperation between government and opposition as problems. Radmila Sekerinska elected leader of Social Democratic Alliance 5 November.
New constitution ratified by parliament after official final results of October constitutional referendum announced: 53.04% of registered voters supported new constitution with 54.91% turnout, despite well-documented irregularities. Parliamentary elections set for 21 January. NATO announced would admit Serbia into Partnership for Peace program despite failure on ICTY conditionality. UN said would postpone Kosovo status decision until after elections (see Kosovo). In Sandzak’s Novi Pazar, Party for Democratic Action activist injured in bomb attack on home.
Authorities shut down biggest independent broadcaster, ANS, and evicted an opposition party and 3 media outlets from their offices 24 November. Government opponents said move aimed at silencing dissent. Police broke up demonstration and arrested 12 activists demanding end to official pressure on media 16 November. Former senior presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev, arrested before November 2005 elections, sentenced to 6 years for attempt to topple gov’t, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Suspected rebel attacks killed at least 10 in southern Shatoi and eastern Kurchaloi districts. Russian army said 35 rebels collectively surrendered 22 November, bringing official figure of 2006 surrenders to 374. Former elite unit commander Baisarov, rival of Chechen PM Kadyrov, shot dead in Moscow 18 November, allegedly by Chechen police. European Court of Human Rights, in third such ruling in 4 months, ruled Russia to pay damages to Chechen woman whose relatives disappeared.
Hawkish Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili resigned from cabinet 17 November, shortly after being transferred to Minister of Economic Development post. In South Ossetia, 2 competing presidential elections and referendums held 12 November. De facto President Kokoity re-elected and independence aspirations reaffirmed in separatist referendum. In parallel polls informally backed by Tbilisi, Dimitry Sanakoev elected president and negotiations with Tbilisi supported. International community denounced both polls. Relations with Russia remained tense with air, sea and land communications closed. Moscow continued to deport Georgian illegal migrants. Gazprom announced intention to double gas price in 2007. Senior U.S. and German officials visited Abkhazia, urging sides to resume stalled negotiations.
Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian met on sidelines of CIS Minsk Summit 28 November. Both sides cited progress at meeting. Foreign ministers met 13 November to continue negotiations toward agreement on principles. De facto authorities set constitutional referendum for 10 December; text declares NK “sovereign, democratic and independent”.
Militants attacked police station in Ingushetia, injuring 3 soldiers. 5 rebels, including Jordanian born insurgent, killed in clashes with armed forces in Daghestan.
Youth opposition activist Zmitser Dashkevich given 1.5-year prison sentence for participation in unregistered group 1 November; EU condemned decision. Germany called for immediate release of opposition leader Alexander Kazulin amid reports of serious decline in his health; Kazulin is on hunger strike. EU repeated its offer to Minsk of EU Neighbourhood Policy participation, conditional on democratic reform. Lukashenka asserted he had won 93.5% of vote in March presidential elections but official figures of 83% had been released to make results more believable to West.
Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov announced candidacy in region’s 10 December ‘presidential elections’. Candidacy of newspaper editor Andrei Safonov, known for his criticism of Smirnov, rejected by Transdniestrian authorities; Safonov said would appeal. OSCE ambassadorial delegation visited Russian ammunition depot in region 13 November.
Parliament voted to dismiss Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk and Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, both allies of President Yushchenko, 1 December. Move came after PM Yanukovych asked parliament to dismiss former, and latter found guilt of corruption by Kiev court. Yushchenko said would challenge Tarasyuk dismissal. Defence Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko may also face no- confidence vote.
After spate of low-level street violence in region, including arson attack on 2 policemen in Bilbao, Prime Minister Zapatero said could be no dialogue with ETA if violence continued. Opposition Popular Party issued 10- point list of demands to government on issue, including call for end to any secret meetings with ETA. Separatist Batasuna Party blamed deterioration on authorities, citing series of court cases against ETA members. French police confirmed ETA responsibility of weapons theft in October; said ceasefire had not affected group’s activities in France.
EU Finnish Presidency efforts to broker last-minute compromise on opening of Turkish ports to Greek Cypriots, in return for movement on EU direct trade with Turkish Cypriots, broke down, leading to 29 November EU Commission recommendation to slow down Turkey-EU negotiations (see Turkey). UNSG Annan said UN still working to start bi- communal talks; met Turkish Cypriot leader Talat in Geneva 20 November. 5 Turkish Cypriot students attacked in Southern Nicosia school 22 November.
UK parliament passed bill enacting St Andrews deal and allowing January dissolution of Northern Ireland Assembly 21 November. But policing question threatened to delay power-sharing as Unionists insisted Sinn Fein ministers’ oath include commitment to support police and rule of law, and Sinn Fein demanded date for handover of policing powers from Westminster to Stormont. Stormont assembly proceedings halted after Michael Stone, loyalist gunman released under the Good Friday Agreement, entered building with bombs and weapons 24 November; Ulster Defence Association distanced itself from incident. Assembly reconvened 27 November; Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley signalled conditional acceptance of First Minister post after spring elections and Sinn Fein nominated Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister.
After EU Commission progress report 8 November criticising reform slow-down and warning to Ankara to open ports to Republic of Cyprus ships or risk disruption of EU accession process, and failure of Finnish initiative to reach compromise, EU Commission 29 November recommended suspension of negotiations on 8 key chapters; EU member- states set to decide at 11-12 December meeting, although Cyprus still threatening veto. 11 November state funeral of former PM Bulent Ecevit saw secularist protests against attending government ministers. Turkish army announced suspension of all military ties with France in protest of French National assembly passing of bill criminalising denial of 1915 Armenian “genocide”. Pope Benedict stated support of Turkey’s “integration into Europe” during controversial visit.
President Nazarbayev’s power consolidated after Civic Party merged with Nazarbayev’s Otan (Fatherland), country’s largest political grouping, 10 November.
New constitution establishing parliamentary checks on presidential power ratified by President Bakiyev 9 November. Adoption came after tense week of opposition mass protests demanding constitutional change or Bakiyev’s resignation. PM Feliks Kulov rejected opposition calls for his resignation after the crisis. Sanjar Kadyraliyev, widely considered to control much of drug trafficking and racketeering in south, sworn into parliament 20 November.
Incumbent Emomali Rahmonov won 6 November presidential elections with 79% of vote. Nearest rival, Olimjon Boboyev, (Economic Reforms Party) got 6%. Turnout reported at 90%, but OSCE said poll fell short of international standards.
President Niyazov dismissed 3 remaining regional governors, following similar October dismissals. Visiting German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticised Ashgabat for human rights record and democracy “deficit”.
EU, after intense debate, continued arms embargo and travel ban on senior Uzbek officials imposed following 2005 Andijon events, but announced resumption of bilateral “technical meetings” with aim of promoting dialogue on human rights. Alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir regional leader Komiljon Usmonov sentenced to 10 years. Tensions with Tajikistan underlined after Tajik border guard shot dead Uzbek guard 16 November and Uzbek military court sentenced 3 women and 2 men to 15-20 year prison terms for spying for Tajikistan.
President Evo Morales’s reforms met increased opposition, notably in Santa Cruz and eastern provinces. Despite opposition pledges to boycott discussion of agrarian reform bill, Morales’s MAS party steamrolled bill through senate, while 6 of 9 regional governors cut relations with Morales, and thousands marched 21 November in protest organised by civic groups and agro-businesses in Santa Cruz. Morales spoke of popular “revolt” and threatened disbanding of Senate to push through reforms, accusing opposition of injuring Bolivian democracy. MAS party also forced through controversial rules of procedure for Constituent Assembly after 3-month standoff, allowing constitutional changes by simple majority, although final document will require two-thirds’ vote.
FARC violence escalated as series of deadly attacks continued. Mortar attack on police in Tierradentro 1 November killed at least 17, including 3 civilians. Heavy fighting with army forces reported 21 November in Caqueta killed 14. FARC militias launched series of attacks in Cali slums. President Uribe faced growing scandal as investigations grew into links between paramilitary groups and politicians allied to him. Supreme Court charged Senators Alvaro Garcia and Jairo Merlano and Congressman Eric Morris with funding right-wing paramilitaries in Sucre, and 60 current or former members of Congress and politicians under investigation for signing agreement with ex-paramilitary chiefs in 2001 to push for peace deal.
Ecuador elected eighth president in ten years in 26 November elections. Left-wing economist Rafael Correa beat banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa with over 60% of vote. Noboa insisted on recount. Correa, friend of Venezuelan President Chavez, wants greater state control over economy, especially oil production, and pledged to remove or renegotiate U.S. presence in Manta military base, but faces uphill battle for legislative program without party representation in Congress.
Street rallies across country and some opinion polls confirmed rising popularity of opposition candidate Manuel Rosales ahead of 3 December presidential polls. Incumbent President Chávez still holds comfortable lead. Chavez has claimed Rosales plans coup for election period. National Electoral Council will allow auditing of voting machines in bid to allay opposition fears of voting irregularities. Along with Guatemala, Venezuela withdrew on 7 November to allow election of Panama to Security Council.
2 UN peacekeepers killed in ambush attack near Cité Soleil 11 November. Police reported sharp spike in kidnappings, while “Revolutionary Army” gang announced it would start killing police and UN peacekeepers after arrest of member. Haiti declared eligible for HIPC debt relief just prior to 30 November international donors session in Madrid where new pledges expected. Electoral preparations for mayoral, local council, and unfilled parliamentary seats incomplete ahead of 3 December polls.
Fragile Gaza ceasefire took hold 26 November, raising hopes for end to 4-month period of intense violence and destruction in Gaza Strip. PM Olmert offered economic incentives and possibility of negotiations and prisoner release in return for end to Palestinian violence, release of Cpl. Shalit and formation of internationally acceptable unity government. Month saw continued Israeli incursions, assassinations, bombardments and arrests, particularly in Gaza, and continuation of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns. Hamas and Fatah agreed to formula for unity government led by Hamas-nominated and President Abbas-approved PM Muhammad Shubair – but Abbas announced negotiations again stalled 29 November. Israeli operations in Beit Hanoun killed dozens of militants and civilians including 8 November shelling: killing 19 civilians. Hamas claimed responsibility for 23 November Gaza suicide blast by grandmother; Islamic Jihad for 6 November female suicide bomber in Beit Hanoun. Raids continued in West Bank: non-violent civilian protest campaign to protect militant homes resulted in temporary suspension of Israeli aerial demolition campaign. New peace initiative from Spain, backed by Italy and France, and including international peacekeepers in Gaza, rejected by Israel, but Olmert later recognised as positive parts of 2002 Saudi initiative. Israeli relations with UNIFIL (and Europe) deteriorated as IDF warplanes “buzzed” German ships and French positions on Blue Line in reaction to UN protests over Israel’s unilateral military manoeuvres in Lebanon.
Political killing and Shiite resignations increased polarisation and brought government close to collapse. Pierre Gemayel, Phalange politician and industry minister, became fifth anti-Syrian Lebanese politician to be killed in 2 years 21 November. Syria denied involvement. Mass funeral rally held 23 November and 2-day national strike 24/25 November. Ruling pro-Western March 14 coalition increasingly embattled after 6 Shiite cabinet members, including 2 Hizbollah, 3 Amal, 1 pro-Lahoud, resigned after coalition insisted on formal approval of UN tribunal on February 2005 Hariri killing. Removal of 2 more cabinet members would make two-thirds quorum impossible. Tribunal approved by cabinet 25 November but President Lahoud refused to give final approval without Shiite vote and called cabinet unconstitutional. Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated intention to bring down Siniora government unless national unity formula restored. Military on alert as Nasrallah called for mass “sit-in” protest 1 December in centre of Beirut. Political crisis amplified by sporadic riots and Sunni-Shiite clashes.
Damascus was focus of regional and international attention: Israeli officials claimed Syria actively preparing for war “next summer”; assassination of Lebanese industry minister Pierre Gemayel blamed on Syria and led to U.S. accusations of Syrian plot to overthrow Siniora government; and UN published allegations connecting Syria, Somali Salafists and Hizbollah. Controversial UN tribunal empowered to prosecute Hariri case likely to be continued source of tension between Damascus, Beirut and the West. Leader of Al-Tawheed Wal Jihad militant group blew himself up near Syrian-Lebanese border 29 November after being chased by security forces.
Majority Shiites and Sunni/Shiite Islamists made gains in 25 November parliamentary and municipal elections. Shiite Al Wefaq party won 16 of 17 seats it contested in 40- seat lower house. Runoff vote for 11 undecided constituencies due 2 December and will decide on lower house majority of either pro-government Sunnis or opposition alliance of Shiites and liberals. Shura Council, appointed by King Hamad, has final say over any legislation.
Tehran offered IAEA inspectors access to records and equipment from nuclear sites at Lavizan and Natanz and requested help building heavy-water reactor at Arak. IAEA rejected reactor request and president Mohammed ElBaradei suggested offer of access will not satisfy UN Security Council. Negotiations continued over U.S./EU3 draft resolution to impose sanctions. Iran declared itself ready to hold talks on regional issues if it receives formal U.S. request, but emphasised this would not signify Iran-U.S. rapprochement. Security talks between President Ahmadi-Nejad and Iraqi President Talabani held 29 November; Talabani claimed visit 100% succesful. Elections for Assembly of Experts, highest institutional authority with powers of appointing, dismissing and supervising supreme leader, due 15 December.
Sectarian violence rose to worst levels since U.S.-led 2003 invasion. 230 killed in 23 November bomb blasts in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City and retaliatory attacks on Sunni mosques 24 November. Spike in violence followed 14 November kidnapping raid by Shiite militia on Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education and retaliatory attacks on Shiite- run Health Ministry. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite group announced their temporary withdrawal from government in protest at PM Maliki’s meeting with U.S. President Bush in Jordan 30 November. Bush expressed support for Maliki and rejected rumours of U.S. gradual withdrawal. U.S. Defence Sec. Rumsfeld resigned following Republican defeat in mid-term elections; policy shift expected after report by bipartisan Iraq Study Group, due 6 December. Pentagon review of options reportedly favours short-term increase in troops with subsequent reduction coupled with long-term concentration on training and advising. Former President Saddam Hussein received death sentence for crimes against humanity; to appeal verdict. Agreement on restoring diplomatic ties with Syria, suspended for 20 years, announced 21 November.
Authorities shut down Aden port and deployed army around government institutions and foreign oil instillations 23 November in response to suicide attack threats by al-Qaeda. Court convicted 34 followers of Shiite cleric Hussein al-Hawthi, who led rebellion in early 2004, for plotting terrorist operations. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for 15 September suicide attacks on oil and gas facilities.
Clashes between suspected Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) militants and military continued: at least 18 soldiers and 2 security officers killed in clashes in Bouira, Ain Defla and Biskra regions and 15 militants killed in security sweeps 25, 28 November; media reported at least 60 deaths in clashes throughout month.
President Mubarak asked parliament to amend constitution to make it easier for candidates from opposition parties to run for president. Existing article 76, effectively limiting nomination rights to ruling National Democratic party, criticised by opposition as paving way for Mubarak’s son Gamal’s succession. Muslim Brothers called for resignation of Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni after his comment that Islamic veils “regressive” trend. 3 suspected Tawhid wa ‘l-Jihad members sentenced to death and 10 to prison for involvement in October 2004 Taba resort attack.
Legislative and municipal elections, first after August 2005 coup, held 19 November: 43 of 95 National Assembly seats decided, with seats where no candidate won 50% of vote to be decided in second round 3 December. Parties opposing former leader Sid’Ahmed Ould Taya, ousted by military, won 19 seats while independents gained 24.