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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In significant breakthrough, largest Hutu rebel group (FDD) signed agreement with government 8 October to implement ceasefire deal reached in December 2002 after decade of civil war killed estimated 300,000 of 6.5 million population. Agreement, requiring integration of armed forces, police and intelligence services, approved by Burundi parliament 22 October. Parties met in Pretoria 28 October to resolve remaining issues. Seven killed 13 October in Burundi's northern suburb in attacks blamed on second largest Hutu rebel group (FNL). Judges returned to work 22 October after 50-day strike. African Union peacekeeping mission in Burundi (AMIB) now at full strength of 3,128 troops.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on President Bozize to enlarge transitional government, allowing for broader consensus in administration and for delay of presidential election from 3rd qtr 2004 to period of Nov 2004-Apr 2005. 480 former soldiers out of 800 who returned from DRC reintegrated into army and public service.
65 massacred in town in Ituri province 6 October, of whom 40 were children. Dead predominantly from Hema tribe - Lendu tribe blamed for deaths. UN Mission (MONUC) began deploying more troops into region in attempt to prevent further ethnic bloodshed. At least 16 civilians killed in separate massacre in South Kivu province, eastern DRC, 6 October. UN investigating killings. Amnesty International accused Uganda of continued support for armed groups and economic plunder in Ituri; also claimed Rwanda still had troops in DRC – denied by Rwanda. UN expert panel reported “illegal exploitation [of resources] remains one of the main sources of funding for groups involved in perpetuating conflict.”
Ruling party, Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), overwhelmingly won country's first multiparty parliamentary election since 1994 genocide, with 74% of vote. EU observers said 30 September poll marred by “irregularities and fraud” in most provinces. Two-chamber parliament sworn in 10 October. President Kagame asked parliament to establish ombudsman’s office to which all government officials will be required to declare assets. Government seeking to demobilise thousands of soldiers.
Border dispute with Eritrea could erupt anytime, said Ethiopia’s PM Meles Zenawi 16 October. On 3 October Ethiopia again rejected independent boundary commission decision awarding disputed border village of Badme to Eritrea, shortly after UN Security Council told it to accept. Ethiopia says commission decision could lead to instability and return to war. Eritrea reacted with call for action from international community, describing situation as “explosive”. Independent border commission was to begin physically demarcating border in October, but now postponed indefinitely. Eritrea also dismissed claims by Ethiopia it was sponsoring terrorism in latter. UNMEE peacekeeping mission has warned that peace process under severe stress.
Peace talks in Kenya splutter on, but many key parties not attending or represented. Talks unlikely to be successful unless these participate. President Hassan, of Transitional National Government (TNG), controlling small area of Mogadishu, previously abandoned talks: now accuses Kenya and Ethiopia of derailing talks. TNG delegate murdered in Nairobi 20 October: motive unknown. One Italian and two British aid workers shot dead in self- declared republic of Somaliland: assailants unknown.
Peace talks going well, with parties committed to signing power sharing agreement by end of 2003. Signs continue to indicate imminent end to one of Africa’s longest conflicts, claiming perhaps 2m lives over 20 years. Outstanding issues include power and oil wealth sharing and status of Khartoum. Secretary Powell visited negotiators 22 October, pledging U.S. support for reconstruction once agreement reached. Widespread insecurity continues in Darfur, western Sudan, despite ceasefire, with more than 300,000 internally displaced persons in region. U.S. extended sanctions against Sudan for another year.
Rebel group Lords Resistance Army (LRA) clubbed and shot 22 civilians to death in northern trading town 14 October. LRA killed at least another 40 civilians in three other attacks. U.S. providing military assistance to government to fight LRA. Defence minister says Uganda-Sudan cooperation to fight LRA back on track.
UN World Food Programme says Angola has moved from crisis mode to recovery, and that about 3.8m people have returned to their areas of origin.
House of Assembly elections held 19 October. Elections marked by low voter turnout and boycott by pro- democracy groups. House only has advisory role to King Mswati III. Political parties are banned in Swaziland, and political gatherings prohibited.
Suppression of dissent continues – scores arrested on 8 and 22 October for protesting deteriorating economic conditions. Inflation now 455% and rising. MDC spokesman charged with trying to overthrow President Mugabe by encouraging general strike. Daily News newspaper closed in September, reopened 25 October after court ruled closure illegal, only to be shut down again by government 27 October: directors jailed for two days before bailed. Human Rights Watch issued report accusing government of using food aid as political weapon. Mugabe announced restructure of central bank, utilities and cabinet in effort to improve economic performance. Continued speculation that Mugabe in ill health – denied by government.
Opposition leader Norbert Tiendrebeogo arrested 20 October for alleged coup plot against President Blaise Campaore. 15 others already arrested. All to be tried before military tribunal. Public prosecutor alleges foreign backing for alleged plotters – possibly referring to Côte d’Ivoire.
Further deterioration in political situation. Presidents of Ghana and Nigeria met with President Gbagbo 30 October to discuss stand-off with rebels. Government arrested 11 members of two main opposition parties for alleged plot to assassinate government members. Government also claimed it thwarted plot to kill Roman Catholic cardinal. Army warned rebels holding north of country it would take action unless they returned to program of peace and disarmament. Tens of thousands marched in capital Abidjan 2 October calling on rebels to disarm. Rebel supporters reciprocated with own march in rebel-held northern town of Bouake 4 October. UN Security Council called on all parties to implement fractured peace agreement. French journalist shot dead by police officer - since arrested. Police chief sacked over murder.
Government announced 21 December as date for presidential elections. Ailing President Conte will seek further seven-year term. Conte flew to Cuba for ten days, apparently for medical treatment.
New transition government sworn in 3 October to lead until presidential elections in 18 months' time. Members of transitional government chosen by 56- member National Transition Council serving in place of parliament until new parliamentary elections.
Businessman Gyude Bryant sworn in as interim president 14 October. He and LURD rebels arguing over composition of transitional government. UN Security Council concerned former President Taylor still trying to exert influence in Liberia from exile in Nigeria. UNMIL peacekeeping mission replaced West African force 1 October: force won’t be fully deployed till 2004 – at full strength will number 15,000. Peacekeepers began disarming former government and rebel troops in limited areas. American involvement ended with last U.S. warship leaving coast 1 October. Government and rebel troops still committing atrocities against civilians in countryside.
Government closed only state-run university after protests by hundreds of students and launched crackdown on independent media, closing down 15 private radio stations and removing editors of two weekly newspapers.
More than 12 people killed in fresh ethnic violence in Niger delta town of Warri. Nigeria rated as second most corrupt country in world (after Bangladesh) by Transparency International in report released 9 October.
Lawyers for ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor appeared before Special Court 31 October to argue Taylor immune from prosecution. UNAMSIL Mission continuing its drawdown. First 80 of 800 Bangladeshi peacekeepers relocated to Liberia 8 October.
Dalai Lama said influx of ethnic Chinese into Tibet – spurred by Beijing – leading to “cultural genocide”. Chinese Government following similar policy in northwestern province of Xinjiang: Muslims now less than half population.
Net gains after volatile month. Pyongyang announced 2 October it had finished reprocessing 8,000 nuclear fuel rods (producing enough material for several nuclear bombs); said 16 October it would “physically display” its nuclear deterrent; then 20-25 October reportedly test fired short-range naval missiles into Sea of Japan. Cabinet-level talks between North and South Korea ended in deadlock 17 October. Following discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao on fringes of Bangkok APEC summit and with Japanese, Russian and South Korean leaders earlier, President Bush announced 19 October possibility of written multilateral security guarantee linked to North Korean steps on dismantling nuclear program, though not Senate-approved formal non-aggression pact demanded by Pyongyang. Having dismissed it days earlier as ‘laughable’, North Korea announced 26 October it was ‘ready to consider’ proposal if based on intention to coexist with DPRK; agreed on 30 October during visit of senior Chinese envoy Wu Bangguo to resume six-way talks early 2004.
Talk of independence back on front pages in Taiwan after President Chen Shui-bian called for new constitution in 2006 and right to hold referendums, and gave outspoken interview to Washington Post. U.S. officials responded with concern and reaffirmed support for “One China” principle. 100,000 marched in southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung in support of president, prompting rebuke from China.
UN Security Council resolution passed 13 October authorising expansion of NATO-led ISAF beyond Kabul. 150 German troops to be deployed to Kunduz by end 2003 and 450 by mid-2004, creating “island of security”; further ISAF “islands” planned. Long-awaited expansion welcome but minimal and insufficient to date. Battles between Afghan commanders in north claimed over 60 lives in first week of October. Ceasefire agreement signed between Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gen. Atta Mohammad 9 October broken by attack 25 October. Atta and Dostum to be moved to new positions in Kabul. Ambitious program to disarm and reintegrate 100,000 Afghan fighters finally underway. Pilot project commenced 24 October in Kunduz: 1,000 fighters laid down weapons. 11,500-strong coalition force continues to focus on south and east where regrouped Taliban forces target internationals and Afghan police and troops. UN humanitarian operations suspended in several southern provinces due to insecurity. Draft constitution circulated 20 October; initial reaction negative across political spectrum.
Hindu rallies 17 October in Ayodhya demanding construction of temple on site of demolished Babri mosque, flouting official ban. Fear thousands of protestors will reignite Hindu-Muslim violence that killed 3,000 in 1992 and hundreds since. Tensions simmer in north-east where some 30 banned insurgent groups (separatist and communist) operate. Assassination attempt against Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh state, Chandrababu Naidu 1 October. Police blame Maoist rebels, People’s War Group (PWG), who issued “death warrant”. Bihar state government to hold talks with Naxalite groups including PWG. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) rebels demanding Naga majority areas of Manipur be integrated into Nagaland state. 13 NSCN members released from jail provoking protests from United Committee of Manipur; “precautionary” curfew imposed (including police shoot-on- sight orders) to prevent violent response. More talks between NSCN and central government planned for November. BrahMos surface-to-surface missile test-fired 29 October.
In surprise move by India, fresh peace initiative launched 22 October, proposing 12 concrete steps toward Indo- Pak normalisation, including restoration of further transport links (including aviation and reopening of road between Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir) and renewal of sporting ties; but crucially, no discussion on Kashmir itself. Proposal broadly accepted by Pakistan, but disappointment expressed at “piecemeal” approach. Pakistani Foreign Minister Riaz Khokhar proposed four further confidence building measures; technical talks planned for November. India’s hard-line Deputy PM, L.K. Advani, offered talks with moderate faction of All Party Hurriyat Conference, (umbrella organisation for Kashmiri separatist groups) yet 35 members of both Hurriyat factions taken into ‘preventive detention’ for holding procession in Srinagar 27 October. Attempt 17 October by Muslim separatist group, Al- Mansoorian, to assassinate Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed provoked nine-hour battle between police and militants. Fighting continues across Line of Control. Government sources estimate 40,000 casualties since 1989; separatists claim more than 80,000.
After unprecedented anti-government riots rocked capital, Malé, in September, referendum held 16 October reinstating President Gavoom (sole candidate) for sixth five-year term.
Crisis deepening since talks between government and Maoist rebels collapsed 27 August, with more than 1,000 killed since breakdown of ceasefire. No progress made in instituting all-party government or restoring normal democratic process, although some vague discussion of local elections being held within year – unlikely prospect in current security environment. Fighting slowed during nine-day Hindu festival Dashain, (2-11 October), but again intensified; conflict remains bogged down in one of its most lethal periods.
Karachi on high alert after September violence and warnings of terrorist attacks. Prominent Sunni leader Maulana Azam Tariq killed by unknown gunmen in Islamabad 6 October. In response angry mobs rioted, torching cinema and destroying property. Violence flared again in Quetta 10-11 October: rocket and grenade attacks killed two. Government carried out three tests between 3-14 Oct of new missile capable of carrying nuclear warhead. Hunt for militants in northwest continues with little success, leading observers to question seriousness. Government began fencing parts of Afghan border 22 October.
LTTE (Tamil Tigers) meeting took place in Ireland between 10-15 October to consider government proposal of power-sharing body for north and east – LTTE presented counter-proposal to government 31 October. Document outlines ethnically representative interim assembly for five-year period followed by referendum on new constitution. Preliminary meeting planned for November and formal negotiations to recommence early 2004.
Key Bali bomber, Ali Gufron, alias Mukhlas, convicted and sentenced to death 2 October. Abu Rusdan, alias Thoriqudin, man believed to have replaced Abu Bakar Ba’asyir as JI leader, went on trial 29 October. JI regrouping after arrests and reportedly planning new attacks. Violence linked to protests over creation of new district in Mamasa, South Sulawesi 29 September-3 October killed three. After months of relative calm in area of Central Sulawesi near Poso, gunmen attacked Christian villages 10 October, torching church and 30 homes and killing three. Further attacks later in October killed at least ten more. By end of month, police had killed six of the gunmen including one of suspected masterminds, and arrested 13. Early indications suggest possible links to JI and local jihadist groups. Peace holding in Maluku where Christian-Muslim fighting has claimed at least 5,000 lives since 1999. Members of Papuan provincial parliament threatened to boycott 2004 general elections if plans to divide province go ahead. Military emergency declared in Aceh in mid-May formally ends 19 November but will almost certainly be extended; military operations against separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) continue, with access to province almost totally closed to foreigners, including humanitarian workers. GAM negotiators from collapsed peace talks convicted on terrorism and rebellion charges and sentenced to terms ranging from 11-15 years. Two killed in clashes between PDIP (governing party) and Golkar (opposition) supporters in Bali 26 October.
Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Kyaukse including arson attack on mosque 19 October killing nine. ASEAN welcomed “positive development” of government’s roadmap. U.S. officials said “no progress at all” and could be none until democratic opposition allowed full role in politics. UK, Japan and UN continue to demand Suu Kyi release and substantive talks with opposition. UN human rights envoy Paulo Pinheiro to commence six-day investigative trip 3 November.
Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member Taufik Rifki arrested 2 October; Philippine police call him key leader. Raid by military in Mindanao 19 October turned up bomb-making materials and instructions, and documents referring to JI, fuelling suspicion of cooperation between Indonesian and local militants (MILF denies links). After escaping jail in July, Indonesian JI leader Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi killed in alleged shoot-out with government troops 13 October. Al-Ghozi given martyr’s burial when body returned to Indonesia. Despite July ceasefire, government forces clashed with MILF rebels in Zamboanga 14 October, killing five. Talks underway in Norway between government and communist rebels, New People’s Army.
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. PNG government calling for additional assistance with police reform. Draft constitution proposed by Bougainville leaders to resolve final status of semi-autonomous province dubbed “flawed” by PNG Attorney General. Secessionist conflict claimed 20,000 lives between 1988-97. Government to seek extension of Bougainville UN observer mission for additional six months.
Security situation stabilising; Australian- led multinational intervention force began drawdown 27 October. Force to be reduced to 100 armed troops and 500 other military staff. Rapid reaction force will remain on high alert in Townsville, Australia, deployable within 24 hours. Leaders of all main rebel groups arrested; 3,700 weapons collected and destroyed.
High Rep. Paddy Ashdown reported Bosnia’s major ethnic groups beginning to cooperate: draft laws on intelligence and indirect tax reform formerly held up by political bickering now await parliamentary endorsement; integration of Serb and Bosniak armies under single national command finally underway. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson announced 9 October NATO would likely leave Bosnia within 12-18 months. One notable shortcoming is Bosnia’s cooperation with ICTY. U.S. State Department’s Pierre Richard Prosper said 7 October that NATO Partnership for Peace membership and European integration hinged on Karadzic arrest.
Tense and brief first official meeting between Belgrade and representatives of Kosovo’s provisional government took place in Vienna 14 October. Each side fielded downsized delegation after Kosovo PM Rexhepi declined to attend, and Belgrade threatened boycott following withdrawal of non- Albanians from Kosovo delegation. Delegations provisionally agreed to establish joint working groups on energy, transport, refugee return, and missing persons to meet from November, but PM Rexhepi yet to commit his government to join. Brief detention in Slovenia 22 October of Kosovo Protection Corps head General Ceku dismayed Kosovo Albanians – Interpol’s acceptance of dubious arrest warrant from Miliosevic-era Serbian judge highlighted Kosovo’s indeterminate status and its leaders’ vulnerability. UN police announced arrest 28 October of five Kosovo Albanians for war crimes.
Ethnic tensions persist. Voluntary disarmament program to commence 1 November. All political parties except Party for Democratic Prosperity have expressed support for program, but Democratic Party of Albanians mayors will not take part in training for scheme. EU military monitoring mission “Concordia” scheduled to wind up 15 Dec. 2003 by which time 200-strong EU police mission “Proxima” will be largely deployed.
Political crisis deepening. Government announced presidential elections to be held 16 November – despite failure to change Milosevic-era constitution or election law. Two elections late 2002 failed to pick president due to low voter turnout. Current government lost parliamentary majority; facing no confidence vote early November. Extremist opposition MP Dragan Markovic called for coup d’état 23 October. Anti- government trade union protests broken up by police 29 October. ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte revealed 13 October Serbian PM Zivkovic’s threat to end cooperation if "certain indictments" issued. Indictment unsealed 20 October accusing four senior police and army officials – Serbia refusing to extradite; wants to try them in domestic court. Massive police demonstration 24 October protesting indictment of police general Sreten Lukic. U.S. Congress considering halting aid to Serbia if Ratko Mladic (indicted in 1995) not handed to ICTY.
Ilham Aliyev, son of retiring president Heidar Aliyev, said to have received 77% of vote in widely-criticised presidential elections. At least three killed and hundreds injured in post-election violence as police attacked supporters of opposition leader Isa Gambar. International observers reported numerous violations, including ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation, and wave of politically motivated arrests.
Akhmad Kadyrov, Moscow’s hand- picked candidate for Chechen presidency, emerged victorious with reported 81% of 5 October vote. Despite official statements of high voter turnout, election widely seen as farce. Results did nothing to quell violence: according to Russian official, rebels launched 16 attacks against government positions in 24-hour period 18-19 October.
U.S. stepping up pressure on Tbilisi ahead of 2 November parliamentary elections, widely expected to be less than fair. Days after announcement U.S. cutting aid to Georgia, American delegation including Senator John McCain, former Chairman of Joint Chiefs John Shalikashvili, and former Deputy Sec. State Strobe Talbott met with government and opposition officials, saying Georgia’s international standing would receive “serious blow” if major election violations. President has rejected calls to postpone election until inaccuracies in voter lists cleared up. Rally 23 October by opposition National Movement in Batumi, capital of Ajara autonomous region, broken up by Ajaran security forces with 70 arrested. Elsewhere, two alleged Georgian gunmen shot dead in breakaway republic of Abkhazia after ambushing car full of Abkhaz officials, killing three. Settlement still nowhere in sight. Talks with unrecognised republic of South Ossetia also stalled.
OSCE Minsk Group reportedly planning attempt at kickstarting peace talks in wake of Azerbaijani presidential election 15 October, but group’s efforts have brought little progress to date.
European Council called on Russia 17 October to remove its military presence from Transdniestria by year’s end as promised, but troops look set to stay well into 2004. Reports that mediators’ proposal on breakaway region will be presented to parties in coming days.
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 4 November; if approved, to be put to referendum. Dependent legally, however, on 60% approval by national parliament. Spanish Government to challenge in constitutional court. 11 lorries bombed in Basque border town 12 October, Spanish national day – police blame Basque separatists ETA, who have carried out similar operations in previous years. French and Spanish police arrested 34 for suspected ETA links in joint operation. Government strongly denied ETA accusations of torture – UN envoy Theo van Boven to investigate in coming months.
Sporadic violence continues following failed autonomy referendum and arrests of eight separatists in July. Series of explosions 16-19 October indirectly targeting commercial interests linked to mainland France. Police barracks in southern Corsica hit by rocket 25 October. Corsican National Liberation Front bombed Paris tax office 11 October. 10 October attack on air force barracks in Nice also being investigated for link to Corsican separatists. Visits by French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy 16 and 30 October urging dialogue; new push to address organised crime link.
Decision by Turkish, Greek and Cypriot governments 15 October to cancel respective annual military exercises; jointly expressed support for plan to de-mine Cyprus. Progress unlikely in UN-led efforts to reunify Cyprus, however, until after December elections in Turkish Cyprus. Diplomatic push for UN-backed peace plan by U.S. ambassador elicited hostile reaction from Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, who described it as "diplomatically unethical, unacceptable, uninvited interference".
After hopes of major breakthrough, peace process frozen again over issue of IRA arms decommissioning. 26 November Northern Ireland Assembly election to go ahead nonetheless. IRA decommissioned significant cache of arms and explosives 22 October, verified by head of ceasefire monitoring commission, retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, but details not made public. Ulster Unionists, disappointed at lack of transparency, have put process “on hold”. British PM Blair unable to broker compromise. Concerted engagement by London and Dublin but faith eroding.
Government continues to bully opposition parties and independent-minded journalists. Recently banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) not allowed to re- register. Former leader of Republican People’s Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK), another opposition party, charged with tax evasion and fined $225,000. Andrei Doronin, journalist for independent daily Ekspress-K, allegedly beaten and told to give up journalism after publishing stories on losses to national budget due to shadow economy.
After international pressure, Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, vocal opposition group, had registration approved on fourth attempt, and government retracted demand that Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) re-register, but environment for civil society groups remains difficult. Border with Uzbekistan continuing source of tension.
Russian troops on Tajik-Afghan border seized over ton of illegal drugs 8 October. Year’s large poppy harvest in Afghanistan has led to increased trafficking and more seizures. Rumblings over border responsibility, with top Tajik official comments that Tajik forces ready and capable of taking over from Russian troops: latter have guarded border since 1993.
European Parliament adopted resolution condemning human rights abuses, and International Helsinki Federation called on EU states to push for similar condemnation from UN General Assembly. President Niyazov continues to run region’s most repressive regime, limiting population’s access to information, restricting travel abroad, and stifling dissent.
Journalist and rights activist Ruslan Sharipov remains in prison on sex charges after court rejected appeal. Trigger-happy Uzbek border guards drawing ire of neighbours Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan after fatal shootings in September and October. Heavy-handedness on part of security services risks further radicalising segments of Muslim population. Little danger of conflict in short term, but continuing repressive policies here, as elsewhere in region, risk future unrest.
President Sanchez de Lozada resigned 17 October following huge and increasingly violent protests. Replaced by Vice-President Carlos Mesa. 74 killed in clashes between army and strikers since beginning of protests in September, sparked by plans to export natural gas to U.S. Opposition to gas plan broadened into general hostility to president’s free market and coca eradication policies. Thousands march on capital as new president asks for patience.
Car bomb killed six and injured 12 on 8 October in central Bogota: FARC blamed. Two mayors slain after secret meeting with FARC, totalling nine mayors assassinated this year. Ceasefire between government and right-wing paramilitary group put in doubt by 13 October deadly clashes. Regional FARC number two leader killed by Colombian army 19 October. In run up to 25 October national referendum and 26 October local elections, at least 30 candidates killed by illegal groups; others intimidated into dropping out. 25 politicians detained as government claims rebel ties. Package of measures failed in referendum due to low voter turnout, and leftist candidate won election as mayor of Bogota, in setback to President Uribe.
Indigenous party planning civil protest campaign. President Lucio Gutierrez ended alliance with indigenous party in August. State of emergency declared in response to strike and blockades by banana growers, but lifted when strike called off.
Situation tense with clampdown on media. After officials seized broadcasting equipment from opposition TV channel, and grenade attack against state media agency, President Chavez announced TV stations could be shut down due to “destabilization and violence”. Chavez facing mounting opposition but resisting calls for referendum. After rejecting opposition petition for referendum last month National Electoral Council has allowed new petition to be sought from 28 Nov. to 1 Dec. Date criticised as too late but accepted by opposition. Referendum therefore possible by end March 2004. Pro- Chavez lawmakers claim U.S. backed anti-Chavez plot.
Climate of violence and intimidation as November presidential, legislative and local elections approach. Killing of political candidate 11 October brought to 21 number of candidates killed since beginning of election season. Upsurge of violence linked to candidacy of ex- dictator Rios Montt, allowed to run by July High Court ruling. Four Guatemalan journalists and one human rights activist kidnapped by former paramilitaries; later released.
Thousands protested against renewal of IMF debt payments 14 October, arguing government paying too high price for renewal.
Terrorist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) becoming more active, taxing Brazilian loggers and drug traffickers to access Peruvian markets. Ex-President Fujimori, in exile in Japan, announced intent to stand for 2006 presidential elections. Government announced torture charges against Fujimori, adding to charges already laid. New intelligence chief appointed after predecessor resigned in September following allegations of spying on journalists. Anger grows amongst coca farmers as U.S. and Peruvian governments eradicate plant.
Major escalation in Arab-Israeli conflict as Israel retaliated for devastating Haifa suicide bombing with first military attack on Syria since 1973 war. Air strike on apparently abandoned training camp near Damascus, seen as message to Syria that its support for Palestinian militants will no longer be tolerated, raised fears of possible broadening of conflict. Israeli aircraft struck five times in Gaza 20 October, killing 11 and injuring over 100, resulting in criticism – some internal – that attacks were disproportionate. Israeli army chief Lt-Gen Moshe Yaalon said government hardline policies damaging country’s interests. Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei will stay on to form new government after one- month term of emergency cabinet expires at beginning of November. Three Americans killed in Gaza 15 October when bomb exploded on road as U.S. diplomatic convoy drove past. In New York, U.S. vetoed UN Security Council resolution urging Israel to halt construction of security fence in West Bank.
Jordanian PM Ali Abul-Ragheb resigned after three years in office; replaced by Faisal al-Fayez, who vowed to push ahead with reforms. Three women appointed to new cabinet as King Abdullah moves to change face of government amid calls for country’s political modernisation.
Israeli soldier killed 7 October in clash on Lebanese border amid heightened regional tensions after Israeli raid on Syria days earlier. Second exchange of fire 27 October as Hizbollah guerrillas attacked Israeli positions in Shebaa Farms and Israel responded with air strikes.
Israeli strike on apparently abandoned training camp near Damascus first direct hostilities between two sides in 30 years. Risk of further escalation as Syria unlikely to satisfy Israeli demands that it stop supporting Palestinian militants. U.S. House of Rep. voted to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on Damascus as American officials complained Syria taking almost no steps to stem terrorism.
After negotiations with foreign ministers of UK, France, and Germany, Iran agreed 21 October to all major IAEA demands regarding nuclear program, including temporary suspension of uranium enrichment, meaning issue now unlikely to be referred to Security Council on passing of 31 October IAEA deadline. But no word on how long suspension of enrichment activities will last. U.S. cautioned that Iran’s actions must match words, and that it must sign Additional Protocol of Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi won Nobel Peace Prize
UN voted unanimously 16 October in favour of U.S.- sponsored resolution authorising multinational, American-led force for Iraq. But resolution unlikely to result in major contributions. Turkey offered up to 10,000 troops, but strong resistance to potential Turkish military presence from Iraqi Kurds. Significant but insufficient cash pledged at Madrid donors conference. Resolution set 15 December deadline for Iraqi Governing Council to lay down timetable for drafting constitution and holding elections. Meanwhile, intense violence continues to plague country, predominantly Sunni triangle. Wave of suicide bombings struck Baghdad Red Cross building and police stations 27 October, first day of Ramadan, killing at least 35 and wounding over 200. Barrage of rockets hit Al-Rashid hotel 26 October, where Deputy Sec. Defense Paul Wolfowitz staying. Hundreds of other attacks kept tensions high throughout month. 131 Coalition soldiers, including 120 Americans, killed by hostile fire since 1 May, declared end of combat operations. National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice reportedly taking increased role in post-war stabilisation effort.
Government announced intention to hold municipal council elections within a year. Elections would be first ever for kingdom, and are reportedly initial stage of three-step plan to have elections at city level and ultimately national level over three years. Vote unlikely to include women. Authorities arrested more than 150 people for staging rare protest in Riyadh calling for political reform and announced apprehension of terror suspects planning suicide attacks.
Government continues to walk fine line between supporting U.S. in war on terror and appeasing largely anti- American populace. Authorities say Islamist militants arrests in recent weeks confessed to planning attacks on U.S. and British embassies.
On two-day visit, U.S. Assistant Sec. State William Burns said cooperation with Algeria in war on terror would intensify, and expressed concern over Islamist guerrilla group’s pledge of support for al Qaeda. Following reported death of eight soldiers 1 October, Algerian Islamist rebels suspected of killing further three in attack on police patrol 18 October.
Ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) adopted platform of wide-ranging reforms at party conference; to what extent proposals will be implemented remains to be seen. 900 Islamists released from prison, but estimates put number of political prisoners at close to 10,000.
Five opposition candidates given permission by Constitutional Court to challenge President Taya in 7 November elections. One candidate is former military leader Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, who was overthrown by Taya in coup 19 years ago.
King Mohammed VI announced plans to grant new rights to women regarding marriage and divorce. On three-day visit to Morocco, President Chirac praised King's steps towards democratic reform. Man arrested in Spain in connection with Casablanca bombings. U.S. announced plans for substantial increase in financial aid to Morocco for 2004.
At recent congress of Polisario Front, Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz reaffirmed support for UN-brokered Baker Plan. In Morocco visit, President Chirac pledged support for country’s continued rejection of plan, increasing fears France likely to shield King from Security Council pressure to reach settlement. Kofi Annan issued statement 21 October urging Morocco to accept Plan; reports suggest King looking for solution outside UN framework through talks with Algeria. UN mission (MINURSO) extended to January 2004.