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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Peace process remained on hold as rebel Palipehutu-FNL refused to attend talks mediated by Charles Nqakula and internal FNL clashes continued. Truce Monitoring Commission resumed activities 20 October; FNL denounced meeting as “meaningless”. FNL attacks on dissidents opposed to Agathon Rwasa included killing of 3 in Bujumbura 13 October and at least 11 south of Bujumbura 21 October. Government troops moved into separate factions 25 October. Consultations between President Pierre Nkurunziza’s governing CNDD-FDD and opposition FRODEBU and UPRONA toward power-sharing agreement continued.
President Francois Bozize presented new development strategy to EU and UN in Brussels 26 October: called for $1.6 billion for projects, including military reform.
Mixed fortunes in month with simultaneous peace agreement and escalation of violence. Four rebel groups - Movement for Resistance and Change, National Accord of Chad and 2 factions of Front for United Forces for Development and Democracy - signed agreement with government 26 October, including immediate ceasefire, amnesty and release of all prisoners. Earlier in month: state of emergency called in eastern and northern regions after ethnic clashes; another rebel group, United Front for Democratic Change, fought government soldiers along Sudan border despite earlier peace deal.
Tension over rebel chief Frédéric Bitsangou’s (aka Pasteur Ntumi) September failure to take up government post continued. Hardliners in presidential circles reportedly preparing military offensive against him. President Sassou Nguesso set 31 December deadline for Ntumi and followers to disarm and assemble in Brazzaville.
President Paul Kagame’s special envoy to Great Lakes region, Dr Sezibera, claimed DRC military arming FDLR. DRC-based rebels fired into Rwandan territory 30 September, second attack in 6 months. Rwandan genocide suspect Dominique Ntawukuriryayo arrested in France 18 October; to be transferred to ICTR in Arusha. Kigali announced inquiry into April 1994 plane crash that killed former President Juvenal Habyarimana: 2006 French investigation accused President Paul Kagame of involvement.
Risk of escalated conflict across border as end-November Boundary Commission deadline means border will be “automatically demarcated” if parties’ positions unchanged. Eritrea accused Ethiopia 20 October of plot to invade: claim rejected. Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis called 8 October for military build-up to counter possible Eritrean aggression.
Ogaden National Liberation Front claimed 250 Ethiopian troops killed in clashes in Wardher region 20-21 October. Government denied number but admitted local government-aligned militia may have been involved. PM Meles Zenawi accused opposition of collaborating with insurgent Oromo Liberation Front, after Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement leader Bulcha Demeksa complained about government arrests and harassment in region.
Violence flared again in Mogadishu at month end with clashes between Ethiopian/Somali troops and Islamist rebels. At least 20 killed, over 30,000 reportedly fled city. PM Ali Geedi resigned 29 October after continued rift with President Abdullahi Yusuf and speculation of imminent vote of no confidence. Yusuf appointed interim successor - Salim Aliyow Ibrow - from Digil-Mirifle clan. Ugandan peacekeepers attacked with mortars while guarding Mogadishu port 24 October, same day 8 died when bus hit landmine; gun battles erupted 16 October. Aid temporarily halted after UN’s WFP head in Mogadishu arrested, then released 23 October. Attacks on journalists increased including assassination of acting head of Radio Shabelle 19 October.
Forces loyal to Somaliland administration took control of capital of disputed Sool region, Las Anod, 15 October. At least 10 killed in heavy fighting. Puntland authorities said takeover led to estimated 20,000 internally displaced and potential humanitarian disaster. Somaliland dismissed claims. Disputed Sool and Sanag regions increasingly tense with local clans co-opted by both sides.
SPLM announced temporary suspension of participation in Government of National Unity (GNU) 11October due to delays in CPA implementation. Issues include Abyei, oil revenue distribution, SAF’s full withdrawal from South and demarcation of N/S border. SPLM to rejoin GNU only when demands begin to be implemented - gave 9 January 2008 deadline. Move pulled international attention back to N/S issues ahead of 27 October Darfur peace talks in Sirte, Libya. Government announced unilateral ceasefire as talks began but main rebel factions JEM and SLA-Unity not among 6 groups represented. Talks adjourned 30 October to allow further consultations between mediators and rebel groups in Darfur before actual negotiations start. JEM attacked Chinese-run oil facility at Diffra in Kordofan (Abyei) 25 October. AU and UN investigated reports government troops and allied militias killed over 30 civilians in Muhagiriya, southern Darfur 8 October. UN reported hundreds forced out of refugee camp in Nyala, South Darfur by Sudanese soldiers and police 29 October. Khartoum said would not accept any Europeans in hybrid AU/UN Darfur force 27 October. UNSC extended mandate of UNMIS by 6 months, 31 October.
“Consultation” process underway as LRA representatives visited Kampala 29 October to lay groundwork for higher-level meetings. Talks between government and LRA in Juba remain stalled as transitional justice issues unresolved. ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo insisted 11 October that LRA leaders be arrested; LRA accused Moreno-Ocampo of “undermining” mediation efforts. Ugandan reports of dispute between LRA leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti denounced as “government propaganda” by rebels. UN officials in DRC announced LRA commander Opiyo Makasi in custody 23 October.
AU Peace and Security Committee voted 10 October to impose 45-day sanctions on leadership of Anjouan island, including travel ban, asset freeze. Standoff between Anjouan President Bacar and federal government continued over Bacar’s refusal to organise new elections.
Reported deal between negotiators from ZANU- PF and opposition MDC marked by signing of draft constitution under South African mediation 30 September. Draft must now be approved by respective parties. Ahead of December ZANU- PF party congress, newspaper reported President Mugabe named 4 potential successors: Emmerson Mnangagwa, Sydney Sekeramayi, John Nkomo and Simba Makoni. MDC said government crackdown escalating, met with home affairs minister to lodge complaint. Government reportedly stepping up drive to expel 600 remaining white farmers after expiry of 30 September deadline for leaving country.
UNSG Ban Ki-moon reported “slackening of momentum” in peace process 1 October; 19 October UN report claimed reduced cooperation in arms monitoring – in particular by Republican Guard units. UNSC adopted resolution for one-year extension of sanctions 29 October.
First National Assembly address by PM Kouyaté 11 October set out program ahead of elections now likely first quarter 2008; met political party leaders 12 October to discuss electoral preparations. Still no functioning electoral commission after opposition delays in agreeing common list of candidates.
Withdrawal of 2,450 UNMIL troops started, despite UNSC recognition peace remains fragile. In public broadcast, President Johnson Sirleaf claimed “enemies of state” undermining government; opposition leaders said this constituted threat to their security. Alleged coup-plot trial continued: defence moved for dismissal 16 October claiming state failed to produce weapons allegedly used to commit murder, and to name individuals believed murdered.
Situation remained tense despite 18 September truce between government and Ibrahima Bahanga’s Tuareg splinter group. Government troop build-up in remote north continued. Pro-government Tuareg leaders met Bahanga 17 October, in new bid to secure release of remaining hostages.
Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) promised return to violence after Ramadan truce; refused to engage in dialogue without government recognition of rebellion. MNJ claimed killed 12 soldiers in north 27 October. Government ordered NGO Médecins sans Frontières to leave north 23 October, after MSF trucks hijacked. State of emergency remained in force for Agadez region; media repression continued. 200 journalists protested in Niamey against arrests and media restrictions 20 October.
Separate electoral courts nullified elections of 3 ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governors in Kogi, Kebbi and Rivers states. Human Rights Watch released report dismissing April elections as “farce”. Court handling opposition petitions against President Yar’Adua merged petitions of main parties in move that acknowledges previous hearings excessively delayed. Leaderships of federal legislative houses continued to battle corruption allegations. Brawl between members of lower house led to death of MP 17 October: continued impasse in lower house, corruption accusations and blackmail in senate eroding public confidence in legislature. Niger Delta remained unstable despite military presence and curfews. Kidnappings escalated after MEND ceasefire ended September. Colombian oil worker killed during attack 10 October, 1 naval officer 31 October. VP Goodluck Jonathan announced delayed Niger Delta peace and development summit to be held November. Ijaw leaders support initiative; other Delta ethnic groups less positive.
President Koroma addressed new parliament, 5 October; pledged to implement recommendations of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Former leaders of pro- government Civil Defense Force, Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa, sentenced by Special Court 9 October, to 6 and 8 years respectively; denounced by prosecution as too lenient.
Beijing issued 6-party joint statement 3 October confirming capitals had approved 30 September agreements: DPRK will submit complete declaration of nuclear programs, disable nuclear reactor, reprocessing plant and fuel fabrication plant at Yongbyon complex by year end. U.S. envoy Christopher Hill suggested declaration could come mid-November. Pyongyang inter-Korean summit 2-4 October produced pledge toward formal peace and enhancement of economic and cultural ties. China suspended rail links into the DPRK 11 October, “critically affecting” WFP food distribution.
Taiwan held first National Day military parade in 16 years 10 October at which President Chen Shui-bian criticised mainland’s “relentless military build-up”. Chen agreed to return as leader of Democratic Progressive Party: first said independence to be centre of campaign for March 2008 presidential elections, later clarified referendum on UN membership not step toward independence but opposition to unification. PRC President Hu Jintao called for official peace agreement with Taiwan at CPC Congress 15 October opening but said would never compromise on independence.
Following President Karzai’s stated openness to talks, some Taliban commanders in Helmand reportedly submitted demands for control of 10 southern provinces, timetable for foreign troop withdrawal and release of all Taliban prisoners; agreement on any unlikely. Death of key southern figure Mullah Naqib 11 October raised possibility of power struggle within Alokozai tribe leaving outskirts of Kandahar vulnerable to Taliban attack or infiltration; fighting between Canadian ISAF troops and Taliban moved closer to city 30 October. At meeting of NATO defence ministers 24-26 October, ISAF commander McNeill and others called for greater troop burden-sharing among member nations, but few substantial commitments made. 2 further suicide attacks in Kabul in first week of month marked 6-year anniversary of U.S. invasion. UNDSS reported violent incidents had risen 30% from 2006 levels.
Dhaka University reopened peacefully after 2- month shutdown following August’s bloody student protests against military. Government’s crackdown on corruption continues. Former PM Khaleda Zia still in jail after Supreme Court reversed lower court’s decision to release, but anti- corruption commission cleared her on 2 counts 26 October. Government planning truth commission on corruption that could provide conditional amnesty to businesspeople. Election commission said polls as early as October 2008 if voter list finished by July; substantial challenges remain.
Security forces in Punjab raised alert 14 October after apparent “terrorist attack” killed 6 in Ludhiana city cinema; police blamed Sikh militants. 3 days earlier, small blast at Muslim shrine in neighbouring Rajasthan killed 3 on eve of Eid celebrations; no claim of responsibility. Attack by Naxalites on cultural festival in Jharkhand 27 October killed 17.
In step towards normalisation, commercial lorries crossed India-Pakistan border for first time since partition at Punjab’s Wagah border post 1 October. Pakistan President Musharraf announced political and administrative reforms for Northern Areas 23 October, giving regional assembly greater say in regional administration; move rejected in Northern Areas as attempt to bypass real political reform.
President Gayoom announced strict measures to curb Islamic extremism after September Malé bombing. 16 October decree bans entry of foreign clerics without explicit permission, outlaws full covering for women and promotes moderate Islam in schools. Opposition MDP said move would exacerbate extremism.
Constituent Assembly polls postponed indefinitely after crisis talks 5 October failed to bring Maoists back into government. Deadlock persists over Maoist demands to vote on republic prior to elections and shift to full proportional representation.
Army stepped up offensive against militants in Tribal Areas in response to 6 October ambush near Mir Ali in North Waziristan; 9 October raids included heavy air attacks. Fighting also surged in Swat valley, NWFP, after army deployed over 2,000 troops 23 October to fight militants linked to pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah. 21 soldiers killed in attack on army convoy in Mingora 25 October; heavy casualties and many displaced as fighting followed. Temporary ceasefire reported 29 October by Fazlullah’s illegal radio broadcast, but fighting resumed quickly. Bloody attack on participants in 18 October Karachi rally to mark PPP leader Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile killed 140, injured more than 500; Bhutto unhurt. Her allegations 2 chief ministers and agency officials involved led to strained relations with Musharraf government. Other deadly suicide attacks followed at Rawalpindi police checkpoint near Musharraf’s army HQ 30 October and on air force bus in Sarghoda 1 November. Musharraf re-elected president 6 October by standing assemblies (PPP boycotted; all other opposition parties resigned from assemblies) but Supreme Court must still rule on his eligibility. Caretaker government due to take over 15 November.
Heavy losses incurred at Anuradhapura air base in 22 October LTTE combined air and ground raid; 20 rebel suicide cadres and 13 soldiers killed; at least 8 aircraft damaged or destroyed. 3 unusual LTTE attacks in south east, including ambush near Yala wildlife park, left 7 soldiers dead. Heavy fighting continued in north, especially near Vavuniya. UN human rights commissioner Louise Arbour called for monitoring mission after 5-day visit 15 October; government rejected. UN torture rapporteur raised alarm that torture “prone to become routine” in government’s counter-terrorism operations.
Tribal clash in mid-October between Dani and Amungme tribes in Mimika, Papua; 8 reported killed. Crackdown on illegal weapons in Aceh after several high-profile armed robberies and murders by GAM members.
Ruling junta continued to suppress dissent in crackdown that began 26 September and saw possibly hundreds killed, some 3,000 arrested (official death toll 10). Yangon curfew lifted 20 October but troops redeployed 26 October, arrests continue. Monks returned 31 October to Pakokku streets, where demonstrations accelerated early September. UNSC issued first-ever statement on situation in Myanmar 11 October: “strongly deplored” violent repression of demonstrators and called for prisoners’ release. Statement followed Yangon visit by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who returns to Myanmar early November after visiting neighbouring countries. EU, U.S. expanded targeted sanctions, while Chinese, Russian and Indian FMs, in 24 October trilateral, urged junta to cooperate with Gambari mission. After refusing talks with junta 9 October, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Gen. Aung Kyi 25 October; outcome of talks unknown. Junta announced formation of 54-member committee on new constitution 19 October as part of “road map” to democracy; no opposition figures included.
Government said 23-24 October talks with MILF representatives in Kuala Lumpur yielded agreement on long-contentious ancestral domain issue; details sketchy but exploratory talks to resume 14 November. Former president Joseph Estrada given presidential pardon 25 October, 2 weeks after conviction on plunder charges led to life sentence. 19 October explosion at Manila mall killed 11; police downplayed claim by small Muslim group and suggested gas leak possible cause.
Former soldier Vicente Conceicao (aka Railos) arrested 3 October for role in 2006 violence, specifically for 9 deaths in Taci Tolu/Tibar 24 May 2006. Court of Appeal ordered re-trials in 2 high-profile cases of politically-related violence: May 2006 attack on house of army commander Taur Matan Ruak, and murder of CNRT supporter during June parliamentary elections. Timorese man shot dead by Indonesian border troops, 26 October, after allegedly attacking soldiers when confronted. Parliament approved government’s transitional budget 9 October.
First coordinated bombings in South since government sweep operations began in June hit parts of Narthiwat 1 October. In Bangkok, new army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda ordered military reshuffle 4 October. Cabinet endorsed watered down version of national security bill 16 October; bill still gives sweeping search and detention powers to Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), but with PM at head not armed forces chief.
Coup leader Frank Bainimarama committed to March 2009 deadline for free elections to replace military government at Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga 18 October; quoted in press reports day later saying deposed PM Laisenia Qarase would be barred from standing.
Parliament began procedure to strip immunity of FM Lulzim Basha over investigation into corruption allegations. EU granted Tirana €200m for economic, political and judicial reform 18 October.
Serious deterioration in political situation after ongoing police reform dispute eclipsed by Bosnian Serb reactions to High Representative Lajcak’s 19 October proposals to counter obstructionism in state-level government and legislative processes. PM Spiric resigned 1 November following similar threats from Republika Srpska (RS) PM Dodik and other leading Serb officials. Rallies against changes held throughout RS 29 October; RS assembly rejected proposals and called for elimination of Lajcak’s Bonn powers 30 October. Russian Deputy FM Titov called for closure of Office of High Representative. Serbian PM Kostunica accused Lajcak of trying to destroy RS and, for first time, linked Dayton Accord with Kosovo status process. UK, U.S., France, Germany and Italy issued demarche to Belgrade 30 October. Peace Implementation Council, meeting 31 October, noted “utmost concern” over deterioration; laid responsibility with political leaders from both entities blocking progress. 6 governing party chiefs agreed to EU police reform principles 27 October after Lajcak’s rejection of September Bosniak-Serb “deal”; details to be formulated in parliament.
Status talks continued in Vienna: U.S.-EU-Russia troika proposed 14-point agenda to govern post-status Kosovo-Serbia relations, modelled on East-West Germany agreement of 1972, avoiding mention of independence, 22, 29 October. Belgrade objected because independence not ruled out. EU agreed additional preparations for 2,000-strong post- status missions 2 October. Kosovo parliamentary, mayoral and municipal assembly elections due 17 November. Concerns raised over Kosovo Serb participation as Belgrade ordered boycott. Serbia PM Kostunica linked Kosovo status process with Bosnia’s Republika Srpska for first time 25 October (see Bosnia above), while FM Jeremic stated planned EU mission would need UNSC approval 29 October. Deputy PM Djelic claim Belgrade wanted Kosovo to take over its share of debt repayment refuted by Minister for Kosovo Samardzic. Local media showed footage 4 October of self-proclaimed Albanian National Army members threatening violent struggle; Serb equivalent, Tsar Lazar Guard militia, prevented from entering Kosovo 14 October. Kosovo police arrested Milazim Bytyqi, suspected of killing 14 Serb civilians in July 1999.
Constitutional Court President Jusufi and judge Polozani resigned over court ruling restricting display of Albanian flag on public buildings 30 October. EU expressed concern over reform process during PM Crvenkoski’s visit to Brussels 3-5 October. Policeman killed in car attack in Tanusevci near border with Kosovo 25 October. UN-hosted talks with Greece on name due 1 November after Athens threatened to veto Skopje’s NATO accession; suspended financial aid 17 October. 5,000 rallied in Tetevo 19 October for Kosovo independence. New centrist Party of Free Democrats formed around former parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski.
EU postponed signature of Stabilisation and Association Agreement after ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte gave critical assessment of Serbia’s cooperation 15 October. Del Ponte visited Belgrade 25-27 October to prepare final report on cooperation with tribunal. Split in Serbia’s Islamic community widened as Belgrade-backed clergy attempted to oust Mufti Zukorlic with support from Novi Pazar Mayor Ugljanin. 4 former members of paramilitary group “Scorpions” arrested in Sremska Mitrovica 19 October. 56 neo-Nazis detained in Novi Sad 8 October after clashes with antifascist counter demonstrators.
Former president Levon Ter Petrosian announced presidential candidacy at mass rally in Yerevan; repeated strong criticism of current government and Nagorno-Karabakh policy. President Kocharian relieved judge Ohanian of duties on Council of Justice advice: series of irregularities in some 20 court cases cited, but supporters said punished for his acquittal of 2 businessmen who alleged high-level customs corruption.
Baku trial of 16 accused of Northern Mahdi Army membership, seeking to impose Sharia and espionage for Iran, began 8 October. Court for Grave Crimes sentenced newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev 8.5 years for article alleging Baku could support U.S. operation against Iran. Security Ministry announced had thwarted major attack on U.S. and government targets in 27 October operation on unnamed Wahhabi group near Baku; 1 suspect killed, several arrested. Former Economic Minister Farhad Aliyev sentenced 10 years for corruption 31 October. Presidential administration announced formation of state council to assist NGOs 17 October; activists fear measure aimed at controlling work.
Separatist leader Doku Umarov declared all those forces fighting Muslims in world legitimate targets. Rebel ambush on interior ministry servicemen convoy left 4 Russian policemen dead 7 October.
Georgia-Russia relations tense after 30 October incident at Georgian youth camp in Georgian-controlled area of Abkhazia. Tbilisi accused Russian peacekeepers of detaining several policemen; President Saakashvili declared peacekeeping force commander Sergey Chaban persona non grata. UNSC extended UN Observer Mission 6 months, expressed concern over recent clashes, called on sides to ensure freedom of movement for observers and peacekeepers, and reaffirmed right of refugee and IDP return 15 October. 1 man killed in 17 October incident: Sukhumi said customs guard shot by Georgian guards; Tbilisi said returned fire on man trying to board stolen vehicle. Conflict resolution minister Davit Bakradze met de facto Abkhaz foreign minister Sergey Shamba in Sukhumi 25 October; agreed to release 7 Abkhaz militiamen captured in 20 September clash and resume weekly quadripartite talks on local security near ceasefire line, suspended since November 2006. Situation also remained tense in South Ossetia with continuation of shooting incidents and ongoing construction of bypass road connecting Georgian-administered enclaves. Joint Control Commission met in Tbilisi 23-4 October for first time since August 2006; no agreement, but security, freedom of movement and OSCE-led rehabilitation discussed. Major opposition rally due in Tbilisi 2 November following series of anti-government protests.
OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs conducted shuttle diplomacy between Baku and Yerevan 24-27 October, meeting with Armenian President Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Aliev: U.S. co-chair Matthew Bryza quoted in local media saying framework agreement might be reached by sides by spring of 2008.
Violence continued in Ingushetia and Dagestan. In Ingushetia, 3 ethnic Russians shot dead by gunmen in Karabulak. In Dagestan, 2 bomb attacks 23 October on minibus and taxi killed 1 suicide bomber; police officer and militant reported killed in 25 October clash in Khasavyurt Raion. President Putin said security situation alarming but controllable.
At least 8 opposition activists arrested before 14 October European March for Freedom in Minsk; 6,000 held peaceful pro-EU rally. Ministry of Justice and Supreme Court denied registration of opposition group Youth Front, women’s party Hope and Milinkevich’s Movement for Freedom.
Transdniestrian de facto court sentenced 2 men to 9-10 years for making bomb which exploded on Tiraspol bus in July 2006.
Yulia Timoshenko bloc (BYuT) and Our Ukraine- People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) signed coalition agreement after Central Election Commission issued final results of 30 September parliamentary elections. In new assembly Party of Regions will have 175 seats, BYuT 156 seats, NUNS 72 seats, Communist Party 27 seats, and Lytvyn Bloc 20 seats. Turnout officially confirmed at 62%.
Police arrested 25 leading members of banned separatist Batasuna party 2, 4 October; provisionally charged 17 with membership of armed group. ETA suspected in car bomb attack on bodyguard of local counsellor in Bilbao 9 October. PM Zapatero rejected Basque regional president Ibarretxe’s proposals for a 2008 referendum on region’s future relationship with Spain. Basque Country judge ruled Ibarretxe and 2 Socialist Party members must stand trial for meeting Batasuna leaders in 2006, early 2007.
Cypriot and Greek governments protested strategic partnership agreement signed by British and Turkish PMs Brown and Erdogan 23 October; said document’s call to promote direct commercial, political and economic ties with Turkish Cypriots and reference to TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) promoted partition. London reaffirmed support for unity of island and UN settlement efforts. Turkish Cypriot leader Talat met UNSG Ban Ki-moon 16 October; urged more active UN support for negotiations restart.
Decision by Social Development Minister Ritchie to cut Conflict Transformation Initiative funding to Ulster Defence Association (UDA) on ground that group still involved in violence, condemned by protestant colleague Finance Minister Robinson. Exchange came week after UDA failed to meet 9 October deadline to start weapons decommissioning. 20 October fatal assault on truck driver suspected of cross-border fuel smuggling linked by family to IRA; claim rejected by local Sinn Fein leaders.
Tense month as Ankara stepped up threats to launch major anti-PKK offensive into Iraq unless action taken against group by Iraqi regional and national authorities and U.S.; parliament gave government 1-year authorisation for cross- border action 17 October. FM Babacan communicated 6 demands in Baghdad for “concrete action” against PKK. After initial hardline comments by Iraq President Talabani, Iraqi officials pledged cooperation in flurry of bilateral ministerial meetings; Iraqi PM al-Maliki called for halt to PKK presence on Iraqi soil and FM Zebari pledged checkpoints to stop supplies to PKK. Turkey rejected as inadequate offer by visiting Iraqi officials of new coalition bases near mountain ranges used by PKK. Tensions rose further after 12 soldiers killed, 8 abducted by PKK 21 October. Mass protests against Kurdish separatism held throughout country and in Turkish diaspora; pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party buildings attacked by protestors; some 20 violent incidents in all. Army stepped up operations and massed troops in border region, shelling Northern Iraq villages and mounting air strikes on border mountain passes; said over 80 PKK rebels and 34 soldiers killed on Turkish territory over month. PM Erdogan and U.S. President Bush due to meet 5 November; U.S. Sec. State Rice to visit Ankara 2 November and Turkey to host Iraq neighbours meeting in Istanbul 2-3 November. Ankara recalled ambassador to Washington in protest of 10 October U.S. congressional committee vote condemning Armenian genocide; full House of Representatives vote postponed. EU Turkey accession progress report due 6 November.
Former son-in-law of President Nazarbayev, Rakhat Aliev, accused him of ordering 2006 murder of opposition leader Sarsenbayev. Earlier in month officials suggested remains of 1 of 2 missing Nurbank executives, over which Aliev implicated, found. OSCE ministers due to decide 29-30 November on Kazakhstan bid for chairmanship.
President Bakiyev dissolved parliament 22 October, day after constitutional amendments broadening parliamentary powers, increasing presidential prerogatives and altering electoral system approved by 75% of registered voters in referendum. OSCE received numerous local observer reports of procedural violations, including ballot-stuffing. Parliamentary elections under new party list system set 16 December. New pro-presidential Ak Jol Eldik party founded and registered 15 October; Bakiyev suspended active chairmanship shortly after. Uzbek-language newspaper editor Alisher Saipov, vocal critic of Uzbek government, shot dead in Osh by unknown gunman 24 October. Interior ministry alleged Saipov had “close ties” to Islamist groups; activists and politicians suggested ministry under pressure from Uzbekistan. Bishkek military court gave former prosecutor Kudaibergenov and former provincial police chief 5-year suspended sentences for involvement in 2002 Aksy protestor shootings; former minister Dubanaev acquitted.
Khatlon regional authorities instructed imams to stop students from attending mosque prayers, citing school absence. Culture ministry ordered 3-month suspension of Jehovah’s Witness and 2 other Christian organisations’ activities, citing rejection of military service.
Latest amnesty saw release of 8,853 prisoners, but excluded most government opponents and former officials. President Berdimuhammedov dismissed National Security Minister Ashirmukhammedov and Interior Minister Annagurbanov 8 October; criminal cases reportedly launched against both.
EU suspended travel ban on officials involved in 2005 Andijon massacre 15 October; agreed to review human right situation April 2008 to decide whether to re-impose or end restrictions. Pressure on journalists and opposition continued, including 23 October arrest of rights activist Karim Bozorboyev. Uzbek-language newspaper editor in Kyrgyzstan Alisher Saipov shot dead 24 October (see Kyrgyzstan). Bukhara court sentenced 8 men 3-10 years for Hizb ut-Tahrir membership.
Renewed tension in eastern departments: protestors stormed Santa Cruz airport 18 October and clashed with 300 government soldiers in corruption dispute. After Venezuelan President Chávez pledged military force to suppress any potential coup against Bolivia’s Morales, protestors in Santa Cruz launched dynamite attacks 22 October on Venezuelan consulate and house of Cuban doctors. Despite efforts to get Constituent Assembly back on track, Sucre representatives rejected political council compromise of locating Electoral Court, some legislative sessions in the city, blocking resumption of proceedings 25 October.
President Alvaro Uribe’s cousin Mario Uribe resigned from Congress 5 October to avoid Supreme Court investigations into “parapolitics” scandal. Supreme Court accused Uribe of obstructing justice in case by alleging bribery of paramilitary witnesses testifying against him. Violence before 28 October local elections killed 4 in 22-24 October attacks. Senior FARC commander ‘Martin Caballero’ killed along with at least 18 other rebels in fighting with armed forces 24 October. Meetings between FARC and Venezuela President Chávez postponed due to “logistics”. Regional elections carried out with relative calm 28 October despite warnings by ombudsman of threat of violence.
Acuerdo País coalition, leader in unofficial count from September Constituent Assembly elections, said it would move to dissolve Congress in favour of a legislative commission. President Correa decreed that state entitled to 99% of oil companies’ windfall profits.
National Assembly added 25 further amendments to President Hugo Chávez’s sweeping constitutional changes 16 October, including suspension of due process protections during state of emergencies. Police fired tear gas on thousands of student demonstrators in Caracas 23 October as Congress entered final debate ahead of expected December referendum on changes.
Aide to presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina killed by gunmen in suspected political attack in Guatemala City 8 October. Rival Alvaro Colom later accused Perez Molina of threatening his life.
Government announced indefinite postponement of November legislative elections pending investigation of corruption, criminal allegations against electoral council. UN Security Council renewed MINUSTAH peacekeeping force for 1 year 15 October; mandate includes reorganisation of troops to strengthen borders against drugs and arms smuggling.
Diplomatic preparations intensified for Annapolis peace conference due “before end of year”, but with widespread scepticism any breakthrough achievable. U.S. Sec. State Condoleezza Rice pushed for regional support: Palestinian Authority to attend only if key issues discussed, including final status of Jerusalem, borders of future state and right of return for refugees. Israeli PM Olmert appointed FM Tzipi Livni as chief negotiator. Conflict along Gaza-Israel border saw 2 Israeli soldiers and up to 6 Hamas militants killed, while Israel’s troop presence in West Bank increased. Army’s September order expropriating land within Jerusalem settlement project revived Palestinian fears peace process could serve as smokescreen for land grab. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak’s authorisation of cutting power to Gaza in response to continued missile fire blocked by attorney general 30 October, though reductions in fuel deliveries started. Deadlock within Palestinian political system continued. Hamas consolidated grip on Gaza Strip, while in West Bank security forces controlled by presidency and Fayyad government continued campaign to pressure Islamists. Hamas attempts to exert authority over Fatah-aligned clans in Gaza, and other factional clashes from 18 October, killed 7.
Parliamentary session to select new president postponed again to 12 November. Hizbollah-aligned parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and anti-Syrian March 14 coalition leader Saad Hariri met 19 October to discuss possible successors to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. Rival Christian leaders Amin Gemayel and Michel Aoun also held talks 21 October. First Israeli-Hizbollah prisoner exchange since 2006 war 15 October: Israeli civilian’s body swapped for Hizbollah prisoner and bodies of 2 militants. UN began returning displaced Palestinians to Nahr al-Bared refugee camp 10 October.
President Bashar Assad 1 October stated Israeli 6 September airstrike hit unused military building; denied widespread speculation it was nuclear site under development with North Korean assistance. Syria continued to refuse to attend Annapolis peace conference (see Israel/OTs) unless Golan Heights on agenda. Damascus ended suspension of new visa rules for Iraqis 1 October.
Leader of Islamist al-Wifaq, main Shiite group in national assembly threatened to resign 8 October, to compel government to offer better rewards for al-Wifaq’s involvement in parliament. Group joined 16 October opening of second term of parliament.
Tensions increased as Washington announced further financial sanctions 25 October targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for being “proliferator of weapons of mass destruction”, elite Quds Force for support of terrorism, and 3 banks and several IRGC-owned companies. Tehran labelled sanctions “ineffective”. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said 28 October “no concrete evidence” Iran intended to build nuclear weapon; due to report on uranium enrichment 22 November. Nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani resigned after reported disagreements with President Ahmadi-Nejad; move followed meeting between Russian President Putin and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei where Putin reportedly presented new proposals. Larijani replaced by deputy FM Saeed Jalili, former member of IRGC and ally of Ahmadi- Nejad. Jalili held “constructive” talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Rome 23 October accompanied by Larijani amid speculation of tension on issue within leadership.
Widespread violence persisted but civilian deaths continued to decline and security in Baghdad improved. Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, agreed 6 October to end fighting between groups. Sadr also reiterated August suspension of Mahdi army’s activities for 6 months. U.S. operation against suspected senior leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq in Lake Tharthar region, north of Baghdad led to 34 deaths including 15 civilians, 11 October; 5 October operations against suspected factional Shiite militia in Baquba killed 25. Turkey threatened major cross-border incursion against PKK guerrillas based in northern Iraq (see Turkey) citing reluctance by U.S. and Iraqi Kurd and Iraqi leadership to act. Turkish military amassed troops, conducted airstrikes in border area.
Authorities confirmed September surrender of “repentant” Hassan Hattab, former founding leader of Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb deputy chief Hareg Zoheir reportedly killed with 2 other rebels in clash at eastern checkpoint 7 October. Army reported to have killed 15 suspected militants and captured 7 in east during operations against al-Qaeda-aligned groups. Police said 11 arrested for suspected involvement in September suicide attack targeting President Bouteflika.
Tensions between Bedouin tribes and security forces in Sinai continued; rioters, reportedly protesting police failure to halt inter-tribal violence, destroyed al-Arish office of ruling National Democratic Party 7 October. Several independent and opposition newspapers held press strike 7 October to protest official intimidation, including series of pending court cases against journalists; trial of editor Ibrahim Issa postponed to 14 November. President of liberal Wafd party and 2 party newspaper journalists sentenced 1-month 29 October, pending appeal. Court ordered release of senior Muslim Brother Essam el-Erian and 9 others detained in August; 13 students affiliated with Brotherhood arrested after alleged clashes with Ain Shams University security personnel 22 October.
In ongoing operation against militants linked to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb 10 detained; 3 charged with membership and aiding of extremist organisation.
New government announced 15 October: alliance between conservative Istiqlal, centre-right RNI, Socialist Union of Popular Forces and leftist PPS. King Mohammed used prerogative to appoint interior, foreign, defence, religious and finance portfolios. PM El Fassi presented program to parliament 24 October. Largest opposition party, Islamist PJD, appointed hardliner Mustafa Ramid parliament group head, promising more forceful role.
Report of UNSG Ban Ki-moon welcomed recent engagement of both sides in face-to-face talks, but highlighted lack of genuine negotiations between parties on major issues. UNSC extended UN peacekeeping mission (MINURSO) mandate to April 2008.