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
BurundiComoros IslandsZimbabweCôte d’IvoireAfghanistanKashmirMaldivesNepalBoliviaColombiaIsrael/PalestineIran
SudanSolomon IslandsBosnia And Herzegovina
Ethiopia/EritreaCôte d’IvoireKorean PeninsulaNepalIsrael/PalestineIraq
Peace talks between government and largest Hutu rebel group (FDD) collapsed on 16 September. Fighting between FDD and other main Hutu rebel group (FNL) near capital forced an estimated 47,500 to flee homes. Government imposed curfew on parts of capital. FNL rebels killed at least eight civilians and four soldiers in fighting on 21 September.
National reconciliation talks commenced 15 September, to run to end of month. Defence minister announced on 30 September that former fighters and militiamen are about to be demobilised and reintegrated into civilian life.
Negotiating security pact with Nigeria to clamp down on smuggling, human-trafficking and cross border banditry.
UN mission to DRC (MONUC) took over from French-led peacekeeping force (IEMF) in Bunia on 1 September. MONUC has Chapter VII mandate and is tasked to establish peace and security in troubled Ituri and Kivus regions. MONUC currently has 2,500 troops, expected to increase to 4,000. Spokesman for transitional government accused members of former rebel movement RCD-Goma - now part of transitional government - of fomenting new rebellion.
Paul Kagame sworn in as president on 12 September after winning first direct universal suffrage elections since 1994. EU observer team had strong reservations about openness and fairness of electoral environment. Voting in parliamentary elections commenced on 30 September. New prosecutor of International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Hassan Jallow, commenced four-year term on 15 September.
International Boundary Commission will soon attempt to demarcate border, although elements in Ethiopian Government have signalled reluctance to cooperate – calling for new body to rule on disputed areas. Eritrea opposes call. Mandate of UN peacekeeping mission (UNMEE) renewed for another six months. UNMEE urged both governments to speed up steps to demarcate border.
Delegates at peace talks in Kenya adopted charter for new government on 15 September. President Hassan of Transitional National Government (TNG), which controls small area of Mogadishu, abandoned talks and has rejected charter. TNG’s mandate expired on 13 August. Breakaway Somaliland not represented at talks.
Peace talks in Kenya between Sudanese Government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army going well. Parties signed agreement on 25 September on security arrangements for six-year transition period – removing significant obstacle to ending conflict. Uganda claims Sudan arming Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Uganda. Parties agreed to renew for two months ceasefire due to expire at end of September.
Government accused Sudan of supporting Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. Fighting continues between Ugandan armed forces and LRA rebels in north. Cabinet proposed removing constitutional two-term limit for president – paving way for President Yoweri Museveni to stand for re- election. Cabinet also proposes increasing powers for president and restricting parliament’s powers.
Continued fighting between government and separatist rebels in oil-rich Cabinda enclave.
Continued instability. French journalist arrested and two suspected French mercenaries held in custody in alleged coup plot. Leader of an opposition party arrested on 22 September.
King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, facing increasing opposition to his rule. Banned political party, PUDEMO, announced it would adopt more aggressive tactics to achieve political reform. Swaziland has been under state of emergency for over 30 years.
Government shut down only private daily newspaper. Charged five of paper’s directors and plans to charge its journalists for operating without licence. President Mugabe to be excluded from Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Nigeria in December as Zimbabwe still subject to Commonwealth sanctions. Zimbabwe's vice president, Simon Muzenda, died on 20 September. Government issued new temporary banknotes, valid only to 31 January 2004. Government plans to set up special courts to deal with economic and financial crimes.
Rebels announced on 23 September they would suspend participation in power-sharing government and disarmament program because of stalling by president. One, possibly two, rebel ministers chose to remain in government, defying orders of rebel leaders to withdraw. At least 23 killed in fighting between rebels and looters in rebel held town of Bouake. French committed to keep troops in Côte d’Ivoire until 2005. Border with Burkina Faso reopened after year-long closure. President appointed ministers of Defence and Internal Security – in accordance with peace process.
President Lansana Conte confirmed he will seek new seven-year term in December elections. 69-year-old Conte, ill with diabetes and heart problems, has ruled since 1984 coup. Thousands of Liberians have fled into Guinea since mid- September to escape ongoing instability in Liberia.
Tumultuous month with new civilian leader now installed following military coup against President Kumba Yalla on 14 September. Yalla elected president in January 2000, but had repeatedly delayed scheduled elections since then. Coup, led by General Verissimo Correia Seabra, Chief of Staff of armed forces, met with widespread popular support. Businessman Henrique Rosa sworn in as interim president on 28 September. Parliamentary elections to take place in six months, followed by presidential elections 12 months later. Group of unidentified men attacked army barracks in town east of capital on 26 September. Attack repelled.
UN approved peacekeeping force of 15,000 troops for Liberia. UN force to take over from ECOWAS on 1 October – but full UN force will not deploy for several months. Former President Charles Taylor trying to run Liberia from exile in Nigeria. Nigerian President Obasanjo warned Taylor against interfering in Liberia in breach of asylum conditions. Obasanjo also stated that Taylor did not have sovereign immunity – implying Taylor could be handed over to Sierra Leone Special Court if Nigeria so decides. Sekou Conneh, leader of LURD rebels, returned to Liberia from exile in Guinea. Government and rebel troops continue to commit atrocities against civilians in countryside.
Several people died in fighting in oil city of Warri in Niger delta.
UN extends mission (UNAMSIL) to March 2004. Failure to address corruption remains a concern. Special Court has called for international community to ensure Charles Taylor arrested and handed over for trial.
China upped its rhetoric against militants in northwestern province of Xinjiang, claiming Uighur separatists train in Pakistan. Russian officials, fearful of damaging relations with China, denied visa to Dalai Lama. Latter says ready to return to Tibet after 45-year exile if permitted by Beijing.
Sabre-rattling has resumed since six- way multilateral talks held in August ended inconclusively. North Korea said was uninterested in holding further talks and announced was taking measures to increase nuclear deterrent. On 19 September IAEA had urged DPRK to dismantle nuclear program, but latter rejected demands four days later, calling IAEA a “political maid” of U.S. DPRK denounced deployment of new U.S. Patriot missiles in South Korea. Meanwhile, U.S. unveiled plans to fly new spy plane along DMZ. Chinese Government transferred control of border with DPRK from police to army; unconfirmed reports say it sent 150,000 troops to border region to control refugee flows.
Taiwan failed again in bid to regain seat at UN. Taiwanese authorities took symbolically significant step of issuing passports with “Taiwan” emblazoned on front.
Attacks by extremists against U.S. forces, government troops and aid workers continue in south. Four Afghans working for Danish NGO killed on 8 September; two other aid workers killed on 24 September while delivering clean drinking water to village in Helmand province. Growing tension between Kabul and Islamabad: Afghan Government accuses Pakistan of doing too little to prevent militants from regrouping in Pakistan. Both have agreed to reinforce troops on border to monitor crossings. Battles between local commanders in north continue to cause displacement and civilian casualties. Demobilisation and reintegration program delayed by government failure to reform defence ministry. Draft constitution to be unveiled in early October. American special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad named U.S. ambassador. NATO experts to study feasibility of expanding ISAF mandate beyond Kabul; Germany announced readiness to deploy 250-450 troops to northern city of Kunduz. More than 100 Taliban fighters killed since Coalition Operation Mountain Viper launched on 25 August.
Police arrested four in connection with Mumbai blast of 25 August that killed 52 people, and shot dead its alleged mastermind. Cache of over 20,000 AK-47 rounds seized in Kolkata, which police say was bound for Kashmir. Violence continues in northeastern state of Manipur where security forces shot dead at least 13 rebels in two separate incidents. 12 (11 of whom were police) were killed in landmine explosion in Bihar state. Government blamed attack on outlawed Naxalite groups. Peace talks with Naga separatists commenced 17 September in Amsterdam.
Surge in violence casts shadow over progress in Indo-Pak normalisation. Sources say September fatalities exceed 300 – mostly rebels. War of words in UN General Assembly as Indian PM Vajpayee accused Pakistani President Musharraf of “terrorist blackmail”, calling latter’s offer of ceasefire an admission that Pakistan supports militants. Fragile situation in Kashmir dealt another blow as All Party Hurriyat Conference (separatist umbrella group) split. Kashmiri militant groups warned of more violence in valley.
Unprecedented anti-government riots rocked capital, Malé, after police killed three prisoners (a fourth died later) during jail riot. Amnesty International accused President Gayoom, about to seek sixth term in office, of running repressive government.
Violence continues unabated since talks between government and Maoist rebels collapsed on 27 August, with more than 400 dead since breakdown in ceasefire. Maoist-initiated general strike demanding abolition of monarchy brought country to virtual standstill for three days. Little progress made in instituting all-party government or restoring normal democratic process, and anxiety increasing about possible fall of government. Rebels announced would cease hostilities during nine-day Hindu festival of Dashain, beginning on 2 October.
Several violent incidents in Karachi: seven killed by unknown assailants on 2 September and bombs exploded on 3 September in Sunni seminary and 19 September in office complex. Authorities detained a number of South East Asian students on suspicion of terror links. A tape attributed to Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama Bin Laden’s deputy, called for Pakistanis to overthrow President Musharraf. Kashmir violence undermining chances of normalising relations with India - Pakistani foreign minister cancelled scheduled October visit.
LTTE (Tamil Tigers) pulled out of Japanese-led aid talks on 10 September. Row between Sri Lankan president and prime minister over conduct of negotiations could threaten efforts to end 20-year conflict.
More than 15 men suspected of links to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) arrested in central Java; Hambali's younger brother arrested in Karachi together with five Indonesian and 13 Malaysian suspected JI members. Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, alleged spiritual leader of JI, sentenced to four years for treason, but acquitted of leading JI – both Ba'asyir and Attorney General’s Office appealing sentence. Bali bomber Ali Imron given life sentence. Indonesian police warn that JI planning further bombings. Christian-Muslim tensions simmer in Poso. Peace seems to have held in Maluku in recent months where fighting between Christians and Muslims has claimed at least 5,000 lives since 1999; Government lifted three-year state of emergency on 15 September after new governor installed without incident. Military operation against separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) - launched mid-May after peace negotiations broke down - looks likely to continue. Indonesian military claims 900 GAM separatists, 66 military and 304 civilians killed since most recent campaign began, but independent access to verify these or other data remains highly restricted.
Aung San Suu Kyi underwent surgery on 19 September; released from hospital on 26 September into house arrest. UN envoy Razali Ismail arrived in Rangoon on 30 September, urged government to release Suu Kyi from house arrest and commence substantive talks with opposition.
July ceasefire between government and MILF holding – informal discussions took place on 6-7 September in Kuala Lumpur resulting in agreement to hold fresh round of formal peace talks in October following arrival of Malaysian-led ceasefire observation team. 31-year war has thus far cost over 120,000 lives. Eduardo Ermita, chief government negotiator in peace talks with Muslim rebels, appointed as new defence secretary.
Australia to deploy administrators, public sector specialists and 200 police to address growing lawlessness. Deployment is condition of Australian aid program of U.S. $220 million. PNG Government unhappy at conditionality of Australian aid.
Security situation continuing to improve. Australian-led multinational intervention force maintaining order and disarming population. 3,400 weapons turned in, now searching for illegal arms. Mission likely to last longer than originally planned. Harold Keke, leader of Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF), and top commanders on trial for murder.
Concerted international pressure led on 25 September to adoption by local authorities of draft law on defence reform that, if endorsed by parliament, will provide for state command over entity armies and pave way for BiH to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace early next year. Draft laws on intelligence and indirect tax reform also await parliamentary endorsement. New commission to unite Mostar began work on 25 September. SFOR continues to uncover arms caches leftover from war. Remains of some 500 people have been discovered in single mass grave in NE Bosnia – assumed to be Muslim wartime victims of Serbs.
New UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri secured backing of the Contact Group for talks on technical issues between Belgrade and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership to start in Vienna mid-October. Unready and disunited, Kosovo politicians responded with buck-passing and threatened non-attendance, arguing UN administration must transfer them more governmental competencies if they are to negotiate with Belgrade on equal footing. If talks take place, will be first since NATO’s 1999 bombing. Insecurity over Kosovo’s future status contributed to failure of UN weapons amnesty program.
At least two gunmen killed in clash with Macedonian security forces near Kosovo border (Brest). Shadowy Albanian National Army claimed responsibility. Police vowed to hunt down ethnic Albanian militants. The incident appears to have destabilised – temporarily – Macedonia’s ruling coalition. EU agreed to deploy 200-strong police force in Macedonia by 15 December.
Montenegrin politics continue to be overshadowed by allegations of smuggling and human trafficking.
Attack on army vehicle in southern Serbia on 24 September, one officer wounded. Government announced presidential elections to be held on 16 November – despite failure to adopt new constitution to replace Milosevic era constitution or election law. Two elections in late 2002 failed to pick president due to low voter turnout. Presidents of Croatia and Serbia & Montenegro, during first visit by Croatian president to Serbia since war, apologised for “all the evils” committed by their countries during 1991-1995 war. One war crimes suspect arrest on 25 September.
Kremlin-backed candidate, Akhmad Kadyrov, looks set to win 5 October presidential election in Chechnya after two key opponents dropped out of race. Rebels vow to continue violence in run-up to vote. Six Russian soldiers killed in attacks on 18 and 19 September and seventh in landmine blast, days after truck bomb at security building in southern Russia killed two and wounded 25. Chechnya’s acting president admitted to hospital with case of poisoning – unknown whether poisoning was deliberate.
OSCE election monitoring experts arrived in Tbilisi ahead of 2 November parliamentary elections. Run-up to vote characterised by incidents of violence and widespread pessimism that elections will be fair. Increasing crime levels also raising concern. Justice minister resigned after mass jail break on 10 September; over 50 prisoners remain at large. U.S. announced cut in aid to Georgia, particularly to energy sector. Kidnappings and sporadic confrontations between guerrillas and Abkhazian forces reported in recent weeks. New PM approved by parliament in breakaway province of South Ossetia.
OSCE Minsk Group reportedly planning attempt at kickstarting peace talks after Azerbaijani presidential election of 15 October. PM Ilham Aliyev, son of ailing president Heydar Aliyev and likely successor, expected to adopt hard line on dispute.
Talks on dispute with breakaway region of Transdniestria remain stalled. EU still discussing possibility of sending peacekeepers to region. Russian troops appear likely to remain despite agreement promising pull-out by year’s end.
Basque prime minister presented autonomy plan to region’s parliament – Spanish Government said plan illegal. Basque regional government filed a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights against Spanish anti-terror law banning Basque separatist party Batasuna. One member of terrorist organisation ETA killed and two policemen wounded in shootout on 14 September.
French justice minister visited Corsica on 1 September following upsurge in violence in August. Suspected separatist bomb damaged supermarket on 5 September.
Unlikely to be any progress in UN-led efforts to reunify Cyprus until December elections in Turkish Cyprus. Greek Cypriot president says he believes decisions about Cyprus are made by Turkey, not Turkish Cypriot leader.
Members named to International Commission for monitoring ceasefire – tasked specifically with monitoring loyalist and IRA paramilitary activities. Legislation setting up commission passed on 18 September. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern warned that time is running out to finalise plans for elections in Northern Ireland if they are to be held this year. Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams have had several meetings to discuss the restoration of the devolved power-sharing government.
Corruption allegations continue to dog region’s wealthiest country. Former Mobil Oil exec. sentenced in New York to four years in prison on charges relating to bribery scheme involving U.S. consultant James Giffen, accused of giving kickbacks to Kazakh Government in exchange for oil contracts. Pro-government “Fatherland” party swept local council elections held on 20 September. Dariga Nazarbayeva, president’s daughter, announced creation of new pro- government political party, with herself as head.
Dissatisfaction with government remains high, particularly in south. President Akayev vowed not to run for fifth term in 2005, but there is speculation that Akayev’s wife, or even daughter, may be groomed to succeed him. Journalist, reportedly investigating high-level corruption, found dead; police say no evidence of foul play.
Year’s large poppy harvest in Afghanistan has led to increased number of drug trafficking-related incidents. On 1 September, alleged Afghan traffickers killed Tajik police officer and took another hostage. Russian troops guarding Tajik-Afghan border seized record amounts of heroin in August.
European Parliament considering resolution on human rights in Central Asia’s most repressive country. President Niyazov continues to limit population’s access to information, restrict travel abroad, and sanction human rights abuses. 77-year-old father of rights activist sent into internal exile in retaliation for daughter’s dissent.
Government stepping up persecution of dissenters. Journalist Ruslan Sharipov remains in prison; in letter smuggled out claims to have been tortured to confess to charges of homosexuality and sex with minors. Heavy-handedness on part of security services, including widespread use of torture, risks further radicalising segments of the Muslim population. Little danger of conflict in short term, but continuing repressive policies here, as elsewhere in region, risk future unrest.
Trade unions have launched indefinite general strike, protesting government plans to export natural gas to U.S. Peasants in mountain region set up roadblocks.
Bomb outside nightclub in southern city of Florencia on 28 September killed ten and injured 50 – FARC rebels blamed. Eight foreign tourists kidnapped, one British tourist later escaped – leftist rebel group ELN claimed responsibility. FARC stepped up attacks in north, bombing freight train and blowing up gas pipeline. Heavy fighting between right-wing paramilitaries caused hundreds to flee homes in north. Human Rights Watch reported more than 11,000 child soldiers may be fighting for rebels and paramilitaries. President Uribe strongly criticised NGOs and human rights groups after they challenged government’s human rights record.
Opposition petition for referendum on rule of President Chavez rejected by National Electoral Council. Opposition to collect signatures for second petition. Bomb exploded outside Caracas barracks of presidential guard: no one injured. President Chavez blamed dissident military officers. Roman Catholic Church rejected Chavez claim it was involved in 2002 attempted coup. Chavez suspended oil exports to Dominican Republic, alleging exiles in DR plotting coup.
Former general and coup leader, Efrain Rios Montt, registered as presidential candidate for 9 November elections
Ex-President Alberto Fujimori commenced broadcasting radio messages to Lima from exile in Japan – prelude to intended political comeback. Intelligence chief resigned over state-sponsored spying on journalists. Imprisoned leader of MRTA rebel group says group has renounced armed conflict and wants to become political party.
Power struggle between Arafat and PM Abbas ended with Abbas’s resignation; Ahmed Qureia, speaker of Palestinian parliament, appointed new PM. Three-year anniversary of intifada passed on 28 September with no peace in sight. Israeli attacks on Hamas leaders continued; Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, among targets. Suicide bombings also continued: attacks on Israeli café and bus stop on 9 September killed 15. Israel threatened to expel – and possibly kill – Arafat, drawing international condemnation. U.S. vetoed UN Security Council resolution urging Israel to cease threats against Palestinian leader. Meanwhile, U.S. and Israeli officials held talks in Washington aimed at reaching agreement on route of controversial security fence in West Bank.
Authorities arrested two men accused of anti-U.S. terror plot. Central Bank retracted decision to freeze accounts of Hamas after angry reactions, including from parliament, but freeze may be reinstated. King Abdullah met U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David; promised democratic reforms.
Israeli jets attacked suspected Hizbollah gun position in southern Lebanon on 3 September. Raid was first since 10 August, when shells fired by Hizbollah killed one Israeli and wounded five others, breaking period of calm along border. Incident between Lebanese army and Hizbollah guerrillas left one guerrilla dead after troops intervened in dispute between Hizbollah and rival Shiite party. Government on defensive after ordering banks to reveal accounts of Hamas members whose assets U.S. wants frozen. Prisoner swap between Hizbollah and Israel appears likely.
Washington renewed demands for better cooperation from Syria in war on terror. U.S. says Syria supporting terrorists, pursuing WMD, and allowing anti-Coalition fighters to cross into Iraq. Syria denied allegations it has been operating spy ring at Guantanamo Bay.
Tension increasing over issue of Iranian nuclear program. IAEA set 31 October deadline for Tehran to enable UN to verify it is not building nuclear weapons. Matter may be referred to Security Council if Iran deemed non-compliant. Concern that standoff playing into hands of Iranian hardliners and could escalate, with risk of Iran pulling out of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Elsewhere, Iran-UK relations on rocks after several shooting incidents outside British embassy in Tehran and last month’s arrest by UK of former Iranian ambassador to Argentina.
Vigorous diplomatic manoeuvring at United Nations as U.S. pushes resolution authorising multilateral force for Iraq and seeks help in bearing cost of reconstruction. U.S. president Bush failed to garner support from foreign leaders in two days of talks at UN. France urging quick turnover of power to Iraqis; U.S. says proposed timeframe unrealistic: Colin Powell announced six-month deadline for new Iraqi constitution, with elections to follow sometime in 2004. In Iraq, violence continued. Aquila al-Hashimi, member of Iraqi Interim Governing Council, died after being shot by gunmen on 20 September. Two days later, a second suicide bombing outside UN headquarters killed two. UN continues to withdraw staff from Iraq. 192 Coalition soldiers, including 172 Americans, have died since 1 May, declared end of combat operations.
Security crackdown continues; 200 suspected Islamist militants have been arrested since May. Four killed in gunfight with radicals allegedly planning terror attack. Authorities focusing on blocking flow of cash to terrorist groups amid U.S. criticism of Saudi aid to Hamas. Meanwhile, last of U.S. troops left Saudi Arabia earlier in month, bringing end to 13-year presence. Saudis deny newspaper report that Kingdom considering acquiring nuclear weapons.
Government continues to walk fine line between supporting U.S. in war on terror and appeasing largely anti- American populace. Authorities handed over to Saudi Arabia suspected al Qaeda member thought to have had role in May Riyadh bombings.
Armed Islamic Group suspected in death of nine soldiers in western Algeria on 17 September. Report suggests at least 100 people are killed each month by armed groups, security forces and state-armed militias. Algerian army reportedly killed 150 Islamic rebels in latest offensive. President Bouteflika announced establishment of a commission to investigate disappearance of thousands over past decade.
Authorities continue suppressing dissent, most notably by Muslim Brotherhood. Government says 20 Islamist militants arrested last month planned to launch “jihad” against Coalition forces in Iraq. New ideas on political pluralism aired at conference held by ruling NDP party from 26-28 September.
129 army officers went on trial for June coup attempt in which 15 people were killed.
In local elections, Islamists of Morocco's Justice and Development Party fielded candidates in only half its stronghold districts; strategy apparently due to fear of public backlash against rapid rise to power of Islamist party. Elsewhere, 27 convicted in connection with May Casablanca bombings.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI reiterated commitment to cooperating with UN over Western Sahara. Polisario Front released 243 Moroccan POW’s held in south- western Algeria. UN Security Council repeated its call to free 900 remaining detainees in compliance with international humanitarian law.