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
Seven actual or potential conflict situations around the world deteriorated in September 2006, according to the new issue of CrisisWatch,* released today.
Violence escalated in Afghanistan, with rising numbers of suicide bombings and assassinations of prominent figures. Military leaders in Thailand deposed Thaksin Shinawatra’s government in a bloodless coup. Tensions mounted between Russia and Georgia after Georgian authorities arrested four Russian military officers for alleged espionage. And in Chad, clashes intensified between government forces and rebels in the east. The situation also deteriorated in Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
One conflict situation showed improvement in September 2006. Rebels in Burundi signed a surprise ceasefire agreement with the government, though the agreement’s unrealistic deadline for demobilisation and other obstacles cast doubt on the deal’s viability.
For October 2006, CrisisWatch identifies the Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of new or significantly escalated conflict in the coming month.
Democratic Republic of CongoSomaliaCôte d’Ivoire
FNL rebels signed surprise ceasefire agreement with government 7 September in Dar es Salaam. Deal seen as positive, but thought doubtful will hold given unrealistic 30-day deadline for demobilisation and lack of political incentives for FNL. Few rebels adhered to provisions requiring them to assemble at specified sites, saying government must first negotiate outstanding issues such as freeing of FNL prisoners and immunity for ex-combatants. Police clashed with splinter FNL Sindayigaya faction in Bubanza province 27 September. Domestic politics remained in turmoil as second most powerful member of CNDD-FDD ruling party, second Vice-President Alice Nzomukunda, resigned 6 September, accusing party leader Hussein Rajabu of human-rights violations, lying and corruption.
Tens of thousands of those displaced by January violence in northwest began moving back to villages and towns. But many more fear returning due to continued rebel activity, including targeting of relief agencies.
Fighting escalated between government and rebels in eastern Chad allied to Mahamat Nour’s FUCD. Government reportedly resumed offensive 10 September, ending lull that had prevailed since rebels expelled from N’Djamena in April. Army chief claimed 168 rebels killed in major operation 13 September around Aram Kolle; FUCD claimed hundreds of soldiers killed in same operation. UN and aid agencies expressed concern about military build-up around Abeche.
Tensions rose ahead of 29 October presidential run-off vote between President Kabila and Vice-President Bemba. Third- and fourth- placed finishers in 30 July poll, Antoine Gizenga and Nzanga Mobutu, pledged support for Kabila, while Bemba failed to secure alliance with influential Etienne Tshisekedi and his UDPS party, which boycotted first round. Following interventions by South African President Mbeki, EU foreign policy chief Solana and others, Kabila and Bemba met 13 September to discuss confinement of army and militia to barracks during electoral period. Bemba and Kabila representatives signed agreement 25 September to make Kinshasa weapons-free zone during and immediately after vote. Bemba-owned media outlets destroyed in 19 September arson attack, leading to demonstrations and mass arrests. First democratically elected parliament in 20 years inaugurated 22 September, with Kabila’s AMP alliance holding biggest share of seats (approx 300 of 500). Army head in Ituri claimed militias belonging to Front des Nationalistes et Integrationnistes rearming around Bunia. In North Kivu, dissident General Laurent Nkunda warned that deployment of troops to territory under his control would trigger violence. MONUC mandate extended by UN Security Council until 15 February 2007.
Friction between Kigali and ICTR over employment of genocide suspects at tribunal reduced as trial of former defence investigator Simeon Nshamihigo commenced, and lawyer Callixte Gakwaya resigned. Government provided list of 13 suspects and threatened to break with tribunal if Gakwaya not removed from position.
Tensions over disputed town of Badme continued as Eritrea expelled 5 UN security staff accused of espionage. UNMEE mandate extended by Security Council until 31 January 2007. 2 more senior Ethiopian army officers reportedly defected to join Oromo Liberation Front secessionist rebels, after similar August defections of officers and soldiers. Hundreds of Ethiopian troops sighted in Somali town of Baidoa in late September (see Somalia, below).
Police reported arrest of 9 suspected Oromo Liberation Front rebels for allegedly planning assassination of government leaders. United Western Somali Liberation Front rebel group kidnapped 2 ICRC engineers 20 September in eastern Ogaden, prompting suspension of ICRC operations in area for first time in 11 years; both released unharmed 5 days later.
Progress early in month between Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) largely negated by assassination attempt on president, UIC capture of Kismayo and Ethiopian troop deployment to Baidoa. President Yusuf survived country’s first suicide bombing 18 September, but 12 others killed, including Yusuf’s brother. UIC extended control over southern Somalia by taking Kismayo port 25 September; angry protests against Courts’ burning of Somali flag there led to shooting and death of 3. In response TFG again called for international arms embargo to be lifted to enable it to train security forces to protect its citizens. Hundreds of Ethiopian troops sighted in Baidoa in late September; believed to be in reaction to UIC capture of Kismayo, and part of continued Ethiopian effort to support TFG. Earlier in month, TFG and UIC had pledged commitment to 22 June agreement on mutual recognition, agreed in principle to unify armed groups and not seek help from foreign powers, and committed to work towards power- sharing arrangement at 30 October talks. IGAD proposal to send peacekeepers, strongly opposed by UIC, endorsed by AU 13 September.
Somaliland sent militias to block Puntland President Muse’s planned trip to disputed region of Togdheer. Tensions eased after Muse cancelled trip.
As UN human rights monitors reported worsening violence including government bombing of villages in north Darfur and continuing sexual violence against women, AU’s Peace and Security Council 20 September extended mandate of its peacekeeping force in Darfur (AMIS) until end 2006 - temporarily averting security vacuum. AU announced additional deployment of 4,000 troops: UN pledged further logistical and material support, Arab states pledged funding. President Bashir continued to reject UN force for Darfur, authorised by UNSC resolution 1706, but agreed to AMIS extension having previously given AU force departure ultimatum. In move likely to undercut urgent international calls (and Security Council resolution) for UN deployment, UN Special Envoy Pronk suggested international community should focus on AMIS reinforcement and extension given Khartoum’s position on UN force; also warned Darfur Peace Agreement in poor condition, and commission set up to monitor and implement accord dysfunctional. UN Deputy SG Malloch Brown also questioned efficacy of U.S. and UK “megaphone” diplomacy and veiled threats at Khartoum. Sudanese military intensified operations in north Darfur against National Redemption Front alliance, non-signatories of 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement. U.S. administration promised renewed attention to Darfur: new special envoy Andrew Natsios appointed and U.S. Sec. State Rice stated Khartoum failing to protect citizens. Asmara talks between Khartoum and Eastern Front rebels progressed with signing of draft security protocol 28 September.
Peace process between government and LRA inched forward after 26 August ceasefire agreement. LRA leader Kony and deputy Otti remained in DR Congo despite agreement to move to assembly points in southern Sudan. Approx. 1,000 LRA fighters assembled at designated safe zones but LRA negotiators temporarily recalled after LRA claimed their fighters were under siege from Ugandan army. Third round of negotiations, mediated by Vice-President of South Sudan Riek Machar, got underway 28 September. President Museveni said would not assent to LRA demands to lift ICC war crimes indictments in favour of traditional justice system until LRA leaders “fully embrace” peace talks. Earlier in month LRA agreed to release 1,500 non-combatants and abductees but objected to government’s negotiating team on grounds its members lacked political credibility. No new date set for signing comprehensive peace agreement after 12 September deadline now seen as irrelevant following progress in talks and 26 August truce.
MDC opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai led anti-Mugabe march 1 September, but government prevented larger nationwide trade unions protest against living conditions scheduled for 13 September by blocking roads, and assaulting and arresting key leaders and supporters. President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF reportedly discussed plans to postpone 2008 presidential election to 2010; seen as attempt to avoid potentially damaging succession battle. ZANU-PF claim delay would harmonise presidential with parliamentary elections but spokesman later denied plans. Mugabe pledged to return or compensate foreign company owners of over 100 farms occupied as part of fast-track land distribution program. Meanwhile, inflation hit record of 1200% and acute coal shortages exacerbated economic crisis.
Concern mounting as UN-sponsored 12-month extension of President Gbagbo’s mandate approaches expiry 31 October. Foreign diplomats monitoring peace plan proposed increasing PM Banny’s powers vis a vis Gbagbo. UN Security Council to discuss proposals 17 October, while ECOWAS and AU to suggest new poll date to UNSC. Gbagbo boycotted meeting on sidelines of UN General Assembly 20 September where AU-endorsed mediator Mbeki met rebel and opposition chiefs, regional leaders and UNSG Annan to break deadlock. Gbagbo dismissed UN peace process and vowed to present own solutions to AU Peace and Security Council. Banny government reconstituted largely intact after briefly resigning 6 September amid toxic waste scandal.
President Jammeh won 22 September presidential poll with 67% of vote; stated intention to continue firm rule for another 3 decades. Opposition claimed election marred by voter intimidation.
Mounting lawlessness and roving gangs threatened security in Monrovia. UN Security Council extended UNMIL mandate to 31 March 2007. UNSG Annan lauded “tangible progress” in government reform and fight against corruption but pointed to major challenges in reconstruction efforts. Police officials reported force consists of only 1,600 unarmed officers; government encouraged community justice groups to help combat banditry. UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone set tentative April 2007 date for trial of former President Taylor.
President Obasanjo and Vice President Abubakar continued to trade corruption accusations ahead of April 2007 elections, from which Obasanjo constitutionally barred. Abubakar suspended by his Peoples Democratic Party for 3 months for “anti-party activities”. Authorities imposed night curfew on northern town of Dutse after Muslim mobs set fire 11 churches over alleged blasphemy by Christian woman. Christian-owned houses and shops also torched in capital of Jigawa state during religious riot. Oil unions held 3-day strike protesting poor security for oil workers; 1 Nigerian worker killed 12 September in attack on offshore oil field operated by Chevron. Military suffered major loss as 11 high-ranking officers died in plane crash.
Violence continued in Casamance region in wake of mid-August army operations against Casamance separatist MFDC. Armed rebels looted convoy of cars 20 September near Kaparan, fourth such event in 10 days. Officials attributed string of robberies to rebels’ growing need for supplies.
UNSG Annan expressed concern over delays in trial of former Revolutionary United Front spokesman, Omrey Golley. Government began planning talks to resolve dispute with Guinea over border town of Yenga.
U.S. announced plans for increased sanctions on North Korea while China opposed them, urging “flexible” approach. Australia, Japan followed U.S. in placing sanctions on North Korean bank accounts and companies. Pyongyang reportedly due to remove fuel rods from Yongbyon reactor in significant boost to plutonium harvesting; reports seen as bid to prod U.S. into bilateral talks and dropping sanctions. Chinese negotiator Wu Dawei visited Seoul to discuss new approach to full 6-party talks after South Korean President Roh and U.S. President Bush agreed “joint comprehensive approach” in Washington, but gave few details of new approach.
Taiwan exchanged promises of aid and economic cooperation for recognition of its sovereignty at 4 September summit with Pacific Island nations, while China focused on fostering links with Central American countries. Taiwan’s bid to enter UN blocked by China for 14th time on 13 September. Direct cross-strait medical flights began; 3-day application process involves obtaining both sides’ approval. Rallies called for President Chen to step down over corruption scandal and opposition called again for referendum on his ouster: Chen’s constitutional reform proposal dismissed by some as attempt at distraction.
Major NATO-led offensive brought heavy fighting in southern provinces, while incidence of suicide bombings spiked. NATO claimed 1,000 Taliban fighters killed in south as part of Operation Medusa, while thousands of families displaced in Panjwayi and Zhari districts outside Kandahar. Separate major offensive, Operation Mountain Fury, launched by U.S. and local security forces in eastern provinces, where a U.S. report noted 2 to 3-fold rise in attacks in September after Pakistani deal with North Waziristan militants. Assassinations claimed prominent figures including governor of Paktia and provincial head of women’s ministry in Kandahar. President Musharraf and Karzai traded accusations about source of increasing violence, later met with President Bush in Washington: no specific agreements reached beyond possibility of cross-border jirgas. U.S. said 12,000 troops in east would be placed under NATO command; 10,000 more remain under U.S. command.
Ruling BNP agreed electoral reform talks with opposition after series of opposition rallies in Dhaka turned violent. Opposition parties reject nomination of Former Chief Justice KM Hasan to head constitutionally required interim administration ahead of January 2007 elections, claiming former member of ruling BNP not “impartial”. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Dhaka 18 and 21 September; Awami League head Sheikh Hasina promised nonstop action if Hasan takes power.
Army launched operation against ULFA separatist rebels in northeast Assam state 24 September, ending peace process that began with August ceasefire. Operation reportedly launched in response to 2 killings by rebels. Bomb blasts killed over 35 in Malegaon, Maharashtra state 8 September as Muslims left mosque; protests followed but little violence. Government continued fighting Maoist rebels, killing 5 in clashes in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh state and sacking 29 Chhattisgarh police who refused to fight. In talks with Myanmar, India urged action to root out Indian insurgents based in the country.
Indian PM Singh and Pakistani President Musharraf agreed at Havana Non-Aligned Summit 16 September to resume normalisation talks, and set up joint mechanism against terror; foreign secretary-level discussions in Delhi to be first step. Singh said process success would depend on Pakistan’s efforts to end cross-border attacks. Talks jeopardised 29 September when Mumbai police alleged Pakistani intelligence service ISI assisted Lashkar-e-Tayyaba group in planning July train bombings. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants and government failed to agree Ramadan ceasefire, violence continued in and around Srinagar: 7 killed on 25 September.
Maldivian Democratic Party leader Nasheed released after 14-month house arrest under terms of British-mediated Westminster House Agreement. Island uprisings continued; protests against poor infrastructure and corruption recorded on 3 islands.
Summit talks between Maoist rebels and 7-party alliance postponed again 28 September due to disagreement over process towards interim legislature and Maoist participation in government; new talks due 8 October. Rebels blocked roads in and around capital 13 September in protest at alleged arms imports from India, violation of terms of ceasefire. Parliament officially stripped King of army command 22 September. Supreme Court asked parliament to explain legal basis for original May proclamation curtailing royal powers. Government gave details of 174 disappeared during 10-year conflict after violent protests by pro-Maoist supporters calling for information; more than 1000 believed to have been disappeared by both sides.
President Musharraf made controversial deal with North Waziristan tribal militants allied to Taliban 5 September: ends military operations against border militants in exchange for end to attacks on army and across border in Afghanistan. But heightened tensions between Islamabad and Kabul may also have strained Pakistan’s relations with NATO, while local governor admitted presence of hundreds al-Qaeda-linked militants in North Waziristan. In Kabul, Musharraf called for new approach against “common enemy” while citing “Talibanisation” of regional terrorism, but relations with Afghan president Karzai remained frosty as both leaders traded blame for ongoing cross-border attacks: state dinner with President Bush and Karzai in Washington 27 September failed to ease tensions. 85 Baloch tribal chiefs held grand jirga in Kalat 21 September, first in 126 years, and called for recognition of Baloch autonomy and end to military operations.
Heavy fighting between Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and government forces continued. Deadly naval battle off coast of Jaffna 2 September; military claimed it sank 11 Tiger boats and killed 80; government claimed similar LTTE losses after another battle 25 September north of Trincomalee. In first shift of territorial control since 2002 truce, government forces claimed town of Sampur, strategic entry point to Trincomalee harbour, and made gains in Muhamalai area at tip of Jaffna peninsula mid-month, where fighting cut off food supplies to Jaffna residents. SLMM monitoring mission said 200 civilians killed since 22 July. Colombo dismissed Norwegian mediators’ 12 September announcement both sides agreed to Oslo talks without preconditions, saying full cessation of hostilities strict prerequisite for talks.
3 Christians executed 22 September for role in May 2000 Poso religious violence: sparked rioting in Sikka, Flores and Atambua, West Timor, where over 1,000 targeted government buildings and broke into jail, freeing inmates. Rioters’ anger fuelled by belief trials unfair and lighter sentences given to Muslim attackers. Police reinforcements sent to Poso 30 September to address rising communal tension after church burned and man stabbed by mob. EU extended mandate of Aceh Monitoring Mission until 15 December but sharply reduced size to 36 monitors from 85. 11 teams formally applied to contest 10 December gubernatorial elections in Aceh, including GAM team running as independents and GAM member on another party slate. Fighting broke out again between Dani and Damal tribes in Kwamki Lama, Papua in war that began in July; death toll now 17. Tensions rose over massive displacement caused by “mud volcano” triggered by gas exploration in East Java, 10,000 homeless since May.
UN Security Council held first-ever discussion of situation in Myanmar. U.S. said planning resolution in early October to condemn jailing of political opponents in the country as 6 pro-democracy activists detained in 1 week. Reports of reshuffle within junta leadership indicated that General Than Shwe reportedly handed over control of armed forces to top deputy, but significance unclear. Junta detained 6 pro-democracy activists in last week of September. Karen National Union delegation due to hold peace talks with junta.
Short-term progress in peace talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) unlikely after informal talks fell apart 7 September and Manila failed to offer new initiative. Borders of “Bangsamoro” autonomous territory in Mindanao remained point of contention: MILF seeks UN-supervised autonomy referendum open only to Moro minority, but local officials condemned plan. Deadly clashes continued on southern island of Jolo between military - backed by U.S. technical support - and Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, while U.S. Ambassador Kenney visited Jolo in bid for peace.
UN force of 550 took over policing duties as clashes between gangs continued to break out in Dili. UN envoy Hasegawa ended 4-year tenure with bleak speech warning of “very fragile and volatile” situation and highlighting concerns over unrest in IDP camps near the capital. Australian foreign minister Downer, in visit to Dili, warned current UN deployment insufficient.
PM Thaksin deposed 19 September in bloodless coup. Army generals led by General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin revoked 1997 constitution and severely limited freedoms of assembly and speech. Military ‘Council for Democratic Reform’ (CDR) appointed retired general Surayud Chulanont as interim prime minister 1 October and promised to hold elections within a year, but reserved control over security affairs and right to sack PM. CDR will appoint 250-member interim legislature and 2,000-strong “people’s assembly” which in turn will select 100- 200 team to draft new constitution. U.S. called coup “U-turn” for democracy and suspended $24 million in military aid. Coup may turn out to be marginally positive for southern conflict: Thaksin’s rivalry with military had been key obstacle to effective management and Gen. Sonthi more receptive to recommendations of National Reconciliation Commission. Violence continued in south with 6 bombs detonated in economic hub of Hat Yai 16 September, killing 4.
Friction between government and military returned when army chief Bainimarama accused leaders of taking country back “100 years”, following attempt to give indigenous Fijians coastal ownership rights.
PM Sogavare ordered expulsion of Australian High Commissioner citing “heavy-handed” interference” by Canberra in domestic affairs, claimed Australian-led security force had failed and country risks further ethnic clashes. Australian FM Downer responded by threatening to withdraw visa privileges for Solomon politicians.
Ruling Democratic Party and opposition Socialist Party failed to agree date for winter local elections; President Moisiu warned he would set date if no agreement. European parliament endorsed Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Tensions rose ahead of 1 October parliamentary elections. Republika Srpska (RS) PM Dodik said Bosnian Serbs do not see their future in BiH and threatened independence referendum, but said leadership still committed to 2-entity BiH. RS signed accord with Serbia on special relations 26 September despite Bosniak and Croat protest that pact contravenes Dayton Agreement. Government agreed parliament rather than High Rep Office should vet ministerial appointments; decision pending parliament approval. Hague Tribunal sentenced former RS Parliament President Momcilo Krajisnik to 27 years for ethnic cleansing, but acquitted of genocide.
Contact Group affirmed aim of negotiated settlement by end 2006 after meeting 20 September. Group instructed UN envoy Ahtisaari to prepare settlement proposal, and requested further Pristina-Belgrade talks despite deputy UN envoy Rohan’s 15 September assessment that stalemate reached. Protests held in several Albanian-majority municipalities against proposals to create or expand Serb-majority municipalities. Kosovo Assembly attacked negotiation team for secrecy and concessions, while Assembly president Berisha warned of revolt if independence delayed. LDK party leadership campaign marred by car bombs in Gjilan and Ferizaj in apparent intra-party power struggle. Grenade attack injured 4 elderly Serb returnees in western town Klina.
Ethnic Albanian Democratic Union of Integration (DUI) deputies attended special parliamentary session on 15th anniversary of independence referendum, despite boycott of legislature in protest over exclusion from new government. PM Gruevski later held 2-day meeting with opposition leaders: DUI leader Ahmeti refused to attend, but his ally, Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) leader Vejseli, participated.
PM Djukanovic’s Democrat Socialist Party, together with Social Democrat coalition partner, won 10 September parliamentary elections: together won 41 of 81 seats. Opposition Socialist People’s Party group lost seats, suggesting voters alienated by their reluctance to abandon independence issue. EU praised electoral conduct and opened Stabilisation and Association talks. U.S. Sec. Defence Rumsfeld discussed NATO Partnership for Peace membership and possible Montenegrin participation in international security missions during Podgorica visit. 12 ethnic Albanians arrested for suspected plot to launch “terrorist attacks” on polling day.
Parliament unanimously rubber-stamped new constitution, which declares Kosovo integral part of Serbia, with no discussion or public debate 30 September; set ratification referendum for 28-29 October. PM Kostunica and President Tadic discussed desirability of early elections. G17+ leader and Finance Minister Mladan Dinkic announced party leaving government as CrisisWatch went to press. Tensions rose in Bosniak-majority Novi Pazar town after municipal assembly candidate for victorious List for Sandzak (LZS) shot dead outside polling station during 10 September local election. LZS coalition leader Ugljanin accused bodyguards of Sandzak Democratic Party leader Ljajic; 2 arrested. Tadic signed status of forces agreement with U.S. administration 7 September.
OSCE said “deeply concerned” over number of recent incidents of violence and intimidation against journalists, including attack on editor of Iravunk newspaper by unknown assailants 6 September. Taxation service anti-fraud chief Shahen Hovasapian killed in bomb attack 6 September.
OSCE representative on media freedom Haraszti expressed concern to President Aliyev over recent prosecutions of journalists by public officials. Freedom to demonstrate also curtailed as around 60 residents of Abseron district arrested, reportedly to pre-empt protests during presidential visit, while Baku officials refused opposition Musavat Party rally request.
Rebel leader Umarov issued statement armed campaign would continue, withdrawing offer of peace talks; Russian parliament extended rebel amnesty until mid-January. Gunfight between Chechen and Ingush police on border killed 5 Chechen and 2 Ingush officers; officials said tragic mistake, but Ingush authorities also criticised Chechen police for launching cross-border raids without notification.
Tensions with Russia mounted after 4 Russian military officers detained by Georgian authorities for espionage 27 September. Russia suspended ongoing troop pullout from 2 Georgian bases 30 September, recalled ambassador and most diplomatic staff, halted issuance of visas, and asked UN Security Council to censure Tbilisi. President Saakashvili accused Russia in UN General Assembly speech of annexing Georgian conflict zones and perpetuating conflicts in. NATO invited Georgia to begin “Intensified Dialogue” on membership; move criticised by Russia. In South Ossetia, 3 Ossetians and 1 Georgian killed in exchange of fire 8 September. De facto South Ossetian president Kokoity announced independence referendum and presidential elections to be held 12 November; Joint Control Commission meeting cancelled. In Abkhazia, 1 civilian reportedly killed in clash between police and gunmen. 13 opposition activists charged for alleged coup plot; opposition said arrests political. Local elections due 5 October.
UN General Assembly resolution stressed need for environmental operation to suppress fires in “occupied regions of Azerbaijan”, requesting OSCE share findings of planned investigation; fires affecting areas close to line of contact have been source of contention between 2 sides. Minsk Group co-chairmen met foreign ministers of Armenia London 12-13 September.
Clash between Chechen and Ingush police on border reportedly killed 7 (See Chechnya, above). In Stavropol Krai, adjacent to North Caucasus republics, prominent imam Abubakir Kudzhiyev shot dead 25 September. In North Ossetia, Nikolai Khlyntsov appointed new prime minister 6 September. 4 soldiers killed by landmine in republic while rebels also claimed to have shot down army helicopter, killing 11.
Thousands rallied in Minsk, demanding release of opposition presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, election observers and opposition activists jailed after protesting rigged March election. Minsk court rejected appeal to Kazulin’s 5½- year prison sentence. EU to consider extension of visa ban to officials involved in trial; EU member states rejected sanctions to expel Belarus from preferential trade system within 6 months if government does not guarantee freedom of speech and assembly. Special rapporteur Severin recommended UN probe into rights abuses in report to UN Human Rights Council.
De facto authorities in Transdniestria held referendum on independence and eventual unification with Russia 17 September: 97.1% allegedly voted in favour amid 79% turnout. Moldova rejected move as “political farce”; EU, U.S. and OSCE did not recognise vote. Russia called referendum “democratic and open” expression of popular will.
PM Yanukovich held talks with EU and NATO in Brussels. He warned potentially destabilising reforms would not be rushed and public opinion required “pause” in NATO integration, but welcomed stronger EU ties and eventual accession: his NATO comments later criticised by President Yushchenko and Defence Minister Hrytsenko as groundless and incorrect.
Government expressed concern over low-level “street violence” including series of minor firebombing incidents in San Sebastian, but insisted peace process on track. Separatist Batasuna Party said government stalling start of talks. Demonstrations for “self- determination” held in several towns 30 September.
EU Finnish Presidency launched drive to end economic isolation of North and ensure opening of Turkey’s ports to South to avert autumn breakdown in EU-Turkey accession process. In North, new government coalition formed between Republican Turkish Party and Freedom and Reform Party (FRP) after PM Soyer withdrew from coalition 10 September, accusing FM Serdar Denktash’s Democrat Party of obstruction: Soyer remained PM; FRP leader Turgay Avci appointed new FM. Denktash had been critical of concessions to South and EU; adjustment appeared to ensure government in line with Ankara regarding EU. In South, Defence Minister Klokaris resigned citing poor health; denied resignation related to his efforts to end allegedly powerful officer clique in army.
British and Irish PMs Blair and Ahern met to discuss preparations for intensive October inter-party talks, as London warned parties failure to meet 24 November devolution deadline would have “dire consequences”. UK Sec. State Hain announced funding for transition of Ulster Defence Association from paramilitary and criminal activity. Londonderry SDLP councillor’s home petrol- bombed for 15th time. Long-awaited trial of Sean Hoey, accused of 1998 Omagh bombing, began 25 September.
PKK announced unilateral ceasefire 30 September, following call from imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan; PM Erdogan said PKK must surrender weapons unconditionally. Violence in southeast and east continued, including bomb attack in Diyarbakir, which killed 10, mostly children. In southwest, police arrested 4, seized explosives near Marmaris resort. U.S. special coordinator for fight against PKK, Joseph Ralston, promised effective measures against group after meeting new Turkish counterpart Edip Baser. Long-awaited case against novelist Elif Safak for “insulting Turkishness” dismissed, but government under further pressure to repeal Article 301 under which numerous writers tried. EU Commission delayed report on Turkey to November.
Court upheld 5-year sentence of ‘For a Just Kazakhstan’ movement activist Alibek Zhumabaev for organising “mass disturbance”; opposition said trial political. In Qaraghanda, court upheld 3-year suspended prison sentence of opposition Naghiz Aq-Zhol party co-chairman Bolat Abilov.
Relations between President Bakiev and parliament deteriorated further after apparent attempt to frame opposition leader MP Omurbek Tekebaev: arrested Warsaw airport 6 September, but released after Polish court ruled heroin probably planted. Kyrgyz parliamentary probe alleged National Security Service (SNB) involvement; SNB Chairman Tabaldiev and deputy, Bakiev’s brother Janybek, resigned. Assembly also declared formal alliance between President Bakiev and PM Kulov unconstitutional and suggested criminal case be opened against Janybek Bakiev. Opposition Asaba party and “For Reform!” movement held rally in southern Aksy district; movement threatened Bishkek demonstrations against Bakiev if no reforms by November. Alleged Islamic Movement of Turkestan leader Rasul Akhunov died after reportedly refusing to surrender to security forces 2 September; authorities later ruled he had heart attack during raid. Osh court released 4 suspected Akramiya members, including daughter of leader Akram Yuldash who Uzbekistan say masterminded 2005 Andijon uprising.
Islamic Renaissance, Democratic, and Social Democratic parties announced boycott of November presidential election, saying poll would not be free or fair; 4 other opposition candidates to run. IRP elected Muhiddin Kabiri as new leader. 3 men sentenced to 5-8 years for involvement in January jailbreak in Qayroqqum in which suspected Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan member Rahimov escaped.
Journalist and activist Ogulsapar Muradova died in prison; family reported head and neck injuries, disputing official “natural causes” verdict. Official obstruction and harassment of family condemned by international rights activists; UN expressed “grave concern”.
Clampdown on dissidents continued. Prominent imam Fakhrutdinov sentenced 17 years for heading Tashkent branch of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Trial of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Usmanov began 21 September; 7 further HuT members sentenced up to 13 years. In Jizzakh, journalist and rights activist Ulughbek Haidarov arrested on extortion charges, journalist Jamshid Karimov (nephew of president) reportedly confined to mental institution, and prominent activist Hamroev’s son jailed 3 years for “hooliganism”. Dissident poet Hasanov given 3-year suspended sentence for song about 2005 Andijon uprising. Rights groups condemned UNESCO prize to president in light of rights violations.
Potential for significant unrest as President Morales’ reforms hit stumbling blocks and rifts emerged in Constituent Assembly. Santa Cruz and regional allies walked out of Assembly 1 September after Morales’ MAS party imposed simple majority instead of two-thirds vote as threshold for making changes. Further evidence of regional divide 22 September: farmers and trade unionists in Santa Cruz, angered by opposition to land reform program, blocked roads. VP Garcia raised stakes in speech to country’s peasants that included veritable call to arms in defense of “revolutionary government”. Full nationalisation of hydrocarbons industry continued to stall: minister in charge resigned after crisis in relations with Brazil prompted by granting state-owned YPFB control over 2 refineries owned by Brazilian gas giant Petrobras; new minister expected to take more conciliatory tone.
In new bid to pressure government into hostage exchange, FARC rebels released video of 12 politicians taken hostage in 2002. In policy shift, President Uribe said willing to accept “meeting zone” for hostage swap with FARC. Government continued to pressure remaining AUC former paramilitaries who have not entered temporary detention to comply with Justice and Peace Law, threatening ex-leader Vicente Castaño with extradition to U.S. on drugs trafficking if caught. On eve of October talks between government and ELN rebels in Havana, ELN commander Antonio García declared in favour of amnesty to imprisoned rebels as step towards full- fledged peace negotiations.
President Chávez lambasted President Bush in speech to UN General Assembly. Relations further deteriorated as Chávez accused Washington of funding opposition candidate Rosales and Venezuelan FM briefly detained at JFK airport. Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Caracas; signed series of bilateral agreements. Chavez continued to pursue support for Security Council bid at Non-aligned Movement summit in Cuba. Chile requested replacement of Venezuelan ambassador after he criticised Christian Democratic Party for opposing Security Council bid.
MINUSTAH peacekeeping force partially redeployed to consolidate control over trouble spots near Port-au-Prince 11 September, including Cité Soleil slum. PM Alexis asked U.S. to end weapons embargo in order to rearm police force.
President Garcia made controversial decree granting legal assistance to hundreds of military officials due to face trial for alleged human rights abuses during Peru’s 1980s and 1990s conflict against Shining Path guerrillas. Former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos given 20-year prison term for arms sales to Colombian FARC in 1999.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said 29 September there was “no progress” in forming national unity government. Tensions between Hamas and Fatah increased over 15 September assassination of General Jad Tayeh, senior intelligence officer, and 4 bodyguards. Hamas-led Interior Ministry deployed Executive Force to prevent demonstrations by PA security forces against government 1 October; 2 killed in ensuing clashes. Abbas and Hamas leader Haniyeh had reached 8- point agreement 11 September, implicitly endorsing Quartet conditions (recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past agreements) and establishing basis on which new Palestinian government would be formed. But Abbas’ explicit statement in UN speech 21 September that new government would recognise Israel caused Hamas to backtrack. Israeli military court overturned previous ruling to release on bail Hamas MPs and cabinet ministers currently in detention; separately, Deputy PM Nasir Shair released 27 September.
Hizbollah held “victory” rally 22 September. Leader Hassan Nasrallah declared group still possessed over 20,000 rockets; would not immediately disarm but does “not want to keep the weapons forever”. Nasrallah said would release 2 Israeli soldiers, captured in 12 July raid that sparked conflict, if Lebanese militant Samir Qantar plus another, held by Israel for 27 years, also freed. Israeli troop withdrawal from south reportedly completed 1 October. Lebanese troops deployed to Israeli border for first time in 4 decades as required by UNSC resolution 1701. German government approved deployment of 2,400 navy personnel to patrol coast. Turkey and Qatar agreed to send troops to enhanced UNIFIL. UN and Lebanese army experts continued to remove unexploded Israeli ordnance from South Lebanon; investigation opened over use of cluster bombs. Official Israeli army inquiry concluded 25 July bombing of UN observation post and killing of 4 observers result of “tragic error”: UN stated Israel obstructed UN investigation. Head of UN enquiry into February 2005 killing of former PM Hariri reported progress but called for continued international support in briefing to UN Security Council 29 September. Intelligence officer and former investigator into Hariri killing wounded in 5 September attack.
President Assad reportedly told 3 Israeli Arab politicians Damascus ready to establish peace with Israel based on Arab League’s 2002 plan: Israeli retreat to 1967 borders, multilateral solution for refugees, recognition of and diplomatic ties with Israel. Israeli PM Olmert rejected peace overture, accusing Damascus of harbouring Palestinian terrorists. Assad maintained rejection of UN peacekeepers along Syria/Lebanon border but asked for EU advice and assistance: EU technical assistance for Lebanese side already agreed. Syrian security guards foiled attack on U.S. embassy in Damascus 12 September, intercepting 4 militants after their car bomb failed to explode; 3 killed in gunfight. UN report into February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese PM Hariri deemed cooperation with investigation “generally satisfactory”.
EU’s unanimous stance in nuclear negotiations broken by French President Chirac’s suggestion that suspension of uranium enrichment be up for negotiation rather than prerequisite for talks. EU foreign policy chief Solana and Tehran’s nuclear negotiator Larijani met 27 September: reported progress but no agreement. U.S. President Bush continued to push for sanctions following Iran’s failure to meet 31 August IAEA deadline to halt enrichment. U.S. Senate passed legislation 30 September for sanctions on any entity contributing to Iran’s weapons programs, extending existing economic sanctions on Iran, but also allowing for presidential waiver authority on sanctions.
Spike in sectarian violence as holy month Ramadan began. 200 bodies showing signs of torture found near Bagdad while 9 severed heads found north of city. UN expert suggested torture currently worse in Iraq than under Saddam Hussein. U.S. troops enforced 24-hour curfew in Baghdad 30 September after “green zone” security alert. Violence led some observers to conclude PM Maliki’s government lacks political will and capacity to take steps against Shiite groups, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army. UK forces claimed killing of senior al-Qaeda fugitive, Omar al-Farouq, in Basra. Politicians reached agreement to debate legislation allowing creation of autonomous federal regions but postponed implementation for 18 months; one Shiite party supports measure as step toward emulating Kurdish autonomy in north, while Sunnis and most other Shiites opposed due to fear of being cut off from oil revenues or facing Iraq’s break-up.
Incumbent President Saleh re-elected for another 7- year term with 77% of 20 September vote. Main opponent, former oil minister Shamlan, received 21.8%. Opposition claimed election rigged but international monitors said vote “open and genuine”. 42 killed in stampede at Saleh rally but no serious political violence reported. Security forces foiled 2 simultaneous suicide attacks on oil and gas facilities 15 September; 4 bombers killed before they reached targets.
Government extended expired amnesty for rebels. Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) vowed to continue struggle and said joining al-Qaeda, but police dismissed group as lacking capacity for major attacks. GSPC claimed responsibility for 2 September ambush which killed 4 police. Banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) leader Rabah Kebir returned to Algiers after 10-year exile 17 September; pledged commitment to national reconciliation process.
Official clampdown on Muslim Brothers continued: over 90 detained in north including 70 in Alexandria. 3 suspected members of Tawhid wa ‘l-Jihad group sentenced to death over involvement in October 2004 Red Sea resort bombings; 3 denied charges. Government announced restart of civilian nuclear power program to meet energy needs after 20-year freeze; U.S. supportive of move. Information minister banned editions of Le Figaro, Frankfurter AZ and Guardian Weekly for publishing articles allegedly insulting Islam.
EU announced observer team will monitor November parliamentary elections, calling poll important step on road to democracy.