LONDON -- The world made some notable investments in long-term peace in 1996.
The United Nations was able to announce bans on chemical weapons, land mines and nuclear testing.
But away from the chambers of the Security Council, short-term interests and local goals took precedence. In many of the world's conflicts it was, sadly, business as usual.
Middle East tension mounted steadily through the year. Israel returned to the offensive in Lebanon in April, in Operation Grapes of Wrath, to try to stop Iran-backed Hezbollah guerillas firing rockets into its territory. Beirut was bombed and 10,000 shells fell on southern Lebanon, but the rockets continued.
Despite a cease-fire and a change of government in Jerusalem, the peace process continued to falter.
Syria raised the temperature in September by redeploying troops and equipment in Lebanon. By year's end, Israel's relations with the Palestinians, Syria, Egypt and Jordan were edgy and cool. Perhaps more significant yet, military morale was in serious question.
In Iraq, the United States also returned to the offensive. It launched cruise-missile strikes at Iraq in early September for violations of the no-fly zone. But Saddam Hussein remained in power, apparently strengthened.
The region's other main bogyman, Iran, climaxed a year of military build-up with the arrival of another Kilo submarine from Russia. Bahrain accused Iran of stirring up opposition to its ruling al-Khalifa family, and in June it claimed to have foiled a Tehran-backed coup.
Islamic groups opposed to the Western presence in Saudi Arabia bombed the Khobar Towers near Dhahran on June 25, killing 19 U.S. service personnel and wounding almost 400 people. In October, coalition forces moved to a more secure desert base at al-Kharj.
Turkey emerged as a key regional power-broker in 1996, signing military agreements with Israel and Jordan and talking to Iraq about Kurdish separatism. It continued to struggle with the Kurdistan Workers Party, launching operations in April, June and August. The Kurds hit back through three female suicide bombers.
Turkey also contributed to mounting tension on Cyprus. It sent additional units to counter what it saw as Greek Cypriot build-ups.
In June, Turks shot a Greek Cypriot soldier on the Green Line, the dividing line since the Turkish invasion in 1983. In August two more Greek Cypriot protesters were killed. But toward the end of the year, the prospect of peace talks looked healthy.
Turkey and Greece also managed to lower the temperature in the Aegean, where ancient enmity continued to spill over into occasional violence.
In the Near East, Islamic fundamentalism was at the root of several conflicts.
Libya had trouble with dissidents, mainly Islamic fundamentalists. Col. Muammar el Kadafi sent troops east to quell discontent in March and in August his air force bombed militants in the eastern mountains. In April, the United States warned that underground construction work at Tarhunal, 40 miles southeast of Tripoli, would not be allowed to finish. U.S. officials believe the site is to be a chemical-weapons plant.
In Algeria violence erupted before a referendum in November. The vote itself, on whether to ban political parties based on creed or race, passed off relatively peacefully in the secular government's favor.
Violence spilled over into Europe. In France, no-warning bombings occurred in Paris, and sabotage was suspected briefly when a train caught fire in the Channel Tunnel.
Elsewhere in Europe were reminders of long-running conflicts.
In Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army bombed British Army headquarters in Lisburn. This was its first attack on a military installation in two years. In Spain, a bomb planted by Basque separatists killed an Army sergeant in Cordoba. Separatist bombers on Corsica claimed responsibility for several bombings since November 1995 but promised to maintain a cease-fire to October.
In eastern Europe, NATO could claim a measure of success in implementing the Dayton agreement for Bosnia.
Its Implementation Force lost 50 peacekeepers during the year, but none to fire from the former warring factions. There were tit-for-tat killings in Mostar in spring and fighting in November in the northeast, and the continuing freedom of war criminals looked likely to be a running sore.
But NATO agreed to replace I-FOR with a Stabilization Force of 30,000 for 1997.
In Croatia, Eastern Slavonia continued to be a potential flash point. At least 150,000 Serbs live there and only a few hundred non-Serbs.
Africa could claim at least one success for peace in 1996. In Sierra Leone, a coup in January led to elections in March and a new president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. In December, he and Revolutionary United Front leader Foday Sankoh signed a peace accord to end the five-year civil war which has cost 10,000 lives.
Respite from 20 years of civil war in Angola became less assured as the year advanced, despite 1995's accord. There was fighting in October with a risk of the insecurity spreading.
West African peacekeepers pulled out of Liberia, complaining about raids on their weapons stores. In April talks halted the fighting, but in May it broke out again in Monrovia. Cote D'Ivoire strengthened its border with Liberia in August to keep the civil war from spilling over. In November, the United Nations started to disarm the warring factions.
In Central Africa, the threat of disaster advanced and retreated.
A Tutsi-led coup toppled the government of Burundi in July. A crisis developed in Zaire in October with clashes between the army and ethnic Tutsis in the east. The violence threatened to draw in Rwanda's troops and engulf the refugee camps. The United Nations planned brisk intervention, but the return of refugees to Rwanda defused the crisis.
In the northeast, Sudan and Somalia continued to be regarded as regional troublemakers.
In Sudan the government foiled at least two coups and arranged a truce with the rebel South Sudan Independence Movement. But the People's Liberation Army and a splinter group of the South Sudan movement joined forces against it.
Among its neighbors, Sudan was suspected of involvement in the attack on a party of tourists outside a Cairo hotel in Egypt.
Uganda blames Sudan for the trouble it has with the Lord's Resistance Army. In September it claimed Sudanese MiGs attacked one of its army barracks, and in October, Lord's guerillas seized 300 villagers and took them to training camps on the Sudan border.
The West Nile Bank Front, led by supporters of Idi Amin and thought to be Zaire-based, also gives persistent trouble.
Ethiopia had Sudanese and Somali forces on its borders and the Ogaden National Liberation Front to deal with internally. Ethiopia and Somalia fought over the Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia in 1977.
In Somalia there has been civil war since 1988. In July the warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid died of gunshot wounds, only to be succeeded by his equally belligerent son, Hussein. Kenya brokered a cease-fire but shelling broke out again in October. Kenya later restricted access to Somalis to its northeastern borders.
Army mutinies threatened peace in Congo in February and, three times in the year, in the Central African Republic. Troops ran amok in Zambia in January, burning a village. A group calling itself Black Mamba launched a bombing campaign in May.
Security forces in Nigeria went on the alert after explosions in army and air force bases in May.
In South Africa, violence caused the authorities to postpone elections in Kwazulu-Natal twice.
In Asia there were significant developments in a number of conflicts, if not resolutions.
In Chechnya, rebel leader Dzhokhar M. Dudayev was killed in a rocket attack, apparently giving his assassins a bearing by using a mobile phone. Fighting continued sporadically until August, when Boris N. Yeltsin's security chief Alexander I. Lebed arranged a peace deal. Lebed's sacking in October cast doubt on the settlement but the truce held despite explosions, kidnapping and four deaths of Russian soldiers in November.
Conflict continued in Georgia. The United Nations suspended its attempt to keep the peace between Georgia and breakaway Abkhazia in March when a Bangladeshi soldier was killed by a mine. In May, Azerbaijanis were suspected of blowing up a bridge on a key route to Armenia. In December three Abkhazian fighters were killed by Georgian soldiers.
For a while, Afghanistan looked set for negotiated peace. President Burhanuddin Rabbani signed accords with warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in May and Rashid Dostam in August. In September he lost his capital, Kabul, to the Islamic militant movement Taliban. Taliban's advance northward was checked by Dostam and his new ally, Ahmadshah Massoud, Rabbani's defense minister, but not reversed.
The government of Sri Lanka finally pushed the separatist Tamil Tigers out of their Jaffna stronghold in May, but 13 years of continuous conflict are not ended. In December the Tigers overran a police camp, killing 36.
Khmer Rouge guerrillas claimed to have killed 134 government soldiers in a week of fighting in February. But Cambodia made a breakthrough in March: Heng Pong, leader of Khmer 18th Division, defected with 357 soldiers. In August, Pol Pot's right-hand man, Ieng Sary, defected along with two field commanders. In September, two Khmer bases fell and 2,000 fighters were said to have defected.
The government of Myanmar (Burma) struck a peace deal with the insurgent Mong Tai Army, with 12,000 to 15,000 troops. Since 1989 more than 12 ethnic-based rebel armies have now reached agreement with Yangon (Rangoon). But rebel Karens fought on, despite a cease-fire in May 1995.
China harassed shipping in the South China Sea, made a grab for Mischief Reef in the Spratlys and declared an oil deal between Vietnam and Conoco "illegal, null and void." It embarked on large amphibious exercises before elections in Taiwan, prompting increased U.S. activity in the area.
North Korea's economic woes deepened but its hostility did not weaken.
The oddest episode of the year on the divided peninsula was the discovery in September of 11 bodies near a grounded North Korean minisubmarine on the South Korean coast. This attempted infiltration of North Korean agents eventually cost the lives of 24 North Koreans, nine South Korean soldiers and four civilians.
India's rivalry with Pakistan broke out into artillery duels in February. Ex-CIA Director John M. Deutch warned the "potential for conflict is high."
Fighting broke out again in Jammu-Kashmir in April when police raided a suspected rebel hide-out. Elections forced on the province caused more violence, spilling over into Delhi. In September heavy fire erupted between Indian and Pakistani forces in the Siachen Glacier region. Indian forces also crossed into Bhutan and attacked a base for guerillas who have waged a secessionist campaign in the neighboring state of Assam since 1979. Separatist rebels in the northeastern state of Manipur ambushed a police convoy in April.
Bangladesh added Buddhist Chakma rebels suspected of extortion to its problems in the Chittagong Hills area with Shanti Bahini rebels. Maoist-inspired insurgency in Nepal claimed more than 60 lives.
Trouble over Bougainville Island's separatist ambitions intensified.
Papua New Guinea forces exchanged fire with Solomon Islands police officers during an armed incursion into the Solomons and stepped up their action even further in June.
In the same month, the Philippines government reached agreement -- after 27 years of conflict -- with the Moro National Liberation Front. But a Moro splinter group and the communist New People's Army fought on. Libya offered to host talks to extend the peace deal.
Indonesia Special Forces released nine hostages held since January by the separatist Free Papua Movement. Eight rebels and two hostages were killed in the action.
Latin America also had a success story. In Guatemala, President Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity put an end to a 36-year civil war in which more than 100,000 have died. The agreement was sealed in Mexico City in September, with a treaty to be signed Dec. 29.
In Colombia, an almost equally long-running struggle continued. Revolutionary Armed Forces killed four police officers in May to mark the 32nd anniversary of their armed struggle against the government. National Liberation Army rebels were also active through the year.
U.S. soldiers left Haiti in January as part of a phased withdrawal. In June, five police officers were killed in a spate of violence. In December the United Nations renewed the mandate for a final six to eight months.
In Nicaragua, two rearmed contras were killed by the Army 250 miles north of Managua in June. In August, the government sent three patrol boats to waters disputed with Honduras.
Honduras disarmed vigilante groups patrolling the El Salvador border in September to combat crime.
A new rebel group emerged in Mexico in July, the People's Revolutionary Army in Guerrero state. Government officials suggested it was a cover for drug traffickers and other criminals. Talks with the Zapatista rebels broke down in August, but by October it was claimed they might participate in elections in 1997.
The United States felt the February 1995 border dispute between Peru and Ecuador was still simmering and tried to apply pressure for a settlement by setting a deadline for its withdrawal. Peru promptly bought 12 MiG-29s and ordered 14 more ground attack aircraft, Ecuador having bought Israeli Kfir fighters earlier in the year.
A U.S. spokesman said this dispute had the potential to become the western hemisphere's Cyprus.
David Guest is a correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly, part of the Jane's Information Group in London, which also publishes "Jane's Fighting Ships" and other military books and journals.
Pub Date: 12/29/96