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NightWatch 20101027


For the Night of 27 October 2010

North Korea-South Korea: At a meeting in Kaesong to discuss family reunions on Wednesday, North Korea demanded South Korea provide 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer n return for concessions in the reunion program.

"North Korean delegates linked the issue of separated families and the aid, indicating that they could make concessions if rice and fertilizer aid are given," an unidentified South Korea official said. In response to the request for aid, South Korean representatives replied that they were not in a position to give an answer and would refer it to government authorities.

Comment: A reunion event will begin Saturday at the jointly-run Mount Kumgang resort on the North's east coast and will last six days, linking 100 people from each side with long-separated family members. Seoul wants to hold similar reunions once a month between March and November, since many elderly people die before getting a chance for such a meeting.

The North's choice of venue for presenting an enormous demand leaves no doubt that the country has a severe food shortage. Moreover it does not anticipate good harvests in 2011 without South Korean aid.

Curiously, the North's version of communism stresses a home-grown, mythical notion of self-reliance. The facts are that since the Korean War the North has never been self-reliant in anything, but propaganda and bombast. Without Soviet and Chinese aid of every kind and South Korean and Japanese trade, the country would have imploded decades ago.

Today's demand made no mention of "chuche," the North's term for self-reliance. The North is desperate for help.

India-US: Indian authorities are concerned that militant Kashmiri separatists could launch attacks during President Obama's visit, in order to draw the world's attention to the region. Home Affairs Secretary Gopal Pillai told CNN-IBN television today, 27 October, that India is on alert to prevent attacks like the incident in which militants in Kashmir killed 35 Sikhs in 2000 during then-U.S. President Clinton's visit to India.

Comment: Indian concerns are well grounded in recent history. A study by a group of old hands a few years ago showed that in the past 10 years, almost every time a US or UK senior official visited India or Pakistan the Kashmiri militants at least tried to execute a sensational attack. Every time the stated purpose was to draw attention to their complaints … to raise awareness.

The other finding of the study was that sensational killing of civilians always backfired by showing the militants to be terrorists and murderers.

Palestinian Authority: Hamas leaders claim they are willing to accept Fatah's request to meet somewhere other than Damascus to discuss reconciliation, senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said on 27 October, according to a report by Maan news agency. Hamas initially rejected the request to change the meeting, during which the two sides were slated to discuss security issues, but managed to agree on the Egypt-backed unity deal, al-Bardawil said. Al-Bardawil also praised Fatah leader Azzam al Ahmad's recent statements about reconciliation, adding that Hamas' only concern is that Fatah should have a genuine desire to end the division.

Comment: Agreements on venue and atmospheric changes tend to camouflage the lack of progress in reconciliation talks and the fundamental differences between Fatah and Hamas that make progress impossible without existential change.

So the two are going through the motions of reconciliation as a way of political testing. The key test words are contained in the Hamas statement of concern: "that Fatah should have a genuine desire to end the division." In practice, these words contain a challenge to Fatah to hold free elections in the West Bank and to accept the result if Hamas should win.

Fatah's willingness to hold elections in which it likely would lose power in Palestine would satisfy Hamas that Fatah had a genuine desire to end the division.

Somalia anti-piracy patrol: Update. The Danish navy says it sank a Somali pirate boat in the Gulf of Aden. Spokesman Kenneth Nielsen said Wednesday that the command and control ship HDMS Esbern Snare intercepted a suspicious boat Tuesday, confiscated weapons and fuel, and detained six pirates. The Danes then used explosives to mine and sink the boat. The suspected pirates were later released since officials said no crime had been committed.

Earlier Wednesday, the European Union's anti-piracy force said pirates attacked but failed to hijack a French-flagged ship off the coast of Tanzania. The Danish navy ship is part of NATO's anti-piracy operation in the region.

European Union's anti-piracy force says the pirates are holding 19 ships and more than 420 hostages.

Comment: After several years of trying, the some 40 ships on anti-piracy patrols have made scant progress against the pirates but have maintained skills.

End of NightWatch for 27 October.

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