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NightWatch 20110424

NightWatch

For the Night of 24 April 2011

North Korea: North Korean Vice Marshal Kim Yong Chun warned on 24 April that the United States and South Korea would be "mercilessly beaten" by North Korean armed forces were they to engage in aggressive acts. Kim said the armed forces have made their position clear regarding provocations from the United States and South Korea.

Comment: Vice Marshal Kim, who is the First Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and deputy to Kim Chong Il, issued the warning on the eve of the anniversary of the Korean People's Army (KPA). The anniversary of the Army, on 25 April, is always a day for chest thumping by the North Koreans.

On Friday, however, North Korea reissued a more serious warning, against South Korea's launching of leaflets that criticize the Pyongyang regime. The KPA said in a statement that launch sites have been changed since its earlier threats to open fire across the border against the "smear campaign." "Leaflet-scattering is a form of psychological warfare and it is just a clear-cut war provocation," the statement said, according to the Korean Central News Agency. "Under this situation, our army officially informs the south side that it will expand the scope of direct fire, already declared, into full-scale destruction fire at any area anytime." it said.

Comment: Earlier, the North threatened to fire on specific places such as Imjingak, a tourist site near the border where leaflets are often launched by defectors and other opponents of the North. Bundles of tens of thousands of the flyers are slung under large helium-filled balloons, with a timing device attached to scatter them north of the Demilitarized Zone. Activists also send DVDs and $1 notes to induce North Koreans to pick up the leaflets despite the risk of punishment. Activists launched some 300,000 anti-regime leaflets across the border on 15 April as the North celebrated the 99th anniversary of the birth of its founding father Kim Il-Sung.

In light of last year's live fire provocations, the threat to fire on balloon launch sites needs to be considered serious.

Cambodia-Thailand: On Sunday fighting continued for a third consecutive day at a disputed area of the border, a Thai military official said on 24 April. The latest clashes lasted about three hours and involved small arms and artillery.

No casualties were reported on Sunday, but 11 soldiers were killed and 40 injured in fighting on Friday and Saturday. News sources on Monday reported no exchanges of fire.

Cambodia's Defense Ministry claimed Thai forces seized two temples in Cambodia and sent reconnaissance planes "deep into Cambodian airspace," A Cambodian commander charged Thailand with using poison gas and cluster munitions.

The Thai claim the temples are located in Thailand and that Cambodian forces are trying to take them from Thailand. They denied using proscribed munitions.

Comment: The latest fighting has occurred about some 93 miles west of Preah Vihear Temple, which was the site of armed clashes in February. Control of the temples means control of tourism. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is attempting to mediate the dispute.

Pakistan: Pakistan suspended delivery of NATO supplies to troops in Afghanistan after demonstrators began a supply route sit-in 23 April to protest US drone attacks, according to Pakistani media. NATO trucking service has been halted for three days and NATO vehicles have been ordered to park in other cities on the route, the Peshawar administration stated.

Imran Khan, a national cricket hero-turned political leader, vowed to use his Movement for Justice party to close all NATO supply routes into Afghanistan unless the drone attacks stop in 30 days. Speaking to a crowd of 5,000 people in Peshawar, Khan said, "If the government supports drone strikes, it should come clean and say so. If, on the other hand, it genuinely opposes them, then it should order the Pakistan Air Force to shoot them down. The government can no longer play on both sides of the wicket."

The supply route through the Khyber Pass was reported open on Monday, 25 April.

Comment: The potentially positive effects of recent US high-level visits were offset by continuing drone attacks during the visits. Other politicians have criticized the drones, including President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. However, they are from the established political class.

Imran Khan is a populist politician, who has had difficulty breaking into national political life against the opposition of the established parties. He is popular among the youth and appears to be trying to leverage this issue into electoral success in the future. More and more frequent disruptions are likely.

Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly has accepted in principle an agreement whereby he would resign in 30 days in exchange for full amnesty for himself, his family, and members of his government. Saleh has not signed the agreement, according to a Yemeni Foreign Ministry official.

Comment: Despite the international news coverage over the weekend, this is not a done deal. On Sunday, Saleh denounced the opposition again, insisted on a constitutional transfer of authority and wondered why NATO was not helping him in his fight against al-Qaida and Iranian sympathizers among the opposition.

Syria: Two Syrian lawmakers and a state-appointed Muslim leader resigned Saturday to protest the massacre of anti-government demonstrators by security forces on Friday. More than 100 people were shot dead in the bloodiest crackdown since anti-government demonstrations began in mid-March.

Comment: As long as the Syrian Army backs Asad, protests will not bring down the regime.

Libya: Fighting resumed in Misrata on 24 April, resulting in 25 people killed and at least 70 wounded, according to al Jazeera. A rebel spokesman said the city was under heavy bombardment by pro-Qadhafi forces, who were targeting the city center and three residential areas.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said the army had suspended operations against rebels in Misrata but stayed in the city to enable tribes to find a peaceful resolution to the fighting. If the rebels do not surrender within two days, armed tribesmen will fight in place of the army, Kaim added.

Comment: Most reports indicate pro-Qadhafi forces withdrew from Misrata, leaving it to the rebels. The shelling is from outside the main part of the city.

The statement by the Deputy Foreign Minister appears to be a cover story more than a threat. The Qadhafi government and the rebels have provided no explanation for the withdrawal. The shelling on the 24th suggests ammunition is not an immediate problem. Qadhafi might be having trouble retaining the mercenaries, at least some of whom signed on for only two months, which have now expired.

End of NightWatch for 24 April.

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