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NightWatch 20100318

NightWatch

For the Night of 18 March 2010

Japan-US-Okinawa: Update. Today Prime Minister Hatoyama said he intends to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture. He told reporters, "We will draw up a government proposal later this month. Following that, we will ask for the understanding of the U.S. government and the people of Japan too, though perhaps mostly that of Okinawans….I seek the understanding of the Okinawan people."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano said options include moving to inland sections of Camp Schwab in Nago or an area off White Beach in Uruma, both in Okinawa Prefecture.

North Korea: Mainichi Shimbun reported that longtime friend of Kim Chong-il, Ch'oe Ik-kyu was dismissed in January as Director of the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Workers' Party.

If confirmed, this is a significant move. The AGITPROP Department is responsible for ideological indoctrination of the Party members. It is one of three of four Departments that are essential in governing North Korea. One of its primary jobs is the task of indoctrinating the membership about leadership and succession issues.

Ch'oe would have been expected to lead the campaign to promote Kim Chong-il's third son, Kim Jong-un, as the next leader of the North. The Mainichi article cited several experts who suggested that Ch'oe was dismissed for mishandling the campaign or supporting one of Kim's other sons as successor.

Comment: Whatever the case, on 21 February the Korean Central News Agency described Kang Nu'ng-su, former Minister of Culture, as a "party department director," confirming some change in the top ranks of the Party. Unconfirmed reports, according to Mainichi, have indicated Kang is the Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department in place of Ch'oe."

Although Ch'oe's replacement is not confirmed, the circumstances are credible. Assuming Choe has been dismissed, the significance is that it tends to reinforce other reports on stress within the leadership over the succession.

North Korea-US: Today, the North ridiculed the US report on the North's human rights practices.

"The reports are nonsensical documents without any scientific accuracy as they grossly distorted human rights practices of many countries including the DPRK. No country of the world recognizes such nonsensical documents and pays heed to them…."

"It is a wanton violation of national sovereignty and a human rights abuse that the U.S. behaved as if it were "a human rights judge" in breach of the norm of international law calling for respect for sovereignty, though nobody entrusted such role to it."

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea threatened Thursday to confiscate real estate owned by South Koreans at the Mount Kumgang resort along the communist nation's east coast unless the South resumes tours in the next two weeks.

In a faxed message to the South's Unification Ministry and the Hyundai Asan Corporation, operator of the suspended tour project, the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a state agency in charge of cross-border exchanges, said it will look into all of the real estate inside the Mount Kumgang district beginning March 25. In a statement issued 4 March, the Committee said, "We would open the door to the tour of the Kaesong area from March and that of Mount Kumgang from April."

The committee called on the owners of the real estate and related officials to visit Mount Kumgang by the day of the planned probe, adding all assets of those who fail to meet the deadline will be confiscated, and they won't be able to visit the mountain again. It said it may revoke all accords and contracts on the business unless the South stops blocking the resumption of the joint ventures.

Comment: The South has multiple reasons for moving slowly, including increased prices of doing business, no safety guarantees for South Korean tourists and no contractual guarantees. The irony of the present situation is that the North is responsible for the suspension of tourism and interruption of economic cooperation.

The North's resort to threats is a sure sign of desperation because no other entity will work with North Korea on these projects. The tourist attractions only have cultural and sentimental value to Koreans; the joint economic zone is not profitable without South Korean subsidies. The flip-flops in policy remain unexplained.

Burma: The military junta, acting through the election commission, granted permission "to continue establishment and registration of political parties" today, in preparation for national elections later in the year.

The permission is only granted to parties whose objectives "are non-disintegration of the Union of Myanmar, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty and which are grateful and loyal to the State and accept and practice the genuine, discipline-flourishing multi-party democratic system." Hunh…?

The election commission shall be the judge of all that.

Afghanistan: The report from Marja District, Helmand Province, that ran in today's New York Times describes the worst case aftermath of the Coalition offensive as already having begun. The new District governor, backed by more than 4,000 soldiers and policemen, said the Taliban rule the night in Marja. No one is said to be safe at night more than 1 km radius from the base of the security forces, even though there is one soldier for every eight Afghan residents of Marja. That is not a useful measure for scaling forces, apparently.

This is tonight's all-too-familiar bad news.

The Commander of the German contingent in northern Afghanistan today announced his Provincial Reconstruction Team soon will launch a large offensive in the north similar to the Helmand operations by the US. That would be the second large offensive in less than a year. A brigade echelon operation in Char Dara District, Konduz Province, last year was a flop.

Turkey: Update. Prime Minister Erdogan came under political attack Thursday for his threat to deport thousands of illegal Armenian workers.

On Tuesday, Erdogan said, "There are 170,000 Armenians in my country. Of these, 70,000 are citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000... If necessary, I may have to tell them to go back to their country... I am not obliged to keep them here," he charged.

Note: Erdogan's remarks were in reaction to the US and Swedish legislatures' votes labeling as genocide the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, according to the BBC. His threat probably did little to change anyone's mind about Turkish attitudes towards Armenians. It represents a form of collective political punishment, rather than enforcement of Turkish laws. Somehow Erdogan missed the difference.

Mexico: For the record. Mexican commentators are concluding that the cartels have adopted terrorism as an organizational policy. A prominent television analyst asserted that the drug cartels' killing of innocent bystanders constitutes "real terrorist actions." He asserted that the US Consulate murders mark the beginning of a phase of "international terrorism."

An influential column in the national daily Reforma published that the cartels have now begun "using tactics similar to Al-Qa'ida in Iraq."

A commentary in the respected daily El Universal argued on 16 March that the cartels use gruesome tactics "to produce general terror," and a political analyst on the popular television channel XEW stated that the presence of children in both attacks "cannot be by chance. "

Note: The murders always have had a terror ripple effect, but most coverage has attributed them to retaliation for collaboration, self-defense, revenge, or gaining an edge on a rival gang. In other words, the violence is not random and theoretically avoidable. Resort to more indiscriminate terrorist killings is calculated precisely to make conditions feel unsafe no matter what people do to protect themselves.

End of NightWatch for 18 March.

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