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NightWatch 20100423


For the Night of 23 April 2010

Japan-Djibouti: Agence France-Presse today published on update on Japan's first overseas base, which is being built in Djibouti, a small African state strategically located at the southern end of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aden. The purpose of the base is to support Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) ships in countering piracy off Somalia.

Pressure from Japan's maritime industry prompted the decision to join the anti-piracy patrols and to establish a base. MSDF Captain Kitagawa, who coordinates the effort told the press, "We are deploying here to fight piracy and for our self-defense. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden through which 20,000 vessels sail every year is worrying." He explained that 10 percent of the Gulf of Aden's traffic comes from Japan and 90 percent of Japanese exports depend on the sea lane.

Kitagawa also said, "This will be the only Japanese base outside our country and the first in Africa….We sent military teams to Yemen, Oman, Kenya and Djibouti. In April 2009, we chose Djibouti." The $40 million base should be completed by early next year.

Comment: More than 60 years after the end of World War II, generations of US policy makers as well as Japanese leaders can take pride in a great success: the maturing of Japan as an international power. The base is another forward step, but a potentially controversial one, especially for China.

The Japanese justification is sound on its face, but a base enables Japan to monitor Chinese naval activity in the western Indian Ocean much more easily and independently of others. South Korean and Indian naval ships also are likely to have access. All have trained bilaterally and share sustainment challenges to varying degrees. All three are wary of China's increasingly frequent naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea announced on 23 April that it has confiscated five South Korean properties at the Mount Kumgang resort, intends to confiscate all remaining properties and to expel the workers. Excerpts from the official statement follow as broadcast by the Korean Central Broadcasting Station.

"Press statement by the spokesman for the DPRK General Guidance Bureau for the Development of Scenic Spots" dated 23 April."

"A while ago, we took a resolute measure of freezing five of the properties of the South side in the Mt Ku'mgang Tourist Zone that have become useless as the first-phase measure to cope with the grave situation where there was no hope at all of resuming the tour of Mt Ku'mgang due to the South Korean authorities' vicious confrontation maneuvers against the Republic and their insincere attitude…."

"April, the month during which we have kept the door for the resumption of tour open, is almost over. The number of new businesses partners hoping to be part of Mt Ku'mgang tourism is growing as the days go by…."

"Now that the puppet gang is persistently resisting and standing in the way of resuming the tour, we will take resolute punitive measures one after another as stated earlier."

"Authorized by a relevant organ, the General Guidance Bureau for the Development of Scenic Spots of the DPRK solemnly declares that it begins taking the following second-phase measures and actions as a follow-up to the first-phase measures taken to freeze the properties of the South side in the Mt Ku'mgang Tourist Zone:

First, we will confiscate all of the five properties, including the Mt Ku'mgang Reunion Center and the fire brigade that belong to the South Korean authorities that have already been frozen and a cultural center, a hot spring resort, and a duty free shop that belong to the "Korea Tourism Organization" in compensation for the damage our side has suffered due to the suspension of the tour for a long period. The confiscated properties will either become the possession of the Republic or turned over to new business partners according to legal procedures.

Second, we will confiscate all the remaining properties of the South side in the Mt Ku'mgang Tourist Zone and expel all their management personnel. The steps we have taken to freeze and confiscate the properties of the South side in the Mt Ku'mgang Tourist Zone were entirely due to the puppet gang and the blame for them rests with the South Korean authorities. …"

Comment: The North has escalated, but it also has offered the South's companies the option of rebidding for them as new business partners. This matches its customary negotiating tactic of frequently renegotiating the same terms to probe for a better offer. No one seems to be scrambling to do business with North Korea except South Korea.

This move increases tension and pressure on President Lee to take some kind of action because the North appears to have some momentum in harassing South Korea with impunity. Probably not for long.

Thailand: Agence France-Presse reported that the army and anti-government protesters made tentative peace overtures on Friday in the interest of avoiding further violence, not to mention loss of revenue.

Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief General Anupong said today, "The use of force will not end the current problems and would have many repercussions," according to an Army spokesman. "The best thing is to create understanding among the people. The army's job now is to take care of the people, and not allow Thais to attack each other."

Yesterday the Red Shirts indicated for the first time willingness to compromise on the timing for the dissolution of parliament and scheduling of new elections.

Comment: After the show of force earlier this week, the authorization to use live ammunition and the grenade attacks, the Army's conciliatory statements today seem incongruent and indecisive, an adjective some analysts have used to describe Anupong.

The Red Shirts' willingness to bend a bit is an understandable stop gap measure to avert a crackdown. Thus far they have operated with impunity. The good news is that, on 23 April, Bangkok had no clashes.

Afghanistan: Al-Jazeera reported that its correspondent in Islamabad was informed that the leadership of the Taliban Movement in Afghanistan has decided to appoint Mullah Muhammad Hasan as the second in command after Taliban-Afghanistan leader Mullah Omar.

Hasan will replace Mullah Abdol Ghani Berader, who was arrested by the Pakistani authorities earlier. Meanwhile, rumors, deliberations, and several pieces of leaked information talked about the appointment of several other Taliban figures.

Comment: Mullah Muhammad Hasan Rahmani gave an interview to Asia Time Online in 2008 in which he identified himself as the former Taliban governor of Kandahar. He described himself as a daily associate of Mullah Omar. His task then was to refute reports in 2008 that the Taliban were interested in negotiations. His interview is essentially a victory statement, albeit premature.

After Mullah Berader was captured in February by Pakistani authorities in Karachi, Omar divided his responsibilities among two different close associates, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor. Zakir is considered viscerally anti-American because of his incarceration in Guantanamo and rose rapidly to leadership after his release. Mansoor is an original Taleb who has been with the movement since the beginning. As is Hasan Rahmani.

Several well-placed journalists reported friction in the leadership as a result of personality clashes. The Times published such an assessment today.

Assuming al Jazeera' report is accurate - it is the only source of this appointment -- the appointment would seem to lend support to The Times' thesis that the divided leadership at the second echelon was not working and, worse, was polarizing the Taliban. The announcement of a new second in command would signal an end to that arrangement.

NightWatch is completing its review of open source reporting on combat in March. The dip in clashes seen briefly in February, after Berader's capture, did not last. More on this later.

Iraq: Today, 23 April, was the bloodiest day of the year in Iraq. A series of bombings in mainly Shiite areas killed at least 69 people. News analysts said variously the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of al Qaida leaders last weekend week or were a demonstration of the continuing resiliency of the Sunnis. Either way, the bombings evidence a steady deterioration in security.

Somalia: Feedback on pirate attacks. One very knowledgeable and brilliant Reader wrote that the pirates often are at sea for long periods without eye protection. A significant number have poor vision as a result and are prone to attack any large ship they spot, including French destroyers and supply ships.

Special thanks for the feedback.

End of NightWatch for 23 April.

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