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NightWatch 20110425


For the Night of 25 April 2011

Cambodia-Thailand: Update. Cambodian and Thai troops exchanged gunfire on 25 April at the Ta Moan temple which both countries claim. Thai troops fired six rounds of artillery that caused no casualties, according to the Cambodia Ministry of Defense. The Royal Thai Army reported Cambodian forces shelled Thai territory at the same location.

Comment: This is a problem waiting for mediation. Unless the two nations are prepared for a border war, which is not evident, this dispute can only be settled through negotiation .

Afghanistan: An estimated 475 inmates escaped from the main prison in Kandahar at around 11:00 p.m. 24 April via an escape tunnel, Afghan prison supervisor Ghulam Dastagir Mayar said.

Mayar said most of the escapees were Taliban insurgents. Afghan police and government officials confirmed the jailbreak, as did Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who said 100 Taliban commanders and many other militant fighters escaped. Taliban also claimed credit for designing the tunnel.

Comment: The prison in Kandahar has been the target of multiple successful and foiled breakouts. The latest is the most successful and strangest. All have involved cooperation by Taliban sympathizers among the prison staff.

Bahrain-Iran: The government has declared persona non grata, Hujatullah Rahmani, second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Bahrain, and has ordered him to leave Bahrain within 72 hours for links to a spy cell in Kuwait. The Bahraini Foreign Ministry summoned Iranian Charge d'Affaires Mahdi Islami and submitted to him a diplomatic memorandum to this end.

Comment: This action is not proof of Iranian meddling in Bahraini affairs, especially the political demonstrations. However, it is an official action consistent with the government's belief that Iran is medding.  The charge of having links to spy cells by Embassy officials is rather thin grounds for an explusion except when caught openly - which was not alleged -- or as a political message to Tehran.

Iran-Bahrain: An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman criticized Bahrain's expulsion of an official from the Iranian Embassy. The spokesman said the accusations were baseless and that the move to expel him was divisive and contrary to regional security and stability. The spokesman added that Iran reserves the right to retaliate in accordance with diplomatic protocol.

Yemen: Supporters of President Saleh clashed with anti-regime protesters on 25 April in Taiz, Yemen, with dozens injured, according to an opposition activist. Security forces set up concrete barriers to block roads leading to the Taiz governor's office and armored vehicles were deployed on the streets. Activists claimed presidential guards fired live ammunition and tear gas at the protestors.

Comment: The details cannot be confirmed, but the fact of another clash suggests the presidential guards and the activists outside Sanaa have not yet gotten the word about an agreement to transfer power.

The Yemeni opposition has accepted a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan for President Saleh to step down and for opposition participation in the transitional government, according to an opposition source.

For the record. The text of an agreement between the Yemeni government and opposition brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council was released 21 April. According to the agreement, within seven days after its going into effect President Saleh will form a national unity government in which 50 percent of the members will be from the opposition.

A constitutional committee will be formed to draw up a new constitution that will be voted on in a referendum. A timetable for new parliamentary elections will be set under the provisions of the new constitution, and after the elections, Saleh will request the leader of the party that gained the most votes to form a government. Saleh, his family and members of his government will be given full immunity from prosecution.

Comment: While the status of the agreement is not known, the principals are acting as if an agreement is close.

Syria: Syrian Army troops and tanks attacked the town of Daraa in southwestern Syria on April 25, firing on anti-government protesters and killing five, according to a Daraa resident, al Jazeera reported. The resident said private homes have become hospitals. Al Arabiya television also reported multiple deaths within the town.

Syria also sealed its land border with Jordan near the southern Syrian town of Daraa on 25 April to prevent people from leaving the country, according to a Syrian security official. The closure is one of the security measures in support of the suppression campaign in Daraa, in southwestern Syria.

The head of Syria's customs department, however, denied that the border was closed.

Comment: According to an international news analysis, the Asad regime has decided that Daraa is the center of the anti-government movement. The deployment of Army units indicates the regime views the Daraa uprising as Hafez al Asad viewed the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama in 1982. Bashar, the son of Hafez, is using his father's "Hama Rules" against Daraa, making it an object lesson for other centers of anti-government opposition.

Reports of the numbers of people killed in Hama during the suppression operations range from 7,000 to 40,000. Most independent sources assess at least 25,000 people were killed by the Syrian Army. After the destruction of the center of Hama by the Syrian Army and air force, open Sunni opposition ended. Hama stands as the most brutal action by any Arab Islamic state against its own people in modern history.

There are many differences between the uprising in Hama in 1982 and the situation in Daraa. One important difference is that the uprising in Hama in 1982 was not supported by uprisings in other towns. That made it reasonably easy to suppress in a single operation.

Today, opposition demonstrations have occurred in many towns, including suburbs of Damascus. Bashar faces a much more extensive internal instability problem than his father.

Bashar and the Alawite generals cannot suppress the unrest by destroying one town. However, they apparently are gambling that a strong application of force will intimidate and dissuade other opposition centers. A major concern is to prevent the spread of anti-government demonstrations to Damascus itself. Bashar's regime appears prepared to be as harsh in defense of the regime as was his father.

Internal instability most often is centripetal. Thus, the sign that the opposition is winning will be the start of anti-government demonstrations in Damascus. If those demonstrations do not take place, the Daraa gamble will have been a success, at least in the short term.

End of NightWatch for 25 April.

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