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NightWatch 20100104


For the Night of 4 January 2009

South Korea-North Korea: South Korean President Lee renewed a proposal that the two states establish liaison offices in each other's capitals. The offices would be the first standing channel of official, direct contact between the governments. Under the aegis of the UN Command, the two countries may contact each other via the military hotline. No direct channel links the political leaders.

When Mr. Lee first made the proposal in April 2008, shortly after his inauguration, North Korea dismissed it as a "shallow trick" to disguise his hard-line approach on the North. The North also rejected an American offer to establish offices in Pyongyang and Washington in the 1990s, during the last year of the Clinton administration.

In his fist address to the nation in 2010, Lee said, "We need to build a channel for constant dialogue between the South and the North…. In the new year, we must create a turning point in the South-North relations." President Lee later told reporters that by "a channel of constant dialogue," he meant high-level liaison offices.

In his Monday speech, Mr. Lee also proposed excavating the remains of tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers killed during the war and buried in major battle sites in the North. Bringing them home would be a symbolic gesture of reconciliation in 2010, which marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

Comment: Between 1995 and 2005, North Korea cooperated with the United States to find the remains of American war dead at well-known Korean War battle sites, including Unsan and the Chosin Reservoir, in a deal that brought the impoverished country millions of dollars.

In Vietnam and in North Korea, the search for remains has been a disguised aid program. In Vietnam every shovel full of dirt in search of remains cost $1million. And yet in both countries, young US investigators never asked about the living, vs the bones.

President Lee's proposal also focuses on the "bones", deliberating ignoring men known to be alive and incarcerated in the North. That focus always means the real aim of the proposal is to bribe the North for good behavior, rather than conduct a real search for the missing in action who are still alive.

The conciliatory tone of the North's New Year's editorial has encouraged the South to test the North's sincerity by resurrecting the proposal for exchanging liaison offices.

Pakistan: Update. Following the restoration of civil order in Swat District, North West Frontier Province, the local courts have resumed formal hearings, after a span of two years and two months. In addition to civil administration, the courts have also started its work in Matta tehsil of Swat, where four Qazis(Islamic law judges) and additional session judges heard cases. More than 55 hearings were held today. The courts were closed in Swat in October 2007 because of the deterioration of the security situation.

Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on 4 January ordering the Members of Parliament to delay their winter recess until the fate of the cabinet is settled. In Monday's Parliament session, lower house Secretary Saleh Mohammad Saljoqi read out President Karzai's decree directing the members not to go into recess until a new cabinet is approved.

Pursuant to Article 107 of the constitution, which stipulates that extraordinary sessions of the assembly can be held during a recess by order of the president, and for the immediate completion of the members of the cabinet of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the lower house has been instructed to postpone its winter recess until it completes the process of giving a vote of confidence to the cabinet members.

End of NightWatch for 4 January.

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