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NightWatch 20100126


For the Night of 26 January 2010

Japan: Update. On 24 January, voters in Nago, Okinawa, elected an independent as mayor with the help of the ruling Democratic Party. Susumu Inamine ran his campaign in opposition to the relocation of Futenma Marine Air Station to Nago, both on Okinawa. He won handily against his opponent who supported relocation as a jobs and investment engine.

Under a 2006 agreement with the Liberal Democratic government, the US and Japan agreed to relocate the Marine facility on Okinawa from Futenma to Nago. Prime Minister Hatoyama's Democratic Party administration has refused to honor the 2006 accord promised a de novo review to be completed by the end of May.

Cabinet Secretary Hirano noted the election represented the will of the people of Nago, but insisted that a mayoral election could not be determinative of national security issues. Hirano also said the government does not necessarily have to obtain a local government's consent in reaching a conclusion on where to move the Futenma Air Station by the self-imposed end-of-May deadline.

North Korea: Security. The Korean Central News Agency published and official announcement of closure zone off part of the west coast, presumably for military training, such as coastal artillery practice and anti-ship missile launches.

According to Agence France-Presse, a South Korean official confirmed that the North had banned shipping from an area in the Yellow Sea but gave no details. Yonhap said Seoul was watching to see if there were any preparations for a missile launch.

During this Watch, Agence France-Presse reported on 27 January the North fired several shells into the sea area near the South Korean-held Baengnyeong Island (P-Y Do) in the Yellow Sea which is within the North's "no sail" zone. The news agency said the South Korean military reportedly fired back and reported no casualties to South Korean personnel.

Diplomacy. During a plenary meeting in Pyongyang today, the North Korean side of the Committee for the Implementation of the 15 June Declaration proposed a joint event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration, the Korean Central News Agency said.

The meeting adopted a letter of invitation that "cordially proposes to hold a joint event in which those from all walks of life from the two Koreas and overseas Koreans who cherish national unity and unification will participate," said the agency, monitored here. High-ranking officials from parliament, party and cabinet, including Yang Hyong-sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, attended the gathering.

South and North Korea adopted the declaration for reconciliation and cooperation at the inter-Korean summit talks in 2000.

Note: The joint celebration announcement is good news, but the two events also expose again the contradictory nature of nearly simultaneous announcements from Pyongyang.

Sri Lanka: Update. The final results from today's presidential election are expected to be announced tomorrow, according to local media. Although most analysts state the election is too close to call, today the Rajapaksa government announced that it intended to challenge General Fonseka's right to stand in the election because he was not registered to vote.

Fonseka stated he registered to vote 18 months ago. The chief election commissioner said that voter registration was not a requirement for candidacy as president. But quickly added that was his personal opinion, in the face of protests.

India-Pakistan: Reuters reported an exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani security forces along the Line of Control in Kashmir. A spokesman for Indian border guards said Pakistani elements fired to provide cover to separatist militants trying to sneak into Indian-administered Kashmir from the Pakistani side to disrupt Indian Republic Day ceremonies in Jammu today. The Indians say the infiltrators were forced back into Pakistan.

A Pakistani security official said Indian forces used automatic weapons and mortar bombs in "unprovoked firing" that hit Bijhwat village near the Pakistani city of Sialkot. Pakistani spokesman Nadeem Raza said Pakistani security forces retaliated against Indian troops with full force, including the use of heavy weapons, ending the skirmish that lasted for about half an hour. No casualties were reported.

The last exchange of fire involving weapons other than small arms occurred in August last year. Prior to the 2003 ceasefire agreement, artillery duels across the Line of Control were daily events. Since then firefights between Indian forces and militant terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan have occurred seasonally. Indian forces always expect infiltrators to try to disrupt national holidays and are seldom disappointed.

Pakistan: Update. The chief election commissioner, Justice (retired) Hamid Ali Mirza has set 4 February as the date of the preliminary hearing on the eligibility of President Zardari to remain in office. The commission will hear arguments in the preliminary proceedings, following which it will decide whether the challenge is admissible for hearing

Libya-Russia: During his visit to Moscow that began today, Libyan Defense Minister Major General Younis Jaber is expected to sign a number of arms contracts, valued at more than $2 billion, according to Agence France-Presse and the Moscow Times.

Interfax-AVN quoted Russian sources who said, "Libya is ready to purchase some 20 combat airplanes, at least two S-300PMU2 Favorit division air defense missile systems, several dozen T-90S tanks from Russia, as well as to modernize more than 140 T-72 tanks and other weapons."

In the 1980's, Libya purchased from the Soviet Union up to 350 combat aircraft, including 130 MiG-23 fighters, 70 MiG-21s, six Su-24s and six Tu-22 long-range bombers. Today, the Libyan armed forces have around 4,000 pieces of Soviet-era military hardware, including a large number of air defense missile systems, naval systems and other weapons, Interfax-AVN reported.

The Russian Federal Service for Military-Technological Cooperation and state-controlled arms trader, Rosoboronexport, said that military-technological cooperation between Russia and Libya has been developing rapidly. Russia lifted its embargo on arms sales to Libya in 1999, a month after the UN.

Since at least May 2007 Libya has expressed interest in purchasing up to $2.5 billion in new arms, but Libya's $4.5 billion debt to the Soviet Union blocked progress. Ties languished until late 2007 when Libyan leader Qadhafi and Russian President Putin signaled new willingness to settle the debt and move relations forward.

During his April 2008 visit to Libya President Putin forgave the debt upon payment of debt service and Libyan agreement to award a number of high-end civilian contracts to Russian companies. In November Qadhafi visited Moscow to move ties along, including negotiations for the new arms purchases, always valued at more than $2 billion. Through this period, Libya also dealt with the UK, France and Italy for other kinds of arms. The big ticket, high-end, showy systems, however, have always been Russian.

General Jaber's visit plus the tone of the Russian press coverage suggest the deals are about to be closed. Russian media speculated that in the future, Libya also might buy Russia's advanced S-400 Triumph air defense missile systems, Kamov Ka-52 Alligator and Mil Mi-17 combat helicopters, Project 636 submarines, Molniya-type high-speed missile carrying motorboats and other arms, the source said.

The installation of S-300 anti-missile systems in Libya would represent a significant increase in the potential air defense threat in the air defense environment along the southern coast of the Mediterranean. The problem with Libyan arms is the enemy is never certain, except for Israel, and seems to depend on Qadhafi's state of mind.

Honduras: A Supreme Court Judge today found the top military commanders not guilty of abuse of power for ordering soldiers to expel ex-President Zelaya from Honduras at gunpoint last June.

Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera said in a statement that "prosecutors failed to prove the military chiefs acted with malice."

Rivera had ordered all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to remain in Honduras and testify after they were charged last week with abuse of power. In his ruling, Rivera said the commanders were justified because their actions were aimed at preserving the peace and they did not intend to cause the leftist president any harm.

On 27 January, President-elect Porfirio Lobo is scheduled to be sworn into office and Zelaya is expected to leave internal exile in the Brazilian Embassy for the Dominican Republic under a negotiated arrangement. He still faces treason and abuse-of-power charges, but Lobo has said he supports granting amnesty both to Zelaya and to all involved in the coup.

Comment: The finding will not satisfy the Zelaya supporters because it skirts key issues, including who gave the military leaders the order to arrest Zelaya and refuse to follow his orders as commander-in-chief. The Court probably lacks jurisdiction over the Congress. Plus some initial reports stated that Supreme Court judges were involved in the overthrow along with the Congress.

Still, the judgment and tomorrow's investiture of President-elect Lobo should put "paid" to this account.

End of NightWatch for 26 January.

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