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NightWatch 20100406

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For the Night of 6 April 2010

Australia: The Minister of Defence blocked a shipment of scientific equipment to Pakistan because of concern it could be used to help build weapons of mass destruction, a spokesman for Defence Minister John Faulkner said on 6 April. The government invoked the 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act to bar a leading Australian company from exporting two atomic absorption spectrophotometers to a Pakistani firm, reported The Australian newspaper.

The paper said the company wanted to sell atomic spectrophotometers to a Pakistani firm in a $115,000 deal to analyze liquid samples. However, it was unable to convince the government that the meters could not be used to analyze metals used for centrifuges and missiles.

Based on advice from the Department of Defence and supported by other agencies, the Minister decided that there are unacceptable risks associated with the provision of these goods, the spokesman stated.

Note: This is only the fourth time Australia has invoked the 1995 act to block shipment of advanced scientific equipment overseas. Previously, the government stopped export of dual use equipment to Iran or to countries which were judged likely to transfer them to Iran. This is tonight's good news.

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that a North Korean court has sentenced a US citizen to eight years' hard labor and imposed a fine, for illegal entry. Aijalon Mahli Gomes entered North Korea from China on 25 January.

"His guilt was confirmed according to the relevant articles of the criminal code of the DPRK at the trial. On this basis, the court sentenced him to eight years of hard labor and a fine of 70 million won (est. $700,000, per Yonhap)," KCNA said. "The accused admitted all the facts which had been put under accusation."

Swedish diplomats attended the trial on behalf of the US. Gomes had worked as an English teacher in South Korea and sought to protest North Korea's human rights record.

Comment: Several news agencies reviewed the past two cases of Americans who illegally entered North Korea and their outcomes.

Aug 2009 Former President Clinton interceded to have two journalists - Ling and Lee - released, ushering in a warming period with the US. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

Feb 2010 North Korea released Robert Park after three months in prison and after he admitted his mistake in court. He received a sentence of 8 year's at hard labor. The court showed leniency because of his sincerity and lack of understanding about life in North Korea. The warming period continued.

Apr 2010 North Korea sentenced Gomes to 8 years at hard labor and imposed a large fine. Gomes also admitted his wrongdoing. The warming trend continues, but is less vigorous and the price of cooperation increased by $700,000.

Gomes' sentence suggests the North is inviting more bilateral talks with the US, but the large fine indicates Gomes is being held for ransom in the event the US does not accept the invitation. The price for talks has gone up. One way or the other, the North intends to profit from Gomes.

China-Iran: A Foreign Ministry spokesman restated China's position on sanctions against Iran. "We hope all the parties to further enhance diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told a regular press conference.

The spokeswoman said China had maintained close contact with all the relevant parties and hoped all the parties would take more pragmatic and positive measures to properly solve the issue. China has always committed itself to safeguarding the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Note: China's position is unchanged: "China opposes Iran possessing nuclear weapons, but at the same time we believe that, as a sovereign state, Iran has the right to peacefully develop nuclear energy," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said exactly a week ago. Optimistic comments that China is considering support for a new round of sanctions against Iran are premature.

Thailand: Update. Thousands of anti-government demonstrators clashed with police and troops who were trying to prevent them from leaving Bangkok's commercial district to stage protests elsewhere in Bangkok, The Associated Press reported 6 April. The demonstrators pushed against police lines and pelted the riot squads with eggs and plastic water bottles. About 1,000 riot police and soldiers faced off against a similar number of protesters.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is in charge of the security operations in Bangkok, said police will issue arrest warrants against more than 10 Red Shirt protest leaders who led the seizures of the commercial district, according to The Nation. A Red Shirts leader challenged police to arrest him and other leaders, stating that protesters don't care how many arrest warrants are issued because they are fighting for democracy.

Comment: The polarization, manifest in the Bangkok demonstrations, is not just about policy. It is geographic, sociological and economic. The Red Shirt opposition - the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship - is supported mainly by rural farmers, many of whom live in the north. They strongly supported former prime minister Thaksin's populist policies, which threatened to shift political power out of the hands of the Bangkok's political class, the monarchy and the Army.

As long as the King remains incapacitated, the political situation will remain turbulent, but will not change much. Thailand is overdue for competent and unifying leadership in office.

Cambodia-Thailand: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen denied permission for former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin to use Cambodia for launching attacks `on the Thai government, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep said on Sunday. Press reports indicate Hun Sen also instructed Cambodian border troops to lend no support to Thaksin supporters, the Red Shirts. Thaksin remains a fugitive in Dubai. That is good news for Prime Minister Abhisit in Thailand.

Sri Lanka: Update. The BBC reported today that the first of two courts martial for ex-Army chief, Sarath Fonseka, has been adjourned. The trial of General Fonseka for participating in politics while in uniform had been set to resume on Tuesday, 6 April, but was adjourned because of a parallel case submitted to the Court of Appeal that challenges the legality of the courts martial.

The second court martial which charges the general with breaking Army procurement rules was also set to resume on Tuesday, but it also was adjourned until the appellate court hears the challenge petition.

Comment: General Fonseka says all the charges are politically motivated. He had a falling out with the President over who was responsible for the final victory over the Tamil Tigers, the General or the President. The majority of voters re-elected President Rajapaksa to a second term in January, suggesting he won.

India: On 6 April, the Home Affairs Secretary Gopal K. Pillai told the press that a force of possibly 700 Maoist rebels killed, and dismembered according to one account, 74 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) constables and one state police constable, plus wounded 7 others in two staggered ambushes in the forests of Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh State, east-central India. Rescue teams were later ambushed in attacks using landmines and gunfire.

Home Secretary Pillai said that the rebels booby-trapped the area of the ambush. "Preliminary reports indicate that the Maoists planted pressure bombs in surrounding areas at places where the security forces might take cover…. As a result of this, the bulk of the casualties have arisen from the pressure bomb blasts."

The BBC reported that Maoists have stepped up attacks in recent weeks in response to a big government offensive along what is known as the "red corridor", a broad swath of districts in rural areas of eastern India where the Maoist rebellion has been gathering strength among the rural poor. Nearly 50,000 federal paramilitary troops and tens of thousands of policemen are taking part in the operation in several states.

The rebels exploit rural and tribal anger over the lack of benefits and goods and services from India's economic development, according to the BBC. Even government officials acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaints of neglect. Dantewada District, for example, is a center of iron ore mining in India, but the native population is nearly destitute, by most accounts.

Comment: This was the worst attack against the CRPF and the greatest tactical success the Naxalites have achieved in their 40-plus year history of rebellion. It is also a colossal Indian intelligence and operational failure.

Prime Minister Singh has described the Maoists, also called Naxalites, as the biggest internal security challenge in India. They are active in 160 of India's 604 districts, all in the east, according to Indian analysts. Estimates of Naxalite strength vary, but range up to 20,000 fighters.

The government is willing to negotiate if the Maoists stop the violent attacks. The Maoists are willing to negotiate if the government releases four of its leaders and stops the police operation.

Two aspects of this Indian insurgency are worth noting. Most important is it is a police operation. All forces of order are from law enforcement agencies. The large federal paramilitary police force facilitates operations in multiple states. There are 205 CRPF battalions, according to the CRPF official web site, with 720 constables each, subordinate to the Home Affairs Ministry. It is the largest paramilitary force in the world.

The government has not yet achieved a force ratio or a capabilities advantage that guarantee suppression of the Naxalite armed groups, even with the help of thousands of local police. The CRPF operations have no tactical air support, as a matter of policy.

Nevertheless, the government will not use the Army, except as a last resort, because of the longstanding tradition of resistance to operations in support of civil authority. The Indian Army disdains police duty and the government does not favor it either. But those attitudes might have to change, if the police continue to falter.

Finally, the problems with the Maoists help explain India's limited patience with Pakistani officials over terrorist operations from Pakistan and support from Pakistan of militants in India's Jammu and Kashmir State.

Pakistan: Politics. The Federal cabinet of Prime Minister Gilani approved the constitutional reform package and the debate began in parliament.

The Secretary of the Ministry of Law, retired justice Mirza, went on a 20-day leave and might resign, as the latest casualty of the Supreme Court's demand that its orders be executed. The senior civil servant in the Law Ministry was found to have failed to send critical correspondence to Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against President Zardari, in defiance of a Court order.

Law Minister Awan is leading the stonewalling tactics, which are calculated to protect President Zardari, his longtime friend. The Attorney General of Pakistan resigned last week and fled the country.

Iraq: Today's bombings of apartment buildings and a market in mostly Shiite areas of Baghdad killed 50 people, bringing to 120 the number of deaths by terrorist act in Baghdad in the past five days.

For the record. A spokesman for the Awakening Council (AC) in Diyala Province today said the Iraqi government should stop arresting AC members and pay their salaries, al-Sumaria News reported. The spokesman warned that if the arrests continue, Sunnis may turn back to insurgency

Egypt: Baton-wielding police broke up a pro-democracy demonstration in Cairo today. Riot police beat and dragged protestors away from the upper house of Parliament, put them in trucks and took dozens away.

Demonstrations are illegal under Egypt's "emergency laws", which have been in place for 30 years.

The protesters were calling for a change to the constitution that they say would make elections fairer.

The demonstration was called by the 6 April youth movement, which backs the presidential candidacy of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Mr ElBaradei, 67, has hinted he might stand for election against 81-year-old President Mubarak, who has ruled since 1981, in an election due in 2011.

Note: Egyptian analysts say ElBaradei's appeal is that he is a civilian in a country long ruled by soldiers, and that he is untainted by corruption allegations. President Mubarak wants his son Gamal to succeed him. This is a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 6 April.

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