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NightWatch 20100525


For the Night of 25 May 2010

North Korea-South Korea: The North declared Tuesday (25 May) that it would sever all communication and relations with South Korea as punishment for blaming it for the sinking of a South Korean patrol ship.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a political organ related to the official Workers' Party of Korea and tasked in part with managing North-South relations and shaping North Korean propaganda in the South, issued a statement on 25 May declaring a total freeze in inter-Korean relations.

The eight point statement cuts all channels of dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul; removes Red Cross liaisons between the two Koreas; bans all South Korean ships and airliners from North Korean territory and declares there will be no resumption of inter-Korean communication until the end of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak's term in 2012. In addition, the statement declares that the Kaesong joint economic zone project is suspended immediately and all personnel from South Korea will be "expelled without delay."

North Korea charged that South Korean warships trespassed into its territorial waters in the past two weeks and that the intrusions could lead to military conflict, according to KCNA. Dozens of South Korean warships intruded into the North's territorial waters in the last ten days, a North Korean official said in a notice sent to South Korea. If South Korea continues its intrusions into territorial waters, Pyongyang threatened to take "practical military measures" to defend its waters and South Korea will be held fully accountable for all the consequences, he warned

South Korea resumed propaganda broadcasts into North Korea, The Associated Press reported 25 May. The military resumed radio broadcasts airing Western music, news and comparisons between the South and North Korean political and economic situations, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military also planned to launch propaganda leaflets to inform North Koreans about the ship sinking.

The Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they have not detected any indicators of unusual activity by North Korea's military. However, Reuters reported that unidentified sources said Kim Chong-il ordered the Korean People's Army to increase their alert status. Without confirmation and more details, it is impossible to determine which of the four stages of combat readiness the forces have been ordered to assume.

The Reuters report, while expected, has not yet been confirmed by South Koran official sources. Such a measure heightens the tension because South Korea must respond, usually asymmetrically. Competing readiness increases are a first stage in an escalation spiral.

The Lee government also presented the findings of its investigation into the sinking to Russian President Medvedev who, predictably, called for restraint by both Koreas.

Comment: The events on Tuesday moved the increased tension closer to a flashpoint. The North has completed its isolation from the South, the kind of move it orchestrates when there are internal leadership problems as well as in reaction to external threats.

The resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts is one of the two actions by South Korea that the North announced on Monday would result in a shooting incident across the Demilitarized Zone, in the central sector. The South is calling the North's bluff, except the North is not bluffing. That means the South should have a contingency plan in place that includes retaliation responses prepared in advance.

Thailand: For the record. A Thai court approved an arrest warrant for fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges in connection with recent deadly street protests, Agence France-Presse reported.

Last week the government indicated it would charge Thaksin with terrorism, in addition to corruption. The issuance of an arrest warrant means the government has presented a sufficient quality and quantity of evidence to support a warrant. The terrorism charge moved forward another step.

Security. The Cabinet approved a four day extension of the night curfew, instead of the seven day extension the security establishment wanted.

Pakistan-India: The Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld a decision to free Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the leader of banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charitable arm Jamat-ud-Dawa, The Christian Science Monitor reported May 25. Saeed is blamed by India for planning the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 160. He was placed under house arrest in December 2008 but was released in 2009 by a Pakistani court on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court's decision.

Comment: This court action, presumably, affirms the ruling by the lower court on the insufficiency of the evidence, which is a matter of law not facts. It means the Pakistani prosecutors failed to make a case. They will blame India for not providing more and better evidence to support the charges.

This is an untimely setback to improved relations, coming the day after Indian Prime Minister Singh announced his new talks initiative. Some Indian strategists will interpret this Court ruling as Pakistan's rejection of his initiative and will so advise Prime Minister Singh.

End of NightWatch for 25 May.

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