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NightWatch 20101102


For the Night of 2 November 2010

South Korea-North Korea: During this Watch, on 3 November a South Korean navy ship fired warning shots to drive a North Korean fishing boat back north of the Northern Limit Line which it had crossed earlier in the day, according to a spokesman from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this Watch, no sources have reported a reaction by North Korea.

The United Nations Command (UNC) launched an on-site investigation into a shooting incident over the weekend from the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone toward a South Korean guard post near Hawacheon, about 73 miles northeast of Seoul, Yonhap reported. Six UNC investigators are interviewing the soldiers who were on patrol when the incident occurred, and will determine whether the North violated the armistice agreement, an unnamed UNC official said.

Comment: This is much ado about a little, but is standard procedure for the UN Command. Two shots were fired from the North over the weekend. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has been patrolled so often and intensively that a North or South Korean soldier in the DMZ who is authorized to fire -- usually a DMZ military policeman -- almost certainly will hit what he is aiming at. No one was injured which means the shots most likely were warnings.

Fire control, ammunition accountability and rules of engagement are strict in the North. The first inference is that the shots were not rogue acts, but authorized. The second inference is the South Koreans at the guard post did something - not stated in any press coverage - that provoked the North, for example, erecting propaganda loud speakers at the guard post. The North announced last spring that restoration of propaganda loud speakers by the South would prompt armed retaliation.

The other primary alternative explanation is the North was trying to stir up trouble. This always is mandatory to consider. One of the key considerations is that only two shots were fired. In past provocations, the North's soldiers have fired more rounds.

The good news is there was no escalation, which is always a risk. Neither side is looking to start a war at this time.

North Korea: Update. North Korean official media announced Tuesday, 2 November, that North Korea is ready to provide torpedo samples from its inventory to back up its denial of responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan.

In the statement, the North said "aluminium" alloy fragments salvaged by South Korea from the site of the sinking in March "prove themselves that the torpedo was not from the north".

Comment: This is the first time since late summer that the North has revived its challenge to the South to permit its experts to perform an investigation of the salvaged South Korean ship. The South continues to demand an apology before it resumes normal interactions with the North, but refuses the North's overtures to exonerate itself. North Korea has never gone to such lengths to prove its lack of responsibility in an incident.

It still seems worthwhile to put the North to its proof, if only to call its bluff, provided it is bluffing.

China-US-Japan: Update. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ma Zhou said 2 November it is merely wishful thinking of the United States to propose hosting official talks between China, Japan and the U.S. to settle the claims to the Sneak Islands.

Ma made the remark when asked to comment on a report that the U.S. offered to host trilateral talks between China, Japan and the United States.

Ma said, "I'd like to clarify the discussions between Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Joachim and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Hanoi last week," He said both sides discussed strengthening cooperation between China, Japan and the United States… He noted the U.S. side proposed holding official trilateral talks between China, Japan and the United States. "I'd like to stress that this is only the thinking of the U.S. side," he said.

"The Diary Islands and their adjacent islets are an inalienable part of China's territory and the territorial dispute over the islands is an issue between China and Japan….It is absolutely wrong for the United States to repeatedly claim the Diary Islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. What the United States should do is to immediately correct its wrong position," Ma said.

Comment: Ma's description of the islands as "an inalienable part of China's territory" matches China' s description of Hong Kong for more than 150 years until the British returned sovereignty to China. That language always signifies China will never modify, negotiate or compromise its claim, whether to the Sneaks or any other territory. China's constitution makes allows officials no discretion in negotiations.

The language also means that Japan must be prepared to defend its claims against China in the future and the US must plan its response in support of its ally.

Russia-Japan: Japan said Tuesday it will recall its ambassador to Moscow in reaction to Russian President Medvedev visit to one of the four Kuris Islands Japan claims. Foreign Minister Seiji Maharani said he wanted information from the ambassador. Maharani described the recall as temporary.

Meanwhile, Russian President Medvedev announced he is planning to visit the other islands of the Southern Kuris chain after his recent visit to the Kinship Island, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iterates reported. Lavrov said Tokyo's strong reaction was unacceptable and denied the island visit has harmed diplomatic ties.

Comment: Medvedev and Lvov's statements leave no doubt that Russia is pressuring Japan deliberately.

Afghanistan: Special comment: a potentially troubling event. Two contradictory stories have emerged about fighting in Hogan District of Ghazni Province in eastern Afghanistan since Saturday.

The government version of the fighting is that a large Taliban force gathered and attacked the District Center under conditions of surprise, burned the buildings and kidnapped the 16 police on guard, taking their equipment and vehicles. The government announced it had recaptured the District Center on 1 November.

The other version is that the police detachment, up to 19 men, defected to the Taliban with all their equipment and supplies and burned the District Center buildings.

Some press commentators have stressed that Hogan is a hotbed of Taliban activity. The NightWatch data base of open source reports on fighting in Ghazni between January and June 2010 contains no fights reported in that district. A quiet district means one or the other side "owns" it. In districts the Taliban own, significant government police detachments are not present.

Ghazni Province is in the center of Taliban country. It is and has been one of the core 13 provinces of the insurgency. During the past five years, fighting has occurred in many districts, but not much in Hogan. Most fighting in 2010 has been in Ghazni City or near NATO bases and outposts.

The Taliban are prone to try to overrun isolated district centers, such as Hogan, as a show of force and demonstration of presence. The government recovers them as soon as it can assemble a rescue force and retrieves missing policemen. If that is what happened, this attack is like hundreds of others.

The more worrisome scenario is that the police detachment might have defected to the Taliban. The Taliban movement that came to power in Kabul in 1996 did not do so by conquest. It was too disorganized and poorly led. Its most sensational victories were the result of negotiated defections. Defending units would simply switch sides and the practice spread to most Pashtun units defending the government. If that is what happened in Khogiani, it will spread.

Iraq: For the record. The bombings in Baghdad in the past four days continue to point to a renewal of low level civil war. The Sunni group who claimed responsibility for the massacre at the Christian church in Baghdad promised a campaign of similar attacks against churches in and outside Iraq.

Lebanon: Unconfirmed reports from anonymous Lebanese sources claimed Hezbollah is preparing to seize power in Beirut if the Hariri Tribunal implicates the Hezbollah in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, Asher Al-Awash reported. Hezbollah, Amal and other pro-Syrian groups were in close contact regarding a plan to block the road to the south of the city and neutralize Christian and Sunni areas, according to the report.

Comment: A later statement by Hezbollah denied the claim, but did threaten to withdraw Hezbollah membership in the cabinet and collapse the Beirut government. Most observers doubt Hezbollah has the strength to seize power because of the enormity of the opposition, which includes Lebanese Sunnis and some Christians, the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and possibly Syria. Syrian support for a Hezbollah takeover in Beirut would not seem to advance Syrians interests, so much as Iran's. They are not always compatible.

Hezbollah's attempt to recast its image as a respectable member of the Lebanese government, instead of the international terrorist group that it is, would suffer a serious setback were it indicted by the UN commission as having murdered Lebanese prime minister Hariri. As the investigation has focused on Hezbollah suspects, Hezbollah has become more aggressive and threatening. Clashes with the Lebanese Army, UNIFIL or Israelis are likely but the timing is not yet ripe.

Parcel Bomb threat: Update. Greek authorities handled at least nine parcel bombs or explosions on 2 November. As a result Greece halted all parcel and other post for 48 hours.

German authorities intercepted a parcel bomb from Greece addressed to Chancellor Merkel today. It was mailed three days ago.

A parcel addressed to French President Sarkozy also was intercepted. An aircraft from Athens carrying a suspicious parcel addressed to Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi was grounded at Bologna and the package neutralized.

Comment: Most of these appear to be copycat work by Greek anarchists. The timing of these attempted deliveries relative to the parcels from Yemen, however, justifies investigation of coordination or contact between groups. Coordinated or not, the parcel threat is disrupting some air cargo operations in Europe.

End of NightWatch for 2 November.

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