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NightWatch 20110328


For the Night of 28 March 2011

Philippines: Armed forces chief General Eduardo Oban said on 28 March that 8 billion pesos ($186 million) has been earmarked for naval and air equipment to increase the military's presence in Palawan, in southwestern Philippines and the island closest to the disputed Spratly Islands. Oban said the military would use the funds to purchase vessels and long-range patrol aircraft. The government also will allot funds to repair a military runway and purchase an additional radio station on Pagasa Island, one of the islands in the South China Sea near the Spratlys that the Philippines claims as national territory.

Comment: This means the Philippines disputes China's claim to own all the islands in the South China Sea and intends to protect its handful of islands and quays from Chinese poaching.

Pakistan: Home Secretary Chaudhary Qamar Zaman and Indian Home Secretary Gopal Pillai held talks for the first time in two years, Press Trust of India reported. After the first day of the two-day talks, the officials said progress was made on certain issues and the talks have been positive.

Comment: The involvement of Home Secretaries indicates these are technical talks, in preparation for Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani's visit to India to watch a Pakistani-Indian cricket match on Wednesday and any side bar discussions. Last week Indian Prime Minister Singh invited Gilani to join him for the cricket World Cup semi-final. This signifies a thaw in relations and indicates India has no intention of adding to the troubles of the Gilani government.

Bahrain: The largest Shiite opposition group Al Wefaq relaxed its conditions for dialogue with the government and backed Kuwait as a mediator for the Bahraini ruling family without conditions, according to one press account. The moderate party said it will engage in talks if the military withdraws from the streets and political prisoners are released.

Comment: Despite the press report, al Wefaq still seems to place conditions on talks. The monarchy sees no need for outside mediation which would invest the opposition with legitimacy and stature it now lacks. The application of force appears to have cowed the opposition for now.

Saudi Arabia: For the record. The kingdom's ban on women's suffrage and women as political candidates will remain in place for the upcoming municipal elections in April, the Saudi electoral committee announced on 28 March.

Yemen: President Saleh appointed Major General Ahmed Saeed bin Brik to replace Major. General Mohamed Ali Mohsen as the new commander of the Eastern Military Area, after Mohsen declared he was joining the protest movement, the defense ministry announced. Saleh also appointed Colonel Hussein Mshaba as the commander of the 15th Infantry Brigade in the northern province of Amran to replace another commander, who defected to the protest movement

A munitions factory in Khanfar exploded and burned, killing 121 people. The factory reportedly was taken over by opposition activists over the weekend.

Comment: Saleh has reversed and hardened his terms for leaving office. He apparently has received a new estimate of the size of the opposition that concludes that it represents a small fraction of the population. He has returned to the position that he will only transfer power after presidential elections. That portends more violence.

Syria: Update. Security forces dispersed hundreds of protestors calling for an end to emergency laws at the main square in Dar'a on 28 March. The protestors fled after soldiers fired guns into the air, but later reassembled. There are no reports of casualties.

Libya: Pro-Qadhafi forces fired artillery to destroy a rebel convoy about 60 kilometers from Sirte. Sirte, east of Tripoli, remains in the control of Qadhafi loyalists. Forces loyal to Qadhafi also continued attacking Misrata, disregarding a ceasefire announcement by the Qadhafi government on 28 March.

Libyan National Transitional Council Deputy Chairman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said the council has already warned Qadhafi that it will not negotiate with him. Ghoga denied any knowledge of Italian mediation efforts, saying Qadhafi is a war criminal and will stand trial before an international tribunal accordingly.

He also claimed many pro-Qadhafi soldiers are negotiating their surrender and more defections are expected. Finally, he said that the economic ties in post-Qadhafi Libya will reflect the support of the various European countries during the crisis.

Comment: There has been no significant change in the fighting or the bombast by either side. Ghoga's statement is not the final word on talks.

Coalition developments.

Turkey: Prime Minister Erdogan announced Turkey will assume control of operations at Benghazi airport to facilitate the shipment of humanitarian aid, but did not specify a date. He also said Turkey would help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, but would not participate in ground attacks.

Concerning political matters, Prime Minister Erdogan said Turkey is ready to act as a mediator to broker an early ceasefire in Libya, warning that drawn-out conflict risked turning the country into a "second Iraq or another Afghanistan" with devastating repercussions for Libya and the NATO states leading the intervention. Turkey will play the role of mediator, within the framework of the African Union and the Arab League, if the parties to the conflict request it. A leader without a formal position, like Qadhafi, should be able to lay the foundations for a transformation to realize the democratic rights and liberties called for by his people, Erdogan said.

Comment: Erdogan appears to be trying to take advantage of the Libyan crisis, as the only Muslim NATO member, to advance Turkey's leadership aspirations in the Mediterranean.

Qatar: On 28 March, Qatar recognized the Transitional National Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

End of NightWatch for 28 March.

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