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NightWatch 20110331


For the Night of 31 March 2011

South Korea: National Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said if North Korea proposes a dialogue, the South will accept. However, if the North launches another military attack, the South will swiftly and strongly punish the North until they surrender.

Comment: President Lee is letting Minister, retired General, Kim take the lead in public comments about North Korea, probably to take advantage of Kim's stature and credibility. Kim talks tough and seems to mean it.

North Korea: The Inspection Group of the DPRK (North Korea) National Defense Commission (NDC) broadcast a press statement over the Korean Central Broadcasting Station about events last year.

"One year has passed since the warship Ch'o'nan (Cheonan) sank in the waters off Paengnyo'ng Island in the West Sea of Korea (Yellow Sea)…. Nonetheless, the incumbent South Korean authorities and military warmongers who are inveterate (sic.) in North-South confrontation and in distrusting their fellow countrymen are continuing to get heated up in kicking up the anti-Republic racket of confrontation, while still linking the incident of the sinking of the warship Ch'o'nan to us and shirking the responsibility for the Yo'np'yo'ng (Yeong Pyeong) Island artillery battle over to us.

Although those who met tragic deaths were the South Korean military men and officers who had pointed their bayonets at us, in the initial wake of the incident of the sinking of the warship Ch'o'nan, we also expressed our regret, as they, too, were members of the same nation."

The statement made the following points:

1. The incumbent South Korean authorities and military warmongers should no longer commit an absurd act of linking the incident of the sinking of the warship Ch'o'nan to us.

2. The incumbent South Korean authorities and military warmongers should no longer scheme to shirk the responsibility for the Yo'np'yo'ng Island artillery battle over to us. Had they not fired at our sacred territorial waters first, there would have been no Yo'np'yo'ng Island sea-of-fire battle from the start.

3. The incumbent South Korean authorities and military warmongers should no longer continue to kick up the reckless anti-Republic frenzy under the pretext of the two incidents.

It is the position of our army to hold dialogue in a big way, when in dialogue, and when at war, to attempt to wage a war that manifests the real taste of war.

Comment: An official statement on the anniversary of a limited crisis is unusual. More unusual still is that the North expressed regret over the deaths of South Korean sailors on the corvette Cheonan. It expressed no regret for the island attack, but reaffirmed that such attacks are included in what it means when it says it intends to inflict a "sea of fire" on some target.

The statement of regret is a small concession but the number of small concessions is starting to grow. The North has made no comment about artillery training on South Korea's offshore islands this week..

India-Pakistan: Indian Prime Minister Singh said India and Pakistan should put aside their ancient animosities and attend to current problems with cooperative solutions and permanent reconciliation to live together in dignity and honor. Speaking at a dinner Singh for visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Singh said the two countries must resolve whatever differences lay between their two countries. He added that Gilani and he are committed to work toward peace. Gilani said talks over all the core issues between the two countries were positive.

Comment: Singh was gracious, basking in the glow of India's 29-run victory over Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday. His cricket diplomacy also has reversed for now declining popular support because of political corruption scandals during his second term.

Pakistan: A suicide bomber attempted to assassinate Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl party. The explosion missed Rehman, but killed 13 people, including two policemen, and injured 32 other people. This was the second assassination attempt against Rehman in two days, according to the Daily Times.

Comment: Although Rehman is a political party leader who follows a strict interpretation of the Quran. He is an outspoken critic of the Pakistan government's pro-US policy. He calls the US "a terrorist state." He was a political ally of Pervez Musharraf. Nevertheless, he has run afoul of the Pakistani Taliban.

Qatar: Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said the Arab League's failure to protect civilians in Libya led to the West's air strikes. Al-Thani said in an interview with Al Jazeera that he hoped that the Arab League would fulfill its responsibilities going forward as the region experiences changes.

Comment: The house of al-Thani seeks to lead the Arabs. That is the explanation for the deployment of Qatari fighter aircraft to the anti-Libyan Coalition.

Yemen: President Saleh and his family should leave "for their own safety," as they have no future in Yemen, the head of the Islamist Islah party said 31 March. Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar said the opposition would escalate protests and that time was running out for Saleh to leave with some dignity. The opposition is prepared to meet U.S. officials and assure them Yemen's new leaders will respect any satisfactory anti-terrorism plan.

Comment: Detailed press accounts indicate that at least five of 18 governates are outside central control. Security and army forces have departed or disappeared. The governates have devolved to local control in order to maintain order. Most are siding with neither the government nor the opposition.

Yemen-UK: The UK on Thursday (31 March) urged its citizens to leave Yemen immediately. "In light of the rapid deterioration in the security situation in Yemen . . . we strongly urge all British nationals to leave the country now while commercial airlines are still flying," said a Foreign Office statement.

"Given the situation on the ground, it is highly unlikely that the British government will be able to evacuate British nationals or provide consular assistance in the event of a further breakdown of law and order," it said.

Syria: The backlash against President Asad's speech has generated calls for Friday as the "Friday of Martyrs" in honor of the 61 demonstrators killed by security forces.

In contrast to Asad's hard-line speech on 30 March, the government announced half-baked concessions today, evidently to placate the demonstrators. "Based on the directives of President Bashar al-Asad, the Regional Leadership of al-Baath Arab Socialist Party on Thursday formed a committee of a number of senior lawyers to study and draw up a legislation that secures the preservation of the country's security, the dignity of citizens and combating terrorism in preparation for lifting the state of emergency. The committee is to complete the study before the 25th of April, 2011."

Comment: A few commentators noted that the Syrian government has announced several times in the past the formation of study committees, such as that announced on the 31st.  Results were never announced, like the unannounced reforms of 24 March, which seem to be missing or misplaced.

The key analytical point is that just by talking about repealing the emergency law the government is making a concession that it has not made in 50 years. It is a small concession and almost certainly fraudulent, but it is a start, provided the demonstrators can hold Asad's "feet to the fire."

The Alawite political and military leaders seem confused by Bashar al Asad's popularity as a supposed reformer and do not seem to know how to respond. As many regimes do, they have fallen back on what worked in the past and updated it. That is the significance of the committee formation. It is a ruse that worked in the past.

The Syrian opposition, however, is likely to recognize the hoax and persist in its activism. Friday will be a large protest day in Syria. The protestors have learned and communicated that they can overwhelm the local security forces. There will be more killings.

Libya: Security. Rebel mobs claim to have driven their pickup trucks to some territory ceded to Qadhafi military forces earlier this week, primarily because air strikes resumed.  One thing is very clear: without Coalition air support, the rebels canot hold Benghazi.

Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen explained to US Senators today (31 March) that weather hampered air strikes and identification of Libyan targets for three or four days. Weather reduced the coalition's impact and effectiveness and allowed regime forces to move back to the east. Qadhafi's forces consolidated positions south of Ajdabiya and were expected to renew an offensive toward Benghazi, Mullen said.

Mullen also reported an assessment that coalition air strikes have degraded the Qadhafi forces' military capabilities to about 20 to 25 percent of their previous capabilities. He cautioned that Qadhafi has yet to reach a "breaking point."

Qadhafi forces continued shelling Misrata on 31 March, where they reportedly killed 20 civilians, according to the rebels. Qadhafi forces were unable to enter the city, but surrounded it.

Comment: Admiral Mullen's statement about the degradation of the Qadhafi forces also is a yardstick for measuring the capabilities of the rebel forces. Without NATO/Coalition air support, the rebel pick-up truck mobs are not as capable as Qadhafi's forces at 25% of their strength.

Politics. In a taped statement broadcast on 31 March, Qadhafi was defiant, but not convincing, as two foreign ministers defected and four other officials resigned and probably defected, including the head of foreign intelligence.

Comment: The non-family members or the double agents in the Qadhafi regime are leaving. 

A variety of news outlets report that Qadhafi's aides are seeking a political solution to the crisis, Asharq al-Awsat reported. An aide to Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam, Mohamed Ismail, spent several hours in Cairo before arriving in London for talks with several Western officials, unidentified sources said.

Supposedly, Qadhafi is proposing that his son Motassem, currently national security adviser, take over as president while Qadhafi assumes a symbolic position. He also proposed forming a government that includes opposition figures.

Comment: The latest power-sharing proposal looks more delusional than the others. Qadhafi's search for an exit strategy is a reaction to the Coalition air strikes that threaten his survival, not rebel pressure. In open source reporting, it is not clear which air forces are attempting to destroy Qadhafi's bunker, but clearly some member or members of the Coalition are.

What happens to Qadhafi's regiment of Amazon bodyguards, if he departs? Would Uganda or Venezuela accept them and support them along with Qadhafi and his extended family?

Special Comment: One of the most important effects of Coalition air attacks has been to clarify just how limited the anti-Qadhafi movement is. As long as Libyan Air Force fighters were free to operate, it was unclear whether the lack of a national uprising was a result of armed intimidation or lack of support for  the Arab youth movement or other explanation.

With the establishment of the no-fly zone, it is now clear that the Benghazi-based rebellion has little support outside Cyrenaica. The few pockets of urban youth in western Libya quickly went to ground. No major tribal uprising has occurred in the west. There has been no revolt in Tripoli,  except in a couple of neighborhoods.

The phenomenology is characteristic of a fragmentation scenario, not a revolution. The Cyrenaican rebels have no obvious claim to govern in Tripoli because the western tribes have not risen, most likely sitting on the fence. They also and obviously have no basis to claim right of conquest. That belongs to the US  and a few allies.

The air threat might succeed in intimidating the Qadhafi family into fleeing for their lives, accepting exile over death or imprisonment, but that would not be the work of a revolutionary movement. The rebels can't get to Sirte. A power vacuum in Tripoli would thus be a Coalition creation.  So what happens then?

If the Qadhafis left tomorrow, the rebels could not reach Tripoli in three days. If the Cyrenaicans claimed leadership of Tripolitania, a civil war of a very different kind could follow, potentially repeating 300 year old precedents.

Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire: An end game, at last.

Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara has given incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo until 7 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), 31 March, to step down, according to Ouattara's Prime Minister-designate Guillaume Soro. Speaking to Agence France-Presse from Yamoussoukro, Soro said that Gbagbo must step down if he wants to "avoid a bloodbath" and that Ouattara's forces will remove him if he refuses.

Ouatarra's northern forces entered Abidjan on 31 March. The first thing they did was end the blockade of the Golf Hotel, which has served as a base for Ouattara since the 28 November presidential elections, according to the U.N. Commander.

South Korean Colonel Choi Young-jin said the Gbagbo security forces all deserted him. Choi said 50,000 police officers and armed gendarmes left Gbagbo. Only special operations forces of the Republican Guard and the Cecos (Special Force Commandos) remained loyal for now. They are stationed in the presidential palace and Gbagbo's residence.

During this Watch, Ouattara forces attacked Gbagbo's residence, but his whereabouts are not known. Ouattara's forces now control the state TV station.

Pro-Gbagbo army Chief of Staff General Phillippe Mangou, his wife and five children sought refuge the night of 30 March at the Abidjan home of the South African ambassador. Ouattara seeks General Mangou's assistance in ending the violence by persuading Gbagbo loyalist forces to join Ouattara's forces.

Comment: Power sharing is always temporary, though it can last a long time. It is temporary in the sense that both parties in the arrangement invariably will attempt to break out to seize power. In Ivory Coast, both parties have tried to break out in the past six months, but only Ouattara has succeeded.

Ivory Coast now becomes a case study into the aftermath of power sharing. The most important issue is how much blood will be shed in reprisal and retribution killings. Nevertheless, the civil conflict appears close to ending.

As of this Watch, Gbagbo has not resigned in compliance with Ouattara's ultimatum.

End of NightWatch for 31 March.

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