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NightWatch 20110429


For the Night of 29 April 2011

Cambodia-Thailand: Update. Cambodian and Thai commanders agreed to a cease-fire again on 29 April after an earlier cease-fire was broken, according to a statement by the Cambodian Defense Ministry. The statement said Neak Vong, deputy commander of Cambodian brigade 42 at Ta Muen temple (Ta Moan in Cambodia), and Dul Yadeth, field commander of Thai border regiment, held talks at the O'smach border checkpoint. The statement said both sides have agreed again to a cease-fire, no troop movements and talks every two days by phone or face-to-face.

Afghanistan: NightWatch has completed analysis of security incidents for January and March 2011. The data show there was no seasonal winter lull in activity. The level of combat and other security incidents continued to rise since November. Overall activity in March was the highest in the NightWatch data base from mid-2006. Anti-government fighters were active in 231 of the 400 districts in Afghanistan. That is the same number as last November during the early winter offensive.

The significance is that the open source data show that last winter Coalition forces were unable to reduce the level of activity or the number of districts under stress. The actual number of districts under Taliban and anti-government influence might be considerably higher than 231 because quiet districts in Taliban -dominated provinces, such as Paktika, usually mean the Taliban have unchallenged freedom of operation. In general, the data show the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated during the winter.

Syria: Syrian security forces killed sixty-two demonstrators on 29 April, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

After prayers, large demonstrations occurred in Damascus, the central city of Homs, the coastal cities of Baniyas and Latakia, the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama, and the northeastern town of Qamishli.

In Damascus' central Midan neighborhood, witnesses said about 2,000 people marched and chanted, "God, Syria and freedom only!" in a heavy rain, but security forces opened fire with bullets and tear gas, scattering them.

A witness in Latakia said about 1,000 people turned out for an anti-government rally when plainclothes security agents with automatic rifles opened fire. He said he saw at least five people wounded.

Comment: The tactic of using overwhelming force since 22 April has not stopped the demonstrations, but has converted demands for political reform into demands for the ouster of the government.  However, as yet the opposition has exposed no leaders or shown any signs of organization.  The government has no negotiating partner. Thus, even if Asad stepped down, his replacement would come from the existing Alawite establishment. Nevertheless, its concessions have served to encourage more, more frequent and larger demonstrations.

The situation poses a policy dilemma. The Syrian government is killing its own people in order to preserve Alawite minority rule over the Sunni Arab majority. If it is overthrown, the Sunnis will exact equal or greater revenge by massacring the Alawites, some 12% of the 21 million Syrians. The one certainty is that there will be more killings.

Politics. According to a 29 April report by Kuwait's Al-Seyasah newspaper, citing confidential sources, Maher al Asad, the Syrian president's brother, shot Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa over differences about how to deal with the demonstrations in Daraa, al-Sharaa's hometown. Al-Sharaa wanted protests to be dealt with peacefully and to bring to justice the officials who are responsible for corruption and killing demonstrators. According to the paper, al-Sharaa is receiving treatment in a hospital.

Comment: A breakdown of leadership unity is a predictive factor that the stress of the situation is weakening the regime. Maher is the commander of the 4th Armored Division which is leading the attack against the city of Daraa in southwestern Syria.

The next step in the breakdown cycle will be more concessions, but the violent overreaction period has not ended. The anti-government opposition has not presented a leadership structure that the government can attack. Its inchoate nature has helped it survive and continue to build pressure on the government.

However, the opposition demands have escalated to a call for a change of government. That implies the opposition can offer an alternative which it does not have and dare not present, considering its weakness. Until army units desert the Asad regime, the opposition will have no safe haven from which to challenge the Asad regime.

As long as the army has bullets and remains responsive to the chain of command, the regime will survive, provided its leaders have the will. The opposition remains too weak to do more than stage demonstrations. More bloodshed is unavoidable.

Libya: Update. Libyan state TV said that military operations by forces loyal to Libyan leader Qadhafi have made the Misrata port non-functional and warned ships not to enter it. The report said any ships that try to enter the port will be attacked, regardless of reason. NATO sources said Qadhafi's forces planted naval mines in the approaches to the port.

The Qadhafi government offered amnesty to the rebels in Misrata if they hand in their arms by 3 May, a government spokesman said. The Libyan government is in control of the Misrata sea port and will not allow anyone in without government coordination, the spokesman said.

The most newsworthy development occurred on the Tunisian border where Tunis sent army reinforcements to the border and disarmed pro-Qadhafi fighters who were attempting to attack a rebel-held border post from Tunisian territory.

End of NightWatch for 29 April.

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