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NightWatch 20130514

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NightWatch

For the night of 14 May 2013

Japan-North Korea: An adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Abe arrived in Pyongyang by air on Tuesday. North Korea's vice director of the Asian Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry, Kim Chol Ho, met Mr. Isao Iijima at Sunan airport. The press report did not state the purpose of the visit.

Press commentary noted that Iijima was a top aide to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who visited Pyongyang for talks with then North Korean leader Kim Chong-il in September 2002 and May 2004.

Comment: The visit is significant for several reasons. It is the first visit by a foreign envoy reported in the press since the end of the period of high combat alert on 30 April. Longstanding tension in relations and unrelentingly hostile North Korean propaganda would seem to make Japan the last country from which North Korea would accept an envoy at this time.

A review of North Korean media reports indicates that international contacts have not yet returned to normal. No other delegations have visited or departed this month, according to reports in the Korean Central News Agency. The North is buttoned up diplomatically, but Iijima's visit suggests it is open to some visitors who request access, even from Japan. That implies that the North's statement that it would not invite a US envoy to North Korea in connection with the Bae conviction was not a rejection of a request for a visit.

South Korea: On the 14th, the South Korean government again proposed working-level talks with North Korea on the return of industrial production materials and finished goods from the Kaesong industrial complex.

The Unification Ministry said in a statement that talks are needed to alleviate hardships facing local companies forced out of the complex located just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries.

"Seoul proposed the talks to be held at the Freedom House in the South Korean sector of the truce village of Panmunjom, and urges the North to respond to this latest call at their earliest convenience," according to a ministry spokesman.

Comment: This is the second time that South Korea has made such a proposal. The latest offer is much less imperious than that on 24 April.

The Japanese and the South Koreans appear to sense that prospects for low-key engagement with the North might be improving and are at least testing that hypothesis. Since 1 May, the North has displayed several indications that the tactics of aggressive confrontation are being replaced by a less prickly demeanor.

The most noteworthy of these is the removal of the hard-line Minister of the People's Armed Forces. The Daily NK's sources reported that some regulations about economic activity have been eased. For example, Farmers will be allowed to keep a larger share of production that exceeds their quotas. The willingness to receive a Japanese envoy for any reason is a significant change in a short period.

These are low grade and ambiguous, but they might be among the signs that encouraged the South to try again on the outstanding issues concerning Kaesong.

Nigeria: President Goodluck Jonathan announced a "state of emergency" in three northeastern states in an attempt to curb the increasingly violent attacks by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram. (Note: Boko Haram is Hausa for "Western education is sinful.")

In a televised address Jonathan said, "We are facing a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to our national unity….They have attacked government buildings and facilities. They have murdered innocent citizens and state officials. They have set houses ablaze, and taken women and children as hostages. These actions amount to a declaration of war…. I hereby declare a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states."

Comment: The three states lie in the far northeast, bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The catalyst for the declaration was a coordinated attack last week in the town of Bama in Borno state. Some 200 Boko Haram fighters in buses and machine gun-mounted trucks attacked an army barracks, the policy station and the prison. They freed more than 100 prison inmates and killed 55 people, mostly police and other security forces.

Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamist fighting group that is dedicated to creating an Islamic state based on Sharia in northern Nigeria, which is predominantly Islamic. Its rebellion since 2009 has resulted in about 3,600 people killed, including security forces. One Nigerian analyst reported it has several hundred armed fighters, but it has significant local sympathy.

Security officials state Bokop Haram controls at least 10 of 27 local government areas in Borno state, which is the center of the insurgency. One official says the real figure could be closer to 20 of 27 because local councilors fearing assassination have fled, leaving a power vacuum filled by bearded radicals with automatic rifles.

The government judged that a suppression campaign between December 2011 and July 2012, which included a limited imposition of martial law, had nearly eliminated the threat. The latest reports indicate the movement has recovered.

Recent activity suggests Boko Haram intends to set up an Islamist administration in the territory it now controls, as well as fight government security forces. This is the pattern followed by al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali. Boko Haram has contacts with AQIM and the style of the Bama attack plus the weapons used - machined guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers -  suggest new training, new financing, more weapons and more cohesive operations characteristic of AQIM.

Recovering lost districts will be difficult for the Nigerian Army. Its past campaigns were so brutal that they alienated the local villagers and ensured tolerance if not support for Boko Haram.

Mali: For the record. The government announced that general elections will be held on 28 July.

End of NightWatch for 14 May 2013.

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