Monday, 28 February 2011

Border Focus: Kuril Islands

Dmitry Medvedev in the Kuril Islands in November 2010

What is disputed?

The Kuril Islands are a volcanic archipelago that stretch approximately 1,300km from Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, to Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean.

All of the islands are currently under Russian jurisdiction. Different Japanese people and political parties claim different parts of the island chain, although all are agreed that, at the very least, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islands, just offshore Hokkaido, should be returned. Others include Kunashiri and Etorofu islands, which together with Shikotan and Habomai make up what Japan calls the Northern Territories.

What is the history of the dispute?

The original inhabitants of the islands are the Ainu people who have connections to both Hokkaido and northern China. The first 'discovery' of the Kurils by foreign powers is unknown, although China, Russia, Japan and even the Netherlands jockeyed for the right. Towards the end of the 17th century and into the 18th century both Russia and Japan took an interest in the islands, although it was originally the Russians that pursued the islands more vigorously – first on an exploratory basis, and then in the 1730s with an eye to settlement.

Growing British and American presence in the Far East prompted Russia and Japan to sign the Treaty of Shimoda in 1855, which fixed the boundary between Etorofu and Uruppa islands. Sakhalin was declared a joint possession of Russia and Japan, with people from China also allowed to live there, and the two regions of the Kurils developed separately until 1875.

The 1875 Treaty of St Petersburg followed more than a decade of negotiations, and intimidation, from both sides. Russia emerged victorious in the contest of wills over Sakhalin, gaining full sovereignty over the island but, in exchange, Japan received full title to the Kurils.

Following Russia's disastrous loss in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese war, Moscow was forced to cede the southern part of Sakhalin back to the Japanese in the Portsmouth Treaty of 1905. Japan also got fishing rights in Russian waters which continued until 1945.

The modern history of the dispute is a result of strategic negotiations towards the end of World War Two. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Soviet Union promised to enter the war against Japan soon after the defeat of Germany, and was promised possession of the Kurils in exchange.

Between 18th August and 5th September 1945, Soviet troops took control of the Kuril Islands, and two years later they evicted the native population. They have held control of the islands ever since.

The problem of the Kurils arose between the US and the Soviet Union during the preparation of the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco. It was supposed to be a permanent peace treaty between Japan and the Allied Powers from the Second World War, but by this time the Cold War had already taken hold, and the US position vis-à-vis the Yalta and Potsdam agreements had changed considerably. They were less keen now to sanction Soviet territorial expansion. The outcome was that the treaty stated that Japan would renounce all rights to Southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, but without recognising the Soviet Union's sovereignty over the Kurils. In addition, what constituted the Kurils was never defined, leaving Japan able to claim that at least some of the disputed islands were not up for grabs.

Further peace talks were held between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1956 because Moscow had refused to sign the San Francisco treaty. That year the Soviets proposed to settle the dispute by returning Shikotan and Habomai to Japan, and while Japan was inclined to accept, they were prevented from doing so by American intervention.

What is the situation now?

There have been few substantial developments since 1956. In general, Japan rejects the Yalta and Potsdam Conference agreements as binding given that Tokyo was not represented at either of them. They argue that the 1951 San Francisco Treaty does not cover the islands that make up the Northern Territories (Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai), and that they are therefore still Japanese. The Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation as its successor state have administered all of the islands, and with some exceptions, have been reluctant to discuss the issue.

Hopes were raised when Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his eagerness to sort out the situation, and even when that failed, it was thought that mooted Japanese aid to Boris Yeltsin's struggling Russia might provide a turning point, but this failed to materialise. In essence, any compromise by a Russian leader would be political suicide domestically and without many rewards internationally.

The issue has been raised many times in the past few years.
Relations deteriorated in 2008 when the Japanese government published new school textbook guidelines instructing teachers to teach that Japan has sovereignty over the islands. Russia immediately responded by affirming its sovereignty over the islands.

Tensions were further increased when the Russian head of the Kuril Region called for the termination of visa-free trips that had taken place to allow Japanese citizens visit their relatives' graves in the Kurils. There have also been crackdowns on Japanese fisherman fishing in Russia's waters which was something that had, until recently, been allowed.

In November 2010, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit the islands. On 10th February 2011, he called for increased military deployments on the islands. Medvedev said that the islands were an 'inseparable' part of the country and a strategic Russian region. On 15th February, plans for deployment of advanced anti-air missile systems on the islands were announced.

All of these actions have sparked outrage in Japan, and on 7th February, which is Japan's 'National Territories Day', large rallies were held calling for the islands' return. Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke at a rally in Tokyo, saying that Japan will not back down from its claim and said visits by Russian leaders are 'an unforgivable outrage'.

What are the prospects for resolution?

A resolution to the dispute currently looks unlikely. Russia has nothing to gain and much to lose from compromising its position. The Kuril Islands are thought to contain large quantities of natural gas, as well as gold, silver, titanium and rhenium, all of which are yet to be exploited.

The issue of offshore resources, primarily natural gas, is also important. If Japan regained control of the Northern Territories, they would be able to extend their territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) claims into the Sea of Okhotsk and the North Pacific. This also has implications for fishing rights.

Taking advantage of the resources around the Kuril Islands will prove tricky until their ownership is fully determined, but this is an issue that has to be determined by political negotiation, rather than legal judgements, and it appears, for the time being that the political will is lacking.

For the full Border Focus, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

Ban meets Gabon, Equatorial Guinea leaders on border dispute

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a trilateral meeting with the presidents of the Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on the border dispute between the two countries on Friday 25th February.

The Pan African News Agency (PANA) learnt that the meeting, which lasted for about four hours in New York, was convened by the secretary-general to discuss the ongoing UN-led mediation on the dispute.

Ban also met the two leaders separately in his office.

UN spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told PANA the meeting was attended by Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba and Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, as well as diplomats from the two countries and senior UN officials.

"It will be the first time the two heads of state will meet to talk specifically about this issue," Nesirky said.

Nesirky also said the meeting was a 'meaningful step' towards the submission of the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as well as in the overall relations between the two countries.

He quoted Ban as saying the presence of the two leaders and their delegations 'underscores the commitment of your two neighbouring states to pursue peacefully the settlement of the dispute through UN mediation.'

'The secretary general also said this shared determination to see peace prevail was a credit to not only Equatorial Guinea and Gabon but the entire Central African sub-region,' the spokesperson said.

'Ban also assured the two leaders of UN's support and his personal engagement to assist them succeed in the process,' Nesirky added.

Both countries have been trying to solve the problem with the mediation of the UN since the days of the late Gabonese president Omar Bongo Ondimba.

The maritime dispute is centred around the ownership of three islands in Corisco Bay: Mbanie, Cocotiers and Congas. The waters around the islands are believed to be rich in oil.

Until the dispute is resolved, the two Central African states have agreed to jointly exploit the area.

At present, Gabon is one of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Source: Afrique en ligne

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Indonesia to send observation team to monitor Thai-Cambodia border

Indonesian FM Marty Natalegawa (C) with Cambodian FM Hor Namhong (L) and Thai FM Kasit Piromya

The Indonesian Defense Ministry has prepared an observer team that will monitor the armistice between Thailand-Cambodia at the border of the two countries, according to Indonesian news sources.

“We will announce it when it is confirmed,” said Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro at his office in Jakarta on Wednesday 23rd February. He would not however, specify the composition of the team or when it would be established.
Purnomo was responding to Thailand and Cambodia's request for Indonesia to arbitrate their conflict, made during meetings in Jakarta on Tuesday 22nd February.
Both countries have agreed to a ceasefire after a border conflict two weeks ago left at least eight dead. The request was welcomed by the Indonesian government, which has responded by planning the observer team.

“The government will first send an advanced team to gather initial information,” said Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa following an informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting at the Foreign Department's office in Jakarta on Tuesday, 22rd February.

Marty did not confirm the number of people in the team, but estimated there would be no more than 20 people in each. There will be two teams assigned at the Thai and Cambodian borders. “We haven't decided the leaders yet. Normally they would be military officers. I think there will be more military members,” he said.

Regarding the suggestion to form the observer team, Marty said he had spoken to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, and Indonesian Armed Forces Commander Admiral TNI Agus Suhartono. “It won't be in weeks, it will be formed within several days ,” he said.

According to Marty, if one of the countries violates the armistice at the border, the observer team will note it in the report. Later, the report will be submitted to the Indonesian government as the ASEAN 2011 leader. “We then will convey to both parties who has violated and why,” he said.

While the decision to bring in outside observers may appear to be a victory for Cambodia, who has long pushed for third party intervention, the Bangkok Post sounded cautiously optimistic that having observers there would prevent Cambodia from painting the picture of their victimhood at the hands of their larger neighbour.

The larger issue of border demarcation is still in the hands of Cambodia and Thailand, and while Cambodia wants to take the issue to the International Court of Justice, Thailand continues to put its faith in the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC). The date for the first meeting of the JBC since the clashes has not been set, and it is clear that the two sides are currently far apart from each other in their views.

Attention is starting to be turned towards the General Border Committee (GBC), a grouping chaired by the respective defence ministers. Despite the clashes, military ties are closer than the diplomatic ones, and it is hoped that the next GBC meeting will result in a pledge by both sides to end confrontation and restore peace at the border.

Determining ownership over the 4.6sq km at the base of the Preah Vihear temple – the main cause of tension – is beyond the mandate of the GBC however, and will require higher powers to fix.

Sources: Bangkok Post, TEMPO Interactive

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Libya chaos prompts border exodus

The Egypt-Libya border
While the media speculation on how long Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi will stay in power continues, one thing seems clear: he is fast losing control of his country's borders.

Thousands of foreign nationals have been fleeing the country by both its eastern land border into Egypt and its western land border into Tunisia in recent days as Tripoli's airport struggles to cope with the number of people wanting to leave.

Reports from the border with Egypt have suggested that opposition forces have gained control of the border. According to the BBC there are no government officials at the border and formalities are at a minimum. A new flag is flying and a picture of Col Qadhafi has been crossed out. 

There are reportedly a series of checkpoints as you drive into Libya, which are armed by army and police officers, but they have all defected to the opposition. The BBC reports that locals are even acting as traffic police.

It is estimated that 1.5 million Egyptians were in Libya. An Egyptian security official told the Associated Press that about 5,000 Egyptians have returned home and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border.

A Korean news source has reported the story of nine Koreans working in Libya who drove for 67 hours through the desert on mostly unpaved roads to escape the country to Egypt. Their office in Tubruk had been looted over the weekend and a number of public buildings in the city were set on fire, they said.

Reports so far indicate that Qadhafi's forces have fared better on the Western border, and the plain green Libyan flag of his regime is still flying. Huge bottlenecks are reported at border crossings, although large numbers are getting through.

The International Organisation for Migration said on Wednesday 23rd February that thousands of foreign nationals were leaving by the western land border as well.

"Although a significant number are from Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, West Africa and the Horn of Africa, there are also migrants from other parts of the world including Asia," it said. "Among them are Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Chinese."

It also mentioned Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian and German nationals have left through the land border. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the arrivals began on late Tuesday.

Fleeing migrants said they had been stopped at checkpoints by pro-government soldiers who confiscated mobile phones, passports and other belongings, Chauzy said.

Many foreign ministries, including that of the UK, have started or will start evacuating their citizens from Libya by air and sea.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, Associated Press, JoongAng Daily

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Wikileaks cable renews Peru-Chile tensions

A new pair of confidential US Embassy cables released on Friday 18th February by whistle blowing website WikiLeaks has reopened the political quarrels between Peru and Chile over their ongoing maritime border dispute.

The cables focus on Peru's decision to take the border dispute case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The two countries have no formal treaty designating marine borders, although Chile considers the matter settled after two treaties in 1952 and 1954 addressed fishing rights in the Pacific Ocean.

Peru argues the maritime border should follow the downward curve of the land border, rather than the current configuration, which stretches out from the coast along longitudinal lines. Their interpretation of the maritime border area would give Peru control of an additional 37,900 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. The claim is backed by 99 per cent of Peruvians, according to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.

In the January 2008 cables sent from the US Embassy in Lima to embassies across Latin America and to Washington, the Peruvian perspective repeatedly discusses the case in The Hague as 'not an unfriendly action' and reaffirms a desire for continued dialogue to improve bilateral relations.

According to the cables, the Peruvian government sees their case in The Hague as a way to depoliticize the border dispute, which has been a source of tension between the two countries since the War of the Pacific (1879-84). The case was initiated by former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and current President Alan Garcia informed the Chilean government that while the issue would not be a priority for his administration, they would see the case through.

The cables however, also report that the border dispute with Chile is used as a political tool domestically by Peruvian politicians to improve their poll positions. For example, the cable says, "In 2004 then-President Alejandro Toledo, as his poll numbers dropped to single digits, stirred up the border dispute by publicly calling on Chile to open negotiations."

According to the leaked cables, Chilean officials felt 'betrayed' when Peru took the border dispute to The Hague, although they admitted that the Peruvians had kept them well-informed of the situation. While they remain confident over their legal claims, the officials concede that once the case arrived at The Hague 'anything can happen.'

In particular, a Chilean official, unnamed in the cable, said his government had been more concerned that the Hague could grant concessions to Peru after a unanimous Court decision in late 2007 to adjudicate a similar maritime dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua.

"That decision could effectively invalidate a bilateral agreement demarcating the territory, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX , on the grounds that only a full treaty can make such demarcations. XXXXXXXXXXXX feared this argument would provide a small window for Peru's contention that the 1952 and 1954 fishing accords were not legally sufficient to settle the boundary," the cable said.

Chile officials also expressed their opinion that Peru's lawsuit was hypocritical, as Peru benefits from their northern maritime boundary with Ecuador that follows longitudinal lines rather than the path of the land border.

General observations are made by the cables' author or authors, among them a suggestion that Chile might sacrifice the northernmost city of Arica, close to the Peruvian border, in favor of creating a military strong line further south at Iquique, in the case of military advances across the border.

Chilean officials have reacted fiercely to the leak. Jorge Tarud, a congressman of the Party of Democracy (Partido por la Democracia-PPD), and member of the Chilean congress Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, accused Peru's Ministry of Foreign Affairs of 'manipulating' the WikiLeaks cable published in Peru's El Comercio newspaper.

Tarud said “Among the dozens of cables that were written by the U.S. embassy in Lima, the majority of them favour Chile.” He did not show any evidence to sustain what he said though.

Alberto van Klaveren, Chile's representative to The Hague in the dispute with Peru said to Chilean newspaper El Mercurio that Peru's media was giving the cable a 'very biased interpretation'. He added “if there is something quite clear is that the court will always respect the supremacy of the treaties, and those treaties are obviously giving the reason to Chile.”

The case in the Hague is ongoing.

Sources: Living in Peru, Santiago Times

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

The cables can be found at the Wikileaks website, here.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

UN to mediate on Corisco Bay dispute

Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have agreed that a UN mediator should settle their territorial dispute over a handful of small islands that hold the key to potentially oil-rich offshore waters.

The foreign ministers of both countries signed a communiqué in New York on 19th January, accepting the appointment of Yves Fortier, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, as mediator, and outlining several steps to be taken in future talks. 

Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba and his Equatorial Guinean counterpart Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo are expected in New York this week to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The dispute will be discussed in meetings scheduled for 24-25 February, according to Gabon's presidential office.

The dispute concerns Mbanie, Cocotiers and Congas, three small islands in Corisco Bay, just north of the Gabonese capital Libreville, near the border with Equatorial Guinea.

The dispute first emerged when Gabonese president Omar Bongo Ondimba went to the Mbanie island to raise the Gabonese flag in 1972. The two countries almost went to war then and the dispute has been simmering away quietly since and has prevented oil companies from carrying out a full exploration of the nearby offshore waters. 

It reemerged February 2003, when then Gabonese defence minister and now president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of then President Omar Bongo Ondimba, visited the Corisco Bay islands and reasserted his country's territorial claim to them.

When Ali Bongo visited Mbanie, a 30-hectare island inhabited by a handful of fishermen, and declared it part of Gabon, there was a swift reaction from Equatorial Guinea. 

Then prime minister Candido Muatetema Rivas said in a radio broadcast: “My government expresses its deep concern and its indignation vis-a-vis Gabon's illegal occupation of the small island of Mbanié.”

The African Union and UN then intervened to try and resolve the dispute before rising tensions got out of hand.

The Corisco Bay dispute is the latest of several border quarrels to arise in Africa, where hopes of finding oil have encouraged both sides to dig in their heels. 

Nearby Nigeria has been arguing with Cameroon for years over the disputed Bakassi peninsular and hopes of finding oil onshore have exacerbated Ethiopia's border dispute with Eritrea over the small town of Badme. Ghana's large offshore finds have created a dispute over its previously settled maritime boundary with Cote d'Ivoire. 

Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are already major oil exporters and it is likely that the disputed waters hold large commercially exploitable reserves. 

Gabon, whose oilfields are mainly operated by France's Total is a mature oil producer which is struggling to maintain its current output of 250,000 barrels per day. 

A diplomatic source familiar with the region said that France, the former colonial power, had in the past lent strong support to Gabon's claim to the disputed islands, which could hold the key to bolstering Gabon's falling reserves.

Equatorial Guinea, on the other hand, only discovered oil in 1995 and is increasing its oil and gas production rapidly. It has already overtaken Gabon and is currently producing around 350,000 barrels per day.

Whereas France controls the oilfields in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea's offshore oilfields are mostly operated by the US oil giants ExxonMobil, Amerada Hess and Marathon

The US is keen to get disputes in the region resolved, as it tries to reduce its reliance on oil supplies from the turbulent Middle East. While UN mediation is a step in the right direction, it is no guarantee of settlement: while the International Court of Justice ruled in Cameroon's favour on the Bakassi Peninsula in 2002, the dispute remains unsettled. 

Sources: Irin, Xinhua

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Russia to deploy air defence missils to Kuril Islands

S-400 missiles are to be deployed on the Kuril Islands
Tensions remain high between Russia and Japan as Japan ups the rhetoric, and Russia ups the military presence on the disputed Kuril Islands.

Relations hit a stumbling block in November 2010 when Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited one of the Kuril Islands, the first Soviet or Russian leader to do so, and pledged more investment for the region. In televised meeting last Wednesday, 9th February, Medvedev upped the stakes by referring to the Kuril Islands as 'part of Russia' and saying that his country's 'strategic presence' on them would be 'stepped up'.

Speaking last week about Medvedev's November visit, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan referred to this as having constituted an 'inexcusable rudeness'.

This prompted a hardening of the Kremlin's position, and the head of the presidential administration, Sergei Naryshkin, responded by saying that Russian leaders “will continue visiting Russia's regions, including the Kuril Islands.”

The recent row was prompted by Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov's visit to the islands last week. Crisis talks between Russia and Japan ended in failure last Friday, 11th February when Tokyo reaffirmed its claim and Moscow accused its neighbour of extreme behaviour.

On Tuesday 15th February, a high-ranking official in the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces elaborated on Medvedev's military message, saying that short and long range air defence missiles, including the advanced S-400 Triumf system would be deployed to the southern Kuril Islands.

This move caused outrage in Japan, but also prompted criticism from a senior Russian military commander. Major General Sergei Popov, chief of the Air Force Antiaircraft and Missile troops, said the deployment was overkill.

"Given the proximity of the state border, it is inexpedient to deploy a Space Defense Force brigade with S-400 systems on the Kuril Islands," he said.

Japan gained full control of the island chain in the 1875 Treaty of St Petersburg, but lost it to the Soviets in the closing stages of the Second World War. The issue has remained unresolved since, and the two countries are still technically in a state of war.

Sources: Tribune Magazine, Ria Novosti, AFP

For more information on this dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

South Sudan decides on its name

South Sudan has been chosen as the name of what will be the world's newest country when it comes into existence on 9th July, ending months of speculation.

Other suggested names had included Nile Republic and Cush, a reference to a Biblical-era kingdom in the area.

Some 99 per cent of southern Sudanese voted for independence from the north of Sudan in a referendum held in January.

The name decision was announced after a meeting of the top committee of the south's ruling SPLM party.

The SPLM's Secretary General Pagan Amum said the decision, made by the party's politburo, will require approval by parliament.

But that is a formality as the SPLM holds the vast majority of seats in the assembly.

Mr Amum said negotiations were under way with the north about how to go forward with the partition and he warned of the challenges ahead.

"We are a baby nation that has just been born - and like a human baby, we are fragile but have the potential to become great," AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

He said the current pound currency would be replaced by a new currency, also to be called the pound.

The referendum on independence for the oil-rich south was part of a deal to end decades of north-south conflict.

The week-long vote itself passed off peacefully, but tension remains high in parts of the oil-rich area which straddles the north and south.

Many issues remain to be resolved before the new country is formed, including how to deal with oil revenue. The south of Sudan contains most of the oil fields, but they have to be transported through the north.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which brought the civil war to an end in 2005, the two sides split oil revenues evenly, but Amum announced on Tuesday 15th February that would not be the case any longer.

"The notion of sharing wealth will not be there. There is no continuation, whether 50 percent or anything," Amum said according to Reuters.

He said they will only pay a fee for using the pipelines that transport the oil to Port Sudan.

The fate of the oil-rich Abyei region is yet to be determined, although Amum said the SPLM will hold talks with the north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on Friday 18th February to discuss the region.

The Abyei region was supposed to have its own referendum on which State to join in January, but it was postponed when the two sides could not agree on voter eligibility.

Last week, some 200 people were killed in south Sudan's Jonglei state in fighting involving those loyal to rebel leader George Athor. Most of those killed were civilians. The SPLM has accused the north of backing Athor, while Athor blames the clashes on the southern army.

Sources: BBC News, Sudan Tribune

For more information on Sudan, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Estonia's 2011 coins cause border controversy

When discussing the problems undefined borders can cause, we usually talk about the problems that arise when making maps. But what about when making coins?

A dispute arose in early January 2011 over how the Estonian government has depicted the borders of its country on its new 2011 euro coins. Estonia's government has said that the borders on the coins are politically and artistically correct. Russia has cautiously agreed.

Estonia and Russia have yet to fully determine their land border, however, and this has led to parties on both sides protesting against the coin. A Russian lawyer living in Estonia has said the coin depicts part of Russia as being in Estonia, while the Seto community has said the opposite.

The Setos are an Orthodox Christian ethnic minority of around 10,000 people living primarily in southeastern Estonia and northwestern Russia, speaking a Finnish-Estonian dialect. Setomaa has been divided between the two countries since 1991 at the time of modern Estonian independence from the former Soviet Union.

This border has been fluid throughout the last century. A firm border was established in the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, with Setomaa in Estonia, however the Soviet Union annexed part of southeastern Estonia during the 1940s and the territory has remained part of Russia since.

Seto spokesman Ahto Raudoja was quoted in the 4th January issue of The Baltic Course as saying of the map on the coin, “It does not show the areas on the other side of the Narva River, [and] most of the Seto region is missing.”

Raudoja continued, “This is the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic border. If currency is a symbol that should introduce culture or history, it is currently incomplete.” In other words, the Setos believe the true borders of Estonia are those outlined by the Tartu treaty, rather than those established during the Soviet period.

There is a new treaty defining the current border, however it has not yet been ratified by Russia.

The Estonian ambassador to Russia, Simmu Tiik was interviewed on 7th January on Echo Moskvy radio. During the interview, Tiik said that accusations that the coins depict regions at Narva and Petchory as being part of Estonia, when in fact they are today part of Russia, are false.

He acknowledged that draft design sketches for the coin made in 2007 did show Estonia at its former borders, but this was corrected before the coins were issued.

The following day the Estonian National Broadcasting agency reported that the Russian embassy in Estonia had released a statement on its homepage reading, “It is characteristic that in the first draft design, like the Estonian side admitted, the contours of the state differed from the reality and the author of the drawing had to correct it. This proves that unfortunately the repeated attempts of revising the valid borders continue, that became the reason for us withdrawing our signature from the border agreement in 2005.”

This already existing tension was inflamed by Russia lawyer Sergei Seredenko when he sent a letter to the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Juri Merzlyakov claiming the Estonian outline on the euro coins included some Russian territories.

The outcome of the situation is still to be determined, but shows the implications uncertain borders can have on unrelated issues like currency.

Source: World Coin News

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

UN calls for 'permanent ceasefire' between Thailand and Cambodia

Thai FM Kasit Piromya (left) and Cambodian FM Hor Namhong in New York

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called for a 'permanent ceasefire' between Thailand and Cambodia after a border dispute erupted into deadly clashes last week around a disputed Hindu temple.
The council insisted it would not intervene in the border dispute, and encouraged mediation efforts by Indonesia, the current president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Clashes broke out on 4th February around the base of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, and lasted for 3 days. The temple and the area around it has been the cause of great tension between the two neighbours. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 1962 that it lay in Cambodian territory, but it did not rule on the 4.6sq km at the base of the temple, where the main access lies, which has been in dispute ever since.

Cambodia sought – and was awarded – world heritage status for the temple in 2008, despite the wishes of Thailand which wanted the temple to have joint Cambodian-Thai status. Border clashes broke out soon after, and tension in the border region has been present since.

Displaced people leave the border region
The most recent spate of violence was, however, the most extreme. At least 10 people died and some 30,000 people were displaced from villages in the border region. Additionally, the temple itself was damaged in one of the Thai artillery offensives. Both sides claimed the other side started attacking first.

Cambodia last week submitted petitions to the UNSC calling for international intervention in handling the issue. Thai, Cambodia and Indonesian representatives met with the UNSC in New York on Monday 14th February.

Council president Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil made the call for a ceasefire after a closed door session with foreign ministers of Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.

"Members of the Security Council urge the parties to establish a permanent ceasefire and to implement it fully," she said.

Ms Viotti said council members expressed "great concern" over the clashes and "called on the two sides to display maximum restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation."

Cambodia has been trying to raise the border fighting issue to the UN platform since 2008, but without success. Thailand has rejected third party intervention and mediation, and despite the current violence, it appears the position has not changed.

Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya, speaking early on 16th February to the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) said Thailand supports a 'permanent ceasefire' agreement and that the country could implement it soon after defense ministers of both countries hold talks.

"Thailand has proposed to hold Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) meeting on Feb 27 and Cambodia should express her sincerity to solve border issue by joining the talks," Thai FM said. At the UNSC meeting, he insisted the two countries could resolve the dispute themselves.

He also said that Cambodia's development plans for the area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple should be halted until negotiations on border demarcation could reach agreement.

"The listing of Preah Vihear temple was seen as the source of fresh tension and had frequently led to cross-border clashes," Kasit said.

On Sunday 13th February, Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva laid the blame for the crisis on UNESCO's decision to declare the temple ruins a world heritage site even though the land around it is disputed.

Cambodia has taken a tougher line, with foreign ministry spokeman Koy Kuong saying UNESCO was not to blame.

"The war was not caused by the listing of the temple, but by Thailand's invasion of Cambodian territory," said the Cambodian spokesman.

"They want not only the territory, but also the temple."

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen even went as far as calling the clashes a 'real war', the first time the term has been used to refer to clashes between Thailand and Cambodia.

ASEAN president and Indonesia foreign minister Marty Natalegawa is using the issue to try to raise the standing of ASEAN. His call for a "brief, urgent and informal" meeting with his ASEAN counterparts on 22nd February in Jakarta is an anticipation of a mandate from the Security Council for ASEAN, under his leadership, to take up "regional" responsibility.

A more systematic approach to conflict resolution and dispute settlements as outlined in the ASEAN Charter as well as those contained in the ASEAN Political and Security Community blueprint are likely to be discussed and put into practice.

In recent international security issues, the UNSC has often made use of Article 52 of the UN Charter to share burden and delegate responsibility to existing regional arrangements. ASEAN members have traditionally avoided taking collective responsibility, but it appears that is now changing.

Sources: Bangkok Post, Xinhua, China Post, BBC News

For more information on this dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Systematic rape continues on Angola-DRC border: UN

UN envoy Margot Wallstrom

Systematic sexual violence continues to be carried out against Congolese women and girls caught up in mass expulsions from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a UN envoy said on Friday, 11th February.

Community leaders recorded 182 reported rapes in seven villages along the border in January alone, while a UN assessment mission confirmed 1,357 reported rape cases in one village in a six-to-eight-month period last year, said the official, Margot Wallstrom.

"My findings strongly suggest that sexual violence is systematically being carried out against Congolese women and girls in the context of expulsions from Angola to (Congo)," said Wallstrom, who visited the area on Sunday, 6th February.

"Many of the survivors who I spoke with confirmed that these violations occur in detention facilities in Angola as well as on the Congolese side of the border," she said in a statement.

"Women recounted that they were raped by uniformed security forces during expulsion from Angola," Wallstrom said, adding the figures had probably been under-reported.

The rapes first came to light last November when a report by the UN children's agency UNICEF, seen by Reuters, said that more than 650 people had suffered sexual violence during expulsions from Angola to Congo in the previous two months.

Tit-for-tat expulsions between Angola and Congo reached an estimated 211,000 people in 2009.

Angola helped Kinshasa's government fight off Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels during fighting between 1998 and 2003, which drew in several neighboring countries.

But deteriorating relations between the two countries followed disputes over border demarcation, offshore oil ownership and closer relations between Congo and Rwanda and Uganda, its neighbors to the east.

Wallstrom, UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, called on Angolan and Congolese authorities to investigate the rape allegations "as a matter of urgency."

"I intend to engage closely with both the government of Angola and (Congo) on this issue, and expect them to cooperate to find a solution to this grave violation of human rights," she said.

In a separate statement, Wallstrom praised Congo's government for taking action over alleged mass rapes in eastern Congo. Eleven soldiers accused of raping more than 60 women on 1st January in the town of Fizi went on trial at a military court on Thursday 10th February.

Rape, murder and pillage have been endemic for years in Congo, where more than 5 million people died during the 1998-2003 conflict. In one case that prompted an international outcry, at least 303 people were raped in the eastern town of Luvungi between 30th July and 3rd August last year by rebel militiamen.

Source: Reuters

For more information on this dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Tibetan Lama raises border tensions between India and China

Ogyen Trinley Dorje

His daring escape from Tibet seemed out of a movie. Then only 14, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was one of Tibetan Buddhism's most revered incarnate lamas, and his journey through the icy passes of the Himalayas was viewed as a major embarrassment for China. The youth arrived in India in early 2000 to a euphoric greeting from Tibetan exiles.

India, though, was less certain about what to do with him. Intelligence agencies, suspicious of his loyalties and skeptical of his miraculous escape, interrogated him and tightly restricted his travel. He remains mostly confined to the mountainside monastery of a Tibetan sect different from his own. And that spurred an idea: He wanted his own monastery. Eventually, his aides struck a deal to buy land.

Now, the 17th Karmapa, as he is known, has seen his quest for a monastery unexpectedly set off a national furor, fanned by Indian media that have tapped into growing public anxiety about Chinese intentions on their disputed border.

The Indian police are investigating the Karmapa after discovering about $1 million in foreign currency at his residence, including more than $166,000 in Chinese currency. Flimsily sourced media accounts have questioned whether he is a Chinese spy plotting a monastic empire along the border.

Monk or Chinese Plant? asked an editorial in The Tribune, a national English-language newspaper.

Many Tibetans scoff at the spying allegations But the episode starkly exposes the precarious position of the Dalai Lama and the exiled movement of Tibetan Buddhism he has led since he fled China in 1959. The Tibetan cause depends heavily on Indian good will, particularly as China has intensified efforts to discredit and infiltrate their exileorganization.

Tensions are rising between India and China over a variety of issues, including Tibet. Sophisticated hackers, traced to China, have penetrated computer systems in Dharamsala and at Indian government ministries. China has long blamed Tibetan exiles in India for fueling instability across the border in Tibet. But now India, too, seems more wary of Tibetan activities; the Indian police are investigating new Tibetan monasteries near the border for possible ties to China, a police official told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Chinese leaders are betting that the Tibetan movement will fracture after the eventual death of the Dalai Lama, who is 74; they have even declared their intent to name his successor.

Indian suspicions about the Karmapa are a particular problem. He has a global following and, at 25 years old, he is viewed as a potential future leader of the movement - a possibility deeply compromised if Indian authorities consider him a foreign agent.

What Tibetans must address is the idea that Tibetans could be considered a security threat to India and not an asset, said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibet specialist.

"But the idea that a boy at the age of 14 was selected as a covert agent by a foreign government to destabilize India - and the assumption the boy will assume leadership of the Tibetan movement and eventually work against India - is worthy of a cheap spy novel," according to Shakya.

For the past week, Tibetans have rallied behind the Karmapa, with thousands of monks holding candlelight vigils at his residence. Tibet’s political leaders, including the Dalai Lama, have called on the Karmapa’s aides to correct any financial irregularities but have dismissed any suspicions about the Karmapa’s being a Chinese agent.

“Baseless, all baseless,” said Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile. “Not a fraction of anything that has a base of truth.”

Many Indian intelligence agents have distrusted the Karmapa from the start. He was a unique case, since both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government had endorsed him. He would explain his escape as an act of principle; he was being pressured to denounce the Dalai Lama, and Chinese officials also were forbidding him to study with high lamas outside China. Many investigators were unconvinced, wondering how such an important figure could slip so easily over the border.
On Wednesday 2nd February, when the procession of monks arrived to offer support, the Karmapa described the current controversy as a ‘misunderstanding’ and expressed confidence in the fairness of Indian authorities.

“We all have taken refuge and settled here,” he said. “India, in contrast to Communist China, is a democratic country that is based on the rule of law. Therefore, I trust that things will improve and the truth will become clear in time.”

Within Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa ranks third after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, with each man believed to be reincarnated through the centuries. After the death of the previous Karmapa, a bitter feud broke out between the high lamas charged with identifying his successor: at least two other people now claim to be the Karmapa, though a majority of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, recognize Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
But this dispute has complicated efforts by the Karmapa to claim the monastery built by his predecessor in the Indian border region of Sikkim. Indian officials have blocked him from taking ownership until claims from rival Tibetan factions are resolved - which is why, given the uncertainty over the duration of the legal fight, the Karmapa sought land for a new monastery, his aides say.

The land deal led to the current controversy. On 26th January, India's Republic Day, police officers apprehended two men at a highway checkpoint after discovering about $219,000 in Indian rupees inside their car - money they said had come from the Karmapa. The next day, the police raided the Gyuto Monastery and found boxes of cash from more than 20 countries, including China; officers arrested the financial officer overseeing the Karmapa's charitable trust and continue to investigate the Karmapa himself.
“He ran from China,” said P. L. Thakur, the police inspector general in Dharamsala. “Tibet is under China. Why and how has this currency come here? For what purpose? Why was it being kept there?”

Naresh Mathur, one of the Karmapa’s lawyers, said the money was from the devotees who for the past decade had come from around the world for the Karmapa’s blessing. By custom, they leave an offering, usually envelopes of cash; the Chinese renminbi, he said, are from Tibetans or other Chinese who have made a pilgrimage to Dharamsala.

Mr. Mathur said the Karmapa’s aides were unable to deposit the money because they were awaiting a decision on their application, made several years ago, for government approval to accept foreign currency. In the interim, they say, the money is stored where the officers found it in boxes kept in a dorm room shared by monks.

Mr. Mathur also denied any suggestion that the land deal was secretive or illegal, and he said that it was the seller who demanded cash.

For many Tibetans, the broader concern is about the future of the Tibetan movement itself. Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan activist who once unfurled a ‘Free Tibet’ banner at an appearance by President Hu Jintao of China. He says India has always been a steadfast friend of Tibetans, providing a home for as many as 120,000 Tibetan refugees, yet now he worries its support may be wavering.

“This country that we are so grateful to is alleging the Karmapa is a spy for China,” he said. “And we can’t understand that at all.”