Thursday, 31 March 2011

Costa Rica deploys border police force

New Costa Rican border police force Source: Tico Times

Army-less Costa Rica has garnered substantial international sympathy throughout the course of its dispute with Nicaragua. But it looks like the Central American country isn't willing to play the victim much longer, as it has activated its first border police unit as of Wednesday 30 March.

Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla and Public Security Minister José María Tijerino attended a ceremony inaugurating the new police unit in the rural community of Los Chiles in Costa Rica's Northern Zone, just a few kilometres from the Nicaragua border.

Chinchilla said that the 153 men will be tasked with ensuring "Costa Rica's flag will never be lowered by foreign troops", a reference to the dispute over Isla Calero where the Nicaraguans allegedly raised their flag.

Tijerino said at the ceremony that the border police would be there to fight the “trafficking of drugs, people, currency and weapons, as well as providing for the protection of national sovereignty.”

“Costa Rica doesn't need an army. Costa Rica has not denounced its pacifist approach. Costa Rica doesn't envy its neighbors. And Costa Rica is satisfied with protecting its borders, having a police force that identifies with its people and is willing to guarantee the peace and tranquility of its residents,” Tijerino said.

The unit will be present at both the Nicaragua and Panama borders. A second police unit is also being trained and will be deployed in coming months.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua have been in dispute since October 2010, when Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of occupying its territory and working to divert the San Juan River in order to increase their territory.

The dispute is currently at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. A preliminary ruling on 8th March saw both sides ordered to keep troops and police away from the disputed area.

Sources: Tico Times, Inside Costa Rica

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

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Japan textbooks provokes territorial row with neighbours

Ownership of Dokdo is a heated issue. This billboard appeared in Los Angeles in 2010
Tokyo is set to restate its claims to a number of disputed islands, as it announces the results of its review of history, geography and other middle school textbooks on Wednesday 30th March.

The Japanese education ministry is expected to announce the results of its educational review, which it carries out every four years, and to stress Japan's sovereignty over disputed territories such as Dokdo, the Kuril Islands and Senkaku.

The expected announcement seems to have provoked the most ire in Korea, who claims Dokdo as their easternmost islets. Korean media sources have seen the move as a 'slap in the face' and proof of Japan's 'hardheaded' attitude.

Only 10 of the 23 textbooks currently in use in Japan have territorial descriptions of the East Sea islets, according to Seoul's foreign ministry, however this is set to rise. The number of textbooks claiming South Korea is 'illegally occupying' the islets is set to rise from one to four when the new textbooks are introduced next year.

The timing of the announcement is unfortunate, as South Korea has been one of Japan's biggest donors as it struggles to deal with the effects of the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami that hit it. Seoul says that it plans to continue helping its neighbour, despite the territorial dispute.

It will, however, issue a statement of regret and call in Japanese ambassador Masatoshi Muto to lodge protests. There are also plans under consideration to renovate a heliport on Dokdo to further the South Korean claim to the area. South Korea maintains a Coast Guard unit on Dokdo as a show of its control and day trips to the otherwise uninhabited islets are common by South Koreans. The waters around Dokdo are rich in fish and natural resources.

Japanese textbooks have long been a thorny issue for the Koreans, and memories of Japan's colonial rule of Korea from 1910-1945 run deep. Yonhap says South Korea considers Japan's claims to the islands to be not a territorial issue, but a matter directly relating to Japan's colonial history and a sign that Tokyo has not fully repented for its militaristic past.

Japan's claim is based mostly on a 1905 notice that a regional Japanese government issued declaring the islets as its territory. South Korea rejects this however, arguing that in 1905 Korea was effectively a Japanese colony and therefore Japan's claims to South Korean territory were voided when Korea regained independence in 1945.

Japan's education ministry is also expected to emphasise its claims over the Kuril Islands, which it disputes with Russia and which has been the cause of considerable tension in recent months following a visit to the islands by Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.

The Senkaku islands, called Diaoyu by the Chinese has also been the cause of tension in recent months, especially last September when a Chinese trawler was picked up by the Japanese coast guard in disputed areas.

Sources: Korea Herald, Xinhua, Chosun Ilbo, Yonhap, Korea Joohang Daily

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

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

North and South Korea agree to joint volcano research

South Korean delegate Yoo In-chang (R) shakes hand with North Korean delegate Yun Yong-geun
Source: Korea Herald

North and South Korea held talks at the South Korean border town of Munsan on Tuesday 29th March about setting up a joint study on the volcanic threat emanating from Mount Baekdu.

Tensions between the neighbours are higher than they've been for decades, and military talks in February collapsed. As such, the talks at Munsan were a highly anticipated opportunity for dialogue, and seem to have been successful.

The two sides did not agree on a date for the next round of talks, although the North suggested early April, and the South is expected to respond soon.

The earthquake in Japan seems to have prompted the discussion, and both sides seem to have accepted that potential damage both sides face from natural disasters. Head of the North Korean delegation Yun Yong-geun told his South Korean counterparts “We had underground water fluctuating by 60cm and muddy spring water after the Japanese quake.”

“We no longer can be fully sure about anything when it comes to meteorological occurrences,” he said in the first few minutes of the meeting, which was open to media.

Yun said that Pyongyang was actively looking for signs of radiation reaching the North, while Seoul has already detected traces of fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant, but has said the amounts are too small to pose risks.

Pyongyang proposed the talks after Japan's earthquake and while Seoul downgraded them from government to expert level, they are still significant. South Korean unification minister Hyun In-taek said last week that joint research could develop into a 'whole new level' of inter-Korean cooperation, according to the Korea Times.

Mount Baekdu has not erupted since 1903, but it is believed to have an active core. Located on the North Korea-China border, it is the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula, standing at 2,744m. Concerns over the mountain have persisted since 2002, when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit northeastern China. The mountain is considered a sacred symbol of ancestry by both sides, and the BBC reports that North Korea says its leader Kim Jong-Il was born there.

Experts have warned that an eruption could pose widespread problems for both sides, and so Seoul agreed to the talks out of fear of another regional disaster.

While China and North Korea have called for the resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programme, Seoul has said it first requires an apology for what it calls two acts of aggression by the North.

Seoul holds Pyongyang responsible for the sinking of a warship, the Cheonan, in March last year, although Pyongyang has denied involvement. Seoul also wants an apology for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last November, but Pyongyang says it was provoked.

Sources: BBC News, Korea Herald, Korea Times

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

Monday, 28 March 2011

China warns against the Philippines' Spratly Islands exploration

Oil exploration around the Spratly Islands has long been controversial, as ownership over the territory is contested by six littoral states, but the situation has heated up considerably in March.

On Wednesday 23rd March, the Philippines' Department of Energy said that the UK-based Forum Energy had completed a seimic survey of the Reed Bank, near the disputed island group.

Manilla followed up the announcement with plans for possible drilling in the region.

According to Rigzone, when asked for comment on the plan, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, "China holds indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] and the adjacent sea waters."

"Any activities by countries or companies to explore for oil or gas in the sea waters in China's jurisdiction without the permission of the Chinese government will constitute a violation of China's sovereignty and...will be illegal and invalid."

She did not, however, make specific reference to the Philippines or Forum Energy, nor did she say the survey area was actually in waters claimed by China.

Forum Energy holds what it calls the Reed Bank concession, which is located west of the Philippines' Palawan Island in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, as far as south as Indonesian waters, 1,200 km south of Hainan island. This is based on what it sees as its historical claim to the hundreds of small islands that make up the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The Spratly Islands are called the Nansha Islands by China.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all contest China's claim, and assert ownership of part or all of the disputed territory.

The Reed Bank, the territory currently being focused on, lies about 150 km east of the Spratlys, and lies well within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The Philippines announcement comes at a time of already heightened tension. The Vancouver Sun reported that on 2nd March, two Chinese warships 'harassed' a ship doing survey work around the Reed Bank for the Philippines. The Philippine military sent an aircraft to the region to protect the oil explorers from the Department of Energy.

The chief of the Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command, Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said that the Chinese were claiming that the oil explorers were in Chinese territory. He told GMA News that when the aircraft arrived, the Chinese patrollers were no longer there and there was no confrontation.

The Philippines' President Benigno Aquino sent a formal letter of protest to the Chinese government as a result, however, the letter was dismissed by Beijing. Vietnam also protested to Beijing about its naval activity in the disputed waters.

In March 2010, the New York Times reported that two senior US officials had been told in a meeting with Chinese counterparts that Beijing's claim to the South China Sea was a part of its 'core interest'.

Beijing's assertive position has prompted great concern, not only for the litteral states who are interested in the oil-rich Spratlys, but also for the US. Nearly half of the world's maritime fleet by tonnage passes through the South China Sea every year, and the US relies on being granted free passage through the waters.

The Reed Bank Basin alone is thought to contain some 440 million bbl oil equivalent. The wider Spratly Island group is thought to be hydrocarbon rich as the surrounding waters have proven reserves, although very little has been confirmed within the Spratlys themselves.

Sources: Rigzone, Vancouver Sun, GMA News, Global Nation- Inquirer

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

Friday, 25 March 2011

Earthquake hits Burmese border area

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the Burmese border region on 24th March, following on from the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that Menas Borders reported on 11th March.

This most recent earthquake hit near the Burma-Laos-Thailand border region at approximately 8:25pm local time (1:55pm GMT), and had a magnitude of 6.8, according to the US Geological Survey.

Thailand's Meterological Department measured the quake as a magnitude 7, and reported a magnitude 5 quake hitting about half an hour later. The US Geological Survey did not report that quake, but did report a 5.4 magnitude quake about two hours later.

The quakes were shallow, taking place about 6 miles underground on a small fault line on the Burmese-Lao border, according to Thailand's Mineral Resources Department. It was felt 800km to the south in the Thai capital Bangkok and in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

Chinese news agency Xinhua says an official statement from Burma has reported that 74 people have been killed and 111 injured in the quake. It also said that 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and nine government buildings had been damaged.

The Burmese town of Tachileik in Shan state, which lies right on the border with Thailand, and near the tripoint with Laos, appears to have been the worst affected, although the Bangkok Post has reported that one woman was killed in Thailand's neighbouring Chang Rai province, when a concrete wall collapsed on her. In Lao, little damage and no casualties have been reported.

The deputy director-general of the Thai Meteorological Department, Somchai Baimuang, said that the earthquakes in Burma were a consequence of the Japanese quake causing movement of the tectonic plate in Burma.

On 10th March, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck near the Chinese -Burma border area.

Sources: BBC, Xinhua, Bangkok Post, US Geological Survey

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

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

South Korea prepares for first anniversary of Cheonan sinking

Preparations are underway for military drills to mark the Cheonan anniversary

With the first anniversary of the sinking of South Korean warship approaching, South Korea and their US allies are preparing to mark the date with what might be seen as a rather provocative gesture: major live-fire military drills.

The South Korean corvette Cheonan was sunk on 26th March last year. A Seoul-led international investigation blamed North Korea for the attack, a claim which Pyongyang has denied.

Seoul and the US have been carrying out annual drills since late February. They completed computerised war games on 10th March, but joint field training will continue throughout March and April.

They are currently in the middle of a three day joint military amphibious logistic support exercise in the West Sea that ends Thursday 24th March. Large-scale maritime maneouvers in the East, West and South Seas will take place from Friday to Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan. Live-fire drills will also be carried in the West and South Seas on Saturday, the day of the sinking.

North Korea sees the drills as a rehearsal for invasion, and consistently protests about them. North Korea disputes the UN-established maritime border in the West Sea (also known as the Yellow Sea) and objects to the south carrying out live fire drills in territory it considers to be its own.

North Korea has also recently accused US troops of trespassing into the Demilitarized Zone and has said that South Korea would have to take responsibility for action resulting from the 'provocations', including 'human damage', according to the southern Korea Herald. The north's military has apparently sent a notice to the south, claiming that some 100 US troops made 50 trespasses into the area from 1-8th March, without any prior notification about their entry.

Another issue causing tensions between the two is that of southern activists and North Korean defectors ballooning anti-north leaflets into northern territory. According to the Korea Herald, a group plans to launch propaganda leaflets on Friday or Saturday this week from the frontier island of Paekryong, despite Pyongyang's threats of artillery retaliation.

They plan to drop some 200,000 leaflets containing news of the Arab uprisings and calling for the overthrow of Kim Jong-Il's regime.

The North Korean military has urged South Korea to halt what it calls 'psychological warfare' immediately and have threatened retribution.

Tensions between the two neighbours have been high since the sinking of the Cheonan a year ago. US-South Korea naval drills in disputed waters in November led to the north firing artillery at Yeonpyeong island, killing four.

The two sides are still technically at war, having never resolved the 1950-3 dispute, and South Korea's continual military action in what it knows to be disputed waters is certainly not helping to reduce tensions. Military talks between the two sides in early February ended in failure.

Sources: Korea Herald, Xinhua, ABC News

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

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

South Sudan asks UN to send new peacekeeping force to border

Pagan Amum, Ban Ki-moon and SPLM North America representative Ezekiel Lol Gakouth 

The UN Security Council met on Monday 21st March to discuss the situation in Sudan, and Pagan Amum, secretary-general of the South's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) said he asked the council to consider deploying a new peacekeeping force at the border.

According to AllAfrica, the meeting was an unofficial sitting of the council, held in response to a request from a people's organisation in the US on the disputed Abyei region, although this has not been confirmed.

In a statement to Sudan's SUNA newspaper, Khalid Musa, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the request for an unofficial meeting reflects an 'unjustifiable trend towards escalation' on behalf of the South, resulting from the failure of some circles in South Sudan to solve their own political issues.

Musa said the Sudan's envoy to the UN had made available all the facts for the Security Council and reiterated his government's commitment to the peaceful solution of all issues.

Speaking after the meeting, Amum said that the UN would be involved in investigating the Northern National Congress Party's aid to the renegade general, George Athor, that the SPLM/A is currently fighting. The south has in recent weeks accused the north of working to destabilise the South, and has recently withdrawn from talks.

The two sides have also bickered over UN Mission in Sudan head Haile Menkerios's flying to Abyei on a UN helicopter with Ahmed Haroun, an NCP member who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.

Amum said that Menkerios was wrong for flying with Haroun, but according to Inner City Press, UN Peacekeeping Assistant Secretary-General Atul Khare criticised the SPLM for not granting it access.

South Sudan is preparing to declare its independence from Sudan in July, following an independence referendum in January, but the transition preparations have been overshadowed by violence in recent weeks. There has been considerable violence in the disputed border area of Abyei, as well as within South Sudan between supporters of rebel general Athor and the SPLA.

Amum said he asked the council to think about deploying a new peacekeeping force to the border, but it is not yet clear how that request was received.

Sources: Canadian Press, Inner City Press, AllAfrica

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

Oil interests behind Costa Rica-Nicaragua case

The current dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has been constructed in a number of ways. First of all, it was the story of Nicaragua the aggressor, moving by stealth onto undefended Costa Rican territory, aided by dodgy maps produced by Google.

Then the story of environmental damage came about, and questions arose about whether Nicaragua was trying to claim more land by dredging – and therefore rerouting to a certain extent – the San Juan River.

But now, as the case sits with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, a new narrative is emerging; one where Isla Calero is not being seen as valuable in its own right, but rather as an opportunity for both sides to make claims to potentially oil-rich maritime territory.

According to the Argentinian daily, La Nación, the dispute is really about access to the Caribbean coast and where each territory's claim ends on the coast. The preliminary judgement issued by the ICJ on 8th March states:

'Costa Rica asserts that Nicaragua is seeking to divert the flow of the San Jan river to what the State erroneously describes as its “historic channel” by cutting a canal which would join the seaward course of the river to the Laguna los Portillos'.

In other words, because the boundary between the two neighbours is understood to be the right bank of the San Juan river, Costa Rica claimed that Nicaragua was trying to cut this canal in an effort to grab some of Costa Rica's land.

La Nacion says this is to increase their access to Block 11, an area discovered in the 1980s by Costa Rica's state refinery, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petroleo (RECOPE), which covers some 523 sq km of the Caribbean Sea.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua currently don't have a formal maritime boundary agreement and so oil exploration off of their coasts has been problematic. Where the land border terminates is crucial to determining maritime territory claims, and this perhaps explains why there has been such a fuss over such a small marshy area.

If the line is drawn from where Costa Rica believes the border to be, Punta Castilla, then Block 11 falls completely within Costa Rican waters. If the boundary follows Nicaragua's claims, they own part of the block, and can therefore claim some of its oil.

Nicaragua published a map in 2002 which featured petroleum blocks - including Block 11 - and border demarcation markings. Costa Rica disputed the map. According to Bloggings by Boz, in 2008 Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega gave two contracts to an unnamed US firm to explore the area for oil, to which Costa Rica, unsurprisingly, protested.

Last March, the dispute also came to involve UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, when Nicaragua disputed a note sent to Ban by Costa Rica regarding the border definition. The situation really kicked off in October, when Nicaragua moved onto the Isla Calero, citing drug trafficking concerns, and sparking the dispute that has resulted in the ICJ case currently underway.

The ICJ made its preliminary judgement on 8th March, which ordered both countries to keep military and police authorities out of the disputed area. It did not, however, order Nicaragua to completely stop its dredging programme. The court will likely take three or four years to reach its final verdict.

Sources: Tico Times, Inside Costa Rica, ICJ, Blogging by Boz

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

Monday, 21 March 2011

Rockhopper makes find in disputed Falklands territory

Falkland Islands oil map, source: AFP (02/2010)

British oil explorer Rockhopper Exploration has proven its Sea Lion discovery off of the UK-governed Falkland Islands to be commercially viable with an appraisal well, the first such result in the disputed territory.

Company Chief Executive Sam Moody gave the following comment on the Rockhopper website, “Following this positive result we believe Sea Lion is highly likely to prove commercially viable… We can now continue to appraise the Sea Lion discovery and to explore additional prospectively within our acreage with added confidence.”

The northern Falklands basin, in which Rockhopper's Sea Lion discovery was made has been long thought to be highly prospective, and this find is likely raise hopes that this British-governed territory will become a new oil province.

Rockhopper said its 14/10-4 Sea Lion appraisal well had been successful and that it would continue to appraise the discovery and explore additional prospectivity within its acreage.

Other companies have drilled on the island, with Desire Petroleum failing to find oil off the islands in November last year. Despite this, Desire saw their shares rise 16 per cent today, while Argos Resources, who also holds blocks in the northern Falklands basin got a 12.5 per cent boost.

Oil exploration activity around the Falklands has sparked protests from Argentina, which claims sovereignty over the islands, which it calls the Malvinas and which lie 300 miles from its shore, according to Reuters.

Argentina has long claimed the islands. It invaded the Falklands in 1982, sparking a short war with the UK, which ended with Britain maintaining control of the territory.

The BBC in February 2010 reported a war of words heating up between Argentina and the UK over the foreign oil exploration campaigns.

Then UK defence minister Bill Rammell, speaking to the House of Commons, said the government had a 'legitimate right' to build an oil industry in its waters. He also said that the government would take 'whatever steps necessary' to protest the islands, and that it had made Argentina 'aware of that'.

Argentina reportedly threatened to take 'adequate measures' to stop British oil exploration in contested waters around the islands, and sought support from its Latin American neighbours.

Venezuela's President Huge Chavez was reported by the BBC as having said Britain was being irrational and had to realise the 'time for empires was over'. Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega also called for Britain to return the Malvinas to Argentina.

That said, Argentina has ruled out military action, and has tried, in recent years, to pressure the UK into negotiations on sovereignty. How both sides will react to the new reality of Falklands oil is yet to be seen.

Sources: Upstream, Reuters, BBC, Rockhopper

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

Friday, 18 March 2011

DRC blocks oil search in border park

Virunga National Park is an important home for endangered mountain gorillas

The Democratic Republic of Congo has suspended all oil exploration in Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest national park, blocking attempts by British oil company Soco to search for oil there, the government said on Thursday 17th March.

Soco, and its partner Dominion Petroleum, hold rights to a block on the DRC's border with Uganda, which they were awarded by presidential decree last year. Soco, who is the operator, submitted an environmental impact assessment plan last week, but Congo's environment minister Jose Endundo said in an open letter to environmentalists, dated 14th March, that all oil exploration within the park was suspended.

"We have rejected the recommendations of an environmental impact assessment conducted by the oil company, Soco, which we consider premature, superficial and does not conform to the standards we expect," the minister said in the letter.

Virunga national park is home at approximately 200 of the 700 remaining mountain gorillas and a number of other endangered species. It is on the UN's list of World Heritage sites in danger, and UNESCO has repeatedly warned against oil exploration in the area.

Soco and Dominion hold the dark yellow block, while Dominion holds the block opposite, in Uganda.
Dominion Petroleum holds the block directly across the border in Uganda, and they had previously been planning on carrying out cross-border seismic work. Whether or not this will still go ahead is not clear.

Soco's chief executive Roger Cagle told the BBC that oil exploration would continue on the Ugandan side of the border regardless of the Congolese decision.

The area in eastern DRC is also home to numerous armed groups who continue to operate across the porous border with Uganda. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group is very active in the area, and are believe to be responsible for the deaths of three park guards and five solders in January 2011.

Sources: BBC, Reuters Africa, UNESCO

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

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

South Sudan pulls out of talks with North

Thabo Mbeki with South Sudan President Salva Kiir (R)
South Sudan's governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced on Saturday 12th March that it was suspending all talks with the north's National Congress Party (NCP). Pagan Amum, secretary general of the SPLM made the announcement at a press conference, and accused the north of working to destabilise the emerging independent state of South Sudan.

"The SPLM has decided to suspend the dialogue with the NCP because of its policies and its support of the armed militia in south Sudan," Amum said.

Amum said his government had detailed information of a plan by the NCP to topple to the South Sudan government before it declares independence on 9th July, 2011. He also said there was evidence that the NCP has been supporting various militia groups in the south with the intention of carrying out a genocide in the region.

He added that the NCP was trying to push the Arab Misseriya tribes into confrontation with the South Sudan government and to cripple the Abyei protocol.

Dozens of people have been killed in recent clashes between the SPLA and a rebel militia in South Sudan's Upper Nile State and between the SPLA and the Misseriya in the Abyei area.

The SPLM released confidential documents detailing the NCP's alleged plot to overthrow the southern government by supporting, arming, training and financing militias opposed to the South.

The documents, dating from 2008-2010, include information involving the northern military high command, the army's logistical deparment and intelligence units, as well as the defence ministry, according to the Sudan Tribune.

The NCP has denied the SPLM's accusations, and in a statement issued on Monday 14th March, NCP political secretary Ibrahim Gandoor said that the SPLM was seeking a scapegoat for its problems now that it was being confronted by a large armed opposition.

The NCP issued a further statement on Tuesday 15th Mach denouncing what it called 'fabricated documents' aimed at igniting hatred between the two sides and provoking a return to war.

The international community has responded quickly, appealing to the leaders of South Sudan to resume negotiations on post-referendum arrangements. Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president and chairman of the African Union (AU) High-Level Panel on Sudan told reporters at a press conference in Juba, South Sudan's capital, that he remains optimistic that the two parties will get back to the negotiating table.

Mbeki met with South Sudan's Vice President Riek Machar on Tuesday in Juba to stress the importance of resuming negotiations to prevent any deterioration of the situation.

The Sudan Troika – the US, UK and Norway – issued a joint statemnet on Tuesday, expressing 'serious concern' over the south's decision to freeze talks with the north. The Troika, which played a major role in establishing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which brought the civil war to an end, said it was 'critical' that talks resumed.

The Troika's statement, posted on the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website, said “we urge President Bashir and President Kiir to take steps against alleged actions that destabilize each other's governments and territories, and to lay the ground for mutual cooperation with the goal of the creation of two viable states in July.”

The statement also reminded both parties of their obligation to permit the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) full access to the Abyei area. The UN Secretary-General's office released a statement on Monday complaining that the mission had been refused access to areas of conflict in Abyei and restricted in its movement.

South Sudan voted in a January referendum to seceded from the North and form a new country. A number of issues remain unresolved between the two countries, including oil revenues, border demarcation and the ownership of the border-straddling Abyei region.

Violence has plagued the border region and the south since the referendum. Renegade Southern army general Gorge Athor's forces attacked Malakal town in the Upper Nile State on Saturday, the latest in a series of bloody clashes. The SPLM accuses the north of funding Athor's militia.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, FCO, Eastday

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

Turkish troops kill three PKK members near Iraq border

The PKK has been fighting the Turkish government since the 1980s

Turkish troops have killed three suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey. It was the first clash between the two sides since the end of a cease-fire in February. It took place in a rural area of Sirnak province, close to Turkey's border with Iraq, according to Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper.

Soldiers were in the area on a mission to prevent the infiltration of militants from northern Iraq, where the PKK has bases.

The clash will stir fears in Turkey of a revival of separatist violence ahead of the June parliamentary elections. Intelligence reports suggest that the group plans to launch a number of violent attacks, including in major urban areas, to try to manipulate voter opinion.

According to the World Bulletin, clashes generally increase in spring, as the warmer weather in the mountainous border region allows the militants to be more active.

The PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire in August 2010, and though they extended it in November, they called it off in February, citing a lack of dialogue with the Turkish government.

The group said, however, that it would not be the first to attack, and demanded an end to all military operations against it. It also called for the easing of prison conditions for its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and the release of other detained Kurdish politicians.

Fighting in southeastern Turkey has lessened significantly since the cease-fire, but this most recent clash could be the start of a renewed period of violence.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU. It took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in 1984, sparking a conflict that has since claimed some 45,000 lives.

Sources: Hurriyet, World Bulletin, Today's Zaman

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

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Turkey, Azerbaijan propose staged resolution to Karabakh dispute, but Armenia isn't interested

Azerbaijan's Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov

Turkey and Azerbaijan have proposed a multi-stage plan for the settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Armenia isn't impressed.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994. The Armenian-majority area, located within Azerbaijan territory, has been occupied by Armenian armed forces ever since.

While internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory, the enclave has declared itself an independent republic, but is administered as a de facto part of Armenia. Since 1994, negotiations have been held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia and the US.

Azerbaijani deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov discussed the plan during a trip to Ankara last week, and gave details to Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review newspaper. His visit preceded an expected trip this week by Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Moscow.

According to Hürriyet, the plan is based on trying to bring normality to Armenia in its relationship with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Baku-Ankara plan involves a staged withdrawl process. Under the plan, Armenia would start by removing troops from five of the eight disputed territories: Akdam, Fuzuli, Cebrail, Zengilan and Kubatli. At this stage the Armenia-Azerbaijan border would open. The border between Armenia and Turkey, which has been closed since 1993, would also likely open at this stage.

"Relations [between Azerbaijan and Armenia] should be normalized, international forces should come in, guarantees should be given and rehabilitation should start," Azimov said.

This stage would last five years, after which Armenia would withdraw from the remaining regions of Lachine, Kelbecer and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenia population of Karabakh would be provided with security guarantees and preparations for the return of Azerbaijanis to Nagorno-Karabakh would start.

This would pave the way for economic cooperation, although Azimov admits the determining a timeline will be difficult.

Armenia has not reacted favourably to the plan, however. A spokeman for the Armenia Foreign Minister, Tigran Balayan, commented on Azimov's interview with Hürriyet by saying, "Turkey has nothing to do in the Karabakh conflict resolution. If Turkey wishes not to damage the peace process, it should not interfere in the Karabakh conflict settlement."

"Mr. Azimov's scenario for the Karabakh conflict resolution is a figment of his imagination," Balayan emphasized to Armenia's

Meanwhile, further disputes on the ground are complicating the negotiating process. An Azerbaijani boy was shot and killed on 8th March by Armenian sniper fire. Fariz Badalov was playing outside his house in the village of Orta Garvand, close to the contact line separating Armenian and Azerbaijani troops.

Soon after the incident, the Minsk Group co-chairs announced their intention to visit the region. They condemned the loss of life and urged all sides to exercise restraint and fulfil their obligations undertaken in Sochi earlier this month to seek to resolve all contentious issues peacefully, according a press release from the OSCE.

OSCE representatives have, this week, visited Azerbaijan. The OSCE chairman-in-office, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis held talks with Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Monday 14th March.

Robert Bradtke of the US, Bernard Fassier of France and Igor Popov of Russia met Mammadyarov on Tuesday 15th March, according to Azerbaijani media sources. They discussed the current state of negotiations to resolve the Karabakh conflict. It is not clear whether they discussed the Ankara-Baku planned mooted by Azimov.

Sources: Hürriyet, OSCE,,

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

Cameroon and Nigeria agree on joint oil exploration in Bakassi region

Bakassi Peninsula (source: Stratfor)
Cameroon and Nigeria have initiated talks to jointly exploit oil overlapping borders around the Bakassi peninsula, chief mediators of both countries told Dow Jones Newswire on Friday 11th March.

The decision to begin joint oil exploration was made at a meeting of a joint commission of the two countries set up by the UN following the 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the Bakassi peninsula.

After years of dispute, Cameroon took Nigeria to the ICJ in 1994 over various territorial issues including that of the Bakassi region. Nigeria argued that the peninsula should be awarded to it because of its 'historical claim'. Nigeria had been administering the peninsula and most of its inhabitants were Nigerian fishermen and their families.

Despite this, the Court ruled in 2002 that the peninsula belonged to Cameroon based largely on early twentieth century Anglo-German correspondence which established that the boundary lay to the west of the peninsula.

The ruling was not easily accepted by many within Nigeria, but in 2008, they ceded the peninsula to Cameroon. A commission was established to demarcate the border between the two countries as per the ICJ ruling and it appears that good progress is being made.

Cameroon's chief negotiator, the country's Vice Premier Ali Ahmadou, said: "Work is complete on our maritime demarcation, but this is not the case with exploitation of the oil wells crossing the borders. This is an important issue which we've to pursue and reach a level of agreement for joint exploitation of the oil reserves by our two countries."

The chief Nigerian negotiator, Prince Bola Ajibola, sounded positive on the agreement reached. "This time around, there's been cooperation and good understanding between our two countries to come together and jointly exploit the hydrocarbons deposits that we've on our common borders."

"The exploited hydrocarbons will be for the mutual benefits of both of us,” said Ajibola, adding "we think such exploitation will become faster, cheaper and easier when both of us have one company to do the operations."

Canadian exploration company, Addax Petroleum, has been tipped to do the cross border oil drilling. The Dow Jones Newswire quoted an unnamed Cameroonian official familiar with the negotiations as saying, "Addax Petroleum is likely to do the crossborder oil drilling for us and our brotherly nation, Nigeria. You know, Addax operates both in Cameroon and Nigeria and knows the territory very well."

Exploration is likely to start this year.

Sources: Dow Jones Newswire, Wall Street Journal, AllAfrica

Menas Borders worked on the 2002 ICJ court case. For more information on the case, please see our website, here.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Earthquake hits China-Burma border

A collapsed building in Yunnan province

Chinese authorities say an earthquake hit south-west China near the border with Burma around noon on Thursday, 10th March.

The US Geological Survey said the 5.4 magnitude earthquake was centered about 250 km southwest of Dali in Yunnan province and about 350 km northeast of the Burmese city of Mandalay. They said the quake occurred at a depth of about 35 km, but Chinese reports said the depth was only 10 km. Chinese state media put the quake's magnitude slightly higher, at 5.8, according to Voice of America.

China's official Xinhua news agency described the geology of the area as a quake-prone belt and has seen more than 1,000 tremors in recent months. There were several aftershocks, which caused power outages in the county.

Reports coming out of China say that at least 25 people have been killed and more than 250 injured. Xinhua has reported that over 1,000 homes have collapsed, with thousands more seriously damanged. Most of the damage came near the Burmese border.

Rescue operations are underway, and the National Committee of Disaster Reduction, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and Yunnan's provincial government have all already sent emergency materials to the region.

A statement from the Myanmar Meteorological Department said that an earthquake had struck, but gave no further information.

Sources: BBC, Voice of America, Xinhua

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

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

China dedicated to good relations with India, despite military budget rise: spokesman

NCP spokesman Li Zhaoxing

The Chinese government is dedicated to maintaining good relations with India, despite increasing its defence budget by over 12 per cent, a top official from the Chinese parliament said on Friday 4th March.

The comments came a day before the start of the National People's Congress's (NPC) annual session, which seems likely to approve a 12.7 per cent increase in the country's defence budget, a move which has caused concern among some of China's neighbours.

Responding to questions about whether China's defence budget increase would put pressure on its neighbours, such as India, Li Zhaoxing, chairman of the NPC's Foreign Affairs Committee said that China and India have reached a consensus on maintaining the peace and tranquillity of their border areas until the border issues are solved.

Mr Li added that the increase will result in a military budget of 601 billion yuan (US$91.5 billion), which only amounts to 1.4 per cent of GDP. India's defence budget is also set to rise considerably this year, up 11.6 per cent to US$35 billion. As Mr Li pointed out, the Indian budget is higher as a proportion of GDP than China's. The US has a military budget of $725 billion.

Mr Li also said that China wanted to move forward with talks with India. “We seek to advance the negotiations … process on a settlement framework, so as to resolve the boundary question which has been created and left over by history,”

“At present, there are friendly and stable relations between China and India. This has created a good atmosphere for the two sides to resolve the boundary question through consultations,” he said.

Li said China and India had held 14 rounds of meetings since 2003 in an effort to speed up negotiations for an early solution to border issues.

"China attaches great importance to friendly relations with neighbors. ... Seeking peace, cooperation and development is a shared view of all Asian people, including the people of China and India," he said.

The Chinese government said on Friday that it was ready to take forward the negotiations with India over the long-running border dispute, and that the two countries' relationship was now stable enough for a settlement to be reached.

Many analysts believe that the declared budget is only a small proportion of what China actually spends on its military power. Many believe that the increase is a sign of China's desire to put pressure on its military competitors, both regionally and globally.

India is not the only regional power that China has territorial issues with. According to India's Economic Times, on Thursday 3rd March, Japan scrambled military jets after Chinese naval airplanes flew near disputed islands in the East China Sea, although the Chinese did not enter Japan's airspace.

The disputed islands, known in China as the Diaoyu islands and in Japan as the Senakaku islands, have long been disputed by the two sides. The capture of a Chinese boat captain in disputed waters by Japanese patrols in September 2010 drove relations to the lowest levels in years.

The South China Sea dispute has also heated up, with the Philippines demanding an explanation from China over a recent incident in which it says two Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a survey ship.

China has taken steps to resolve many of its residual border issues. It appears that maritime disputes and issues with India will, however, be harder to solve.

Sources: Economic Times, Xinhua, Times of India, The Hindu

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