Thursday, 21 April 2011

SPLA clash with rebels leaves 20 dead

According to Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA), at least 20 South Sudanese soldiers have been killed in a deadly clash with rebel fighters. A spokesman for SPLA said the soldiers were killed when the militants attacked a village in Unity State.

It is believed that the attack commenced when army trucks hit landmines set by the rebels, which later led to the deadly clashes. The rebel group, calling itself South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), said the attack was only the "start of the offensive." A spokesman for the group, Bol Gatkuoth Kol, explained its objective by stating: "The government has failed miserably. It must go."
The SSLA, lead by former SPLA commander Peter Gadet, has voiced disapproval of South Sudan's government, saying it was corrupt and incapable of enforcing law and order in the region.

Oil-rich South Sudan is due to separate from the north in July, following an overwhelming secession vote in a referendum in January under a US-backed 2005 peace treaty which ended decades of conflict.

Earlier this year, the South's ruling party Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) accused Khartoum of funding rebel groups in order to destabilise the South before it achieves independence on 9th July, a charge both Khartoum and the rebels have denied.

Sources: BBC, RTT News, Miami Herald, Bloomberg, Sudan Tribute

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

Rebels take Libya-Tunisia border crossing

Qadhafi's troops have abandoned the Dhuheiba border crossing, Source: TAP

Libyan rebels have captured a post on the Tunisian border from pro-Qadhafi forces after three days of intense fighting.

Reports coming out of Tunisia have said that rebels captured the Dhuheiba border crossing, near the town of Wazin, after up to 100 loyalist soldiers fled to Tunisia on Thursday 20th April.

Rebel leader Shaban Abu Sitta said the border post was taken after three days of fighting outside the desert town of Nalut, which is about 140 miles south-west of Tripoli.

He said rebels had seized cars and weapons from the government troops and destroyed 30 trucks.

Nalut was in the hands of anti-government forces last month, but Libyan troops moved in and took it over.

The reports from Dhuheiba have not been independently verified as the government has severely restricted the movement of journalists in western Libya.

An unnamed witness on the Tunisian side of the border, however, told Reuters that government soldiers had surrendered. "We see rebels who control the border crossing," he told Reuters by phone.

TAP, the Tunisian official news agency, reported that 13 Libyan officers, including one major colonel and two commanders, handed themselves over to the Tunisian military at the border, apparently seeking refuge. They have been detained by Tunisian military authorities.

The taking of the Dhuheiba border crossing marks a rare advance for the rebels in the west of the country.

Sources: BBC News, The Independent, TAP, Reuters, MSNBC

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

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

France blocks Italian train carrying Tunisian migrants

Tunisian migrants at Ventimiglia; Source: LA Times

French authorities temporarily blocked trains from Italy in an attempt to stop Tunisian migrants from entering. Trains departing from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia were stopped on Sunday 17th April.

Italy has seen more than 26,000 mainly Tunisian refugees land on its shores following the turmoil in North Africa. On 5th April, Italy granted temporary resident permits to the majority of the migrants, which allows them free travel within the Schengen zone.

France fears that the majority of the migrants will head to France, its former colonial ruler, which already has a large Tunisian population. It has said that it would grant entry only to those migrants able to support themselves financially. Italy has been angered by other EU countries refusal to help out, given the extraordinary nature of events in North Africa.

The French authorities announced that the trains on Sunday posed a public safety threat, as some 300 protesters had planned to join the migrants on the so-called "train of dignity".

Both sides have claimed they are acting within the confines of the law. Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni was quoted by the BBC, saying, "We have given the migrants travel documents, and we gave everything (else) that is needed, and the European Commission recognised that, it has said that Italy is following the Schengen rules."

Italy said that the blockade was “illegitimate and in clear violation of general European principles” of free movement, and have officially protested to France.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said "I realise that every country has its own domestic policy concerns, but the EU requires open borders, and if we start to put up walls the union will go nowhere." He called the closure "shocking".

But French interior minister Claude Gueant said that his government had applied EU law “to the letter”, citing the rule that asylum-seekers are supposed to remain in the country in which they first set foot, until they are accepted or expelled.

The EU has voiced its support for the French authorities' actions. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said that France had acted within its rights, given that they had cited "public order reasons" to stop and inspect the trains.

EU officials confirmed on Monday 18th April that resident permits are not visas or EU passports and thus do not allow the migrants to travel freely across the Schengen zone, according to Eurasia Review.

The President of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, was quoted in The Independent, warning against the "exaggeration" of the "dangers of mass migration" from North Africa. While neither side had broken the rules of the treaty on the Schengen zone, he said they were both in danger of offending its spirit.

Train service was resumed on Sunday night.

Sources: BBC, Eurasia Review, The Independent, Los Angeles Times

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

Monday, 18 April 2011

Israeli tanks enter disputed area with Lebanon

Tension at the Israel-Lebanon border; Source: Daily Star

Two Israeli tanks crossed into a disputed area of land on the frontier with Lebanon on Thursday 14th April after several people were spotted in the border zone.

The alert was sounded after several people were seen in the area and it was later determined they were picking thyme and thistle.

Lebanon's Daily Star said the incident resulted in a two-hour standoff, which saw Israeli soldiers aim heavy artillery at Lebanese military and UN Personnel.

“At 7:50 am, two tanks belonging to the Israeli enemy went beyond the Technical Fence on the outskirts of Adaysseh border village in a disputed area before leaving at 9:30 a.m. toward the Occupied Territories,” a Lebanese army communiqué said.

“Army units deployed in the area took suitable field measures and the issue is being followed up in coordination with [the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon].”

AFP reports have said that one Israeli Merkava tanks entered four metres into the disputed area along the UN-drawn Blue Line before withdrawing. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) observed that one Israeli Defense Force (IDF) tank had crossed the Israel-erected Techical Fence and moved towards the Blue Line pillar marked BP36.

Another Israeli tank and other military vehicles were deployed in the area south of the Technical Fence. This prompted the Lebanese Army to mobilize with heavy artillery, and UNIFIL confirmed that a number of Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) personnel were deployed on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line.

According to the Daily Star, UNIFIL also sent reinforcements to the scene, and an Indonesian patrol with the international peacekeeping force was forced to wave the UN flag – an agreed gesture of pacification – when an Israeli patrol targeted them with heavy machine guns.

According to UNIFIL, no Blue Line violation was recorded.

The Blue Line is a UN-drawn border between the two countries, established in 2000. It is not an official international border, rather it marks the point Israel was required to withdraw from. There have been numerous incidents along the border in the decade since hostilities ceased and both sides have challenged the accuracy of the Blue Line in several locations.

Thursday's incident took place near the village of Adaysseh, which was the scene of a deadly border clash last August. Adaysseh sits a few meters from the Blue Line and Israel's Technical Fence. Last year's incident took place after Israeli troops cut down several trees in an area claimed by Lebanon. The clash resulted in the deaths of two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, as well as a senior Israeli officer.

Lebanon routinely submits complaints to the UN Security Council over alleged Israeli violations of Resolution 1701, which stipulates that Lebanon's borders must not be breached. In addition to the presence of the tanks in disputed land, Lebanese media sources have also reported that 13 Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace on Thursday, flying over the southern villages of Alma Shaab and Rmeish.

“The warplanes [12 of them] performed circular maneuvers in the skies over many Lebanese areas before leaving [the airspace] at 9:55 am over the village of Rmeish,” the guidance directorate of the Lebanese Army said in the statement, adding that another warplane had violated Lebanon's airspace earlier in the day over Rmeish and circled over the south, Ryak, Baalbeck and Hermel before leaving.

UNIFIL commander Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas has been in contact with the command of both sides, stressing the importance of ensuring full respect for the Blue Line, reiterating the sensitivity of the Line and urging utmost caution in any actions that could be seen as provocative. He called on the parties to utilize the liaison and coordination mechanism through UNIFIL, particularly on matters relating to the Blue Line in order to minimize the scope for any misunderstandings or apprehensions that may increase tension and lead to escalation.

Sources: AFP, Daily Star, UNIFIL

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

Thursday, 14 April 2011

China and India agree to restore defence ties, despite border dispute

Indian PM Singh (L) and Chinese PM Wen in 2008

India and China have agreed to restore defence ties after meetings between Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao on Monday 11th April.

Defence ties were suspended last year after China refused a visa to a Kashmir-based general. In July 2010, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen BS Jaswal was prevented from joining a delegation to Beijing because he served in Jammu and Kashmir.

China and India have a number of long running border disputes, but both sides agreed to work together to resolve tensions along their 3,500km long shared border.

Two areas are disputed. Aksai Chin is administered by China as part of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, however India claims it as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Arunachal Pradesh, a state in the far northeast of India is also disputed, and China claims that it is a part of South Tibet.

The two sides fought a brief border war in 1962, and several rounds of talks over the border in the past few years have made little real progress. India remains suspicious of China's ties to Pakistan, and both sides seem largely unwilling to compromise on territorial questions. Despite this, ties have been relatively strong in recent years, and China is now India's largest trading partner.

Speaking on Wednesday 14th April, India's National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon said the two sides would set up a consultation mechanism for the border dispute.

"This will handle important border affairs relating to maintaining peace and tranquility," Menon said, though he added that "in practice it is one of the most peaceful borders that we have."

Menon said that a multi-command Indian Army delegation would visit China later in the year, likely in June, and suggested joint exercises could be held at some point in the future.

The two countries have also agreed to boost economic ties, and address the currently assymetrical trade relationship. Menon said of Singh, "The PM spoke of taking our relationship to a higher level, focusing more on cross-investment, and also spoke of China providing better market access for Indian exports, particularly in IT, pharmaceuticals, agricultural products and in the engineering sectors."

Singh is in China as part of a formal summit of the “BRICS” countries, which along with China and India includes Brazil, Russia and South Africa. The summit is being held in Sanya, southern China on 14th April.

Sources: BBC News, Xinhua, Economic Times, International Business Times

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

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tanzania's Lake Tanganyika North Block up for grabs

Lake Albert and Lake Tanganyika are recieving new attention from oil and gas companies
Source: Beach Energy

The Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) issued a tender to the North Block of its share of Lake Tanganyika this week, and has set a deadline for submission of bids on 7th June.

Lake Tanganyika is shared between Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Zambia. Exploration in the lake has been limited until now, but as eastern Africa gets new attention thanks to finds both offshore and in the other lakes the Great Rift valley, Lake Tanganyika will likely become hot property.

The TPDC has divided its sections of the lake into two blocks. The southern portion has been held by Australia's Beach Energy since May 2008. The TPDC said it has received substantial interest in the northern block.

Burundi has divided its section of the lake into four blocks, two of which have been awarded to the UK's Surestream Petroleum. Surestream has been conducting an environmental impact assessment since late 2010 and is planning on shooting seismic on the lake in 2011. Burundi has not awarded the two other blocks, according to the Oil & Gas Journal.

Zambia, typically known for being a copper producer, is also turning its attention to oil. Last year it began to issue oil and gas exploration licenses to local and foreign companies. Exile Resources said in February that it had received an exploration license for a project in northeastern Zambia, although it does not appear that Zambia has licensed territory on the lake as of yet.

DRC has also been more active in recent years, particularly regarding its share of Lake Albert. It does not appear to have licensed any territory on Lake Tanganyika yet.

The interest in Lake Tanganyika has been spurred on by oil discoveries in the border region between Uganda and DRC in recent years. Many of the borders in this area have not be finalized, however, leading to potential disputes. In 2008 Uganda and DRC clashed over ownership of Lake Albert, and a Heritage Oil contractor was killed in the process. Kenya and Uganda also experienced disagreement over their shared Lake Victoria, in particular Migingo Island, a well-used base for fishermen.

No disputes have emerged in Lake Tanganyika yet, but as the borders between the four littoral countries have not be demarcated, potential for disputes exist. The lake is divided by a median line, but given that lake levels have dropped considerably in recent years, where that line lies needs to be fully established.

Sources: TPDC, Petroleum Africa, Oil and Gas Journal, Reuters

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

Monday, 11 April 2011

Dispute with Indonesia may be referred to third party: Malaysian FM

Malaysian foreign minister Anifah
Malaysian foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said on Sunday 10th April that the border dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia may need to be referred to a third party or to international arbitration if ongoing talks to resolve the matter remain deadlocked.

The comment marked a major change in attitude, as both sides had previous avoided suggestions of third party intervention, saying they would be able to resolve the issue bilaterally.

Anifah spoke to Malaysian reporters in Jakarta, which he was visiting as part of an ASEAN-Japan meeting. His comments reflected the stalemate the border negotiations have long been at. He said that the technical border committee had met 18 times over the past seven years, but that no progress has been made because both sides refused to compromise.

"If we can't solve its technical aspects, then we can't solve its political aspects and we want to avoid untoward incidents. So there may be a need for us to refer this to a third party for solution,” he was quoted in Malaysian news agency Bernama as saying.

"At the moment though, it has not reached to that stage. InsyaAllah we will try our best to find ways to solve this problem," he told reporters.

Anifah highlighted the importance of the solving the dispute to provide territorial certainty, especially to fishermen, who frequently encounter problems when fishing near the borders.

A group of Malaysian fishermen are currently being held by Indonesian authorities, accused on encroaching into Indonesia's territory in Riau on 8th March.

Speaking on the issue, Anifah said that Malaysian authorities had reported that the Indonesian enforcement agency's boat had encroached into Malaysian waters.

"I don't want to say who is right or who is wrong. Indonesia will say they are right and I have confidence in what our authorities have reported, but what is important is the manner in which we deal with this," he said.

"This is what complicate matters and I have brought this issue to the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, on the sidelines of the meeting yesterday that if we continue to delve into who is right and who is wrong, then we won't be able to come up with a solution," he said.

A further issue emerged when two Malaysian boats were detained by Indonesian authorities in the Malacca Strait last week, on suspicion of fishing illegally with trawl nets. Malaysia officially protested against Indonesia's detention of the two ships on Friday 8th April, according to the Jakarta Post. A spokesman for Indonesia's embassy in Malaysia, Suryana Sastradiredia, said the embassy had recieved the letter, which argued that the boats were fishing in Malaysian waters in the Malacca Strait, not Indonesian waters.

The letter also said that two helicopters sent to the scene by the Malaysian Navy were threatened by the Indonesian sea patrol with guns.

Anifah commented on this issue to reporters, and reiterated the Malaysian stance that it was the Indonesian boat that had violated international law. He said that the boats were seized in Hutan Melintang, Perak on the Malaysian side of the Malacca Strait, about 45 km from the maritime border.

Anifah said video recordings showed that the Indonesian fisheries enforcement agency had entered Malaysian waters and had towed the Malaysian boats into their territory.

Anifah said he had conveyed his concern over the issue to Natalegawa.

Sources: Jakarta Post, Bernama, BNO News

For more information on the dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Migrant issues cause tension on France-Italy border

Source: BBC News

Hopes of finding survivors from a capsized boat carrying hundreds of African migrants off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa are fading, while tensions increase between France and Italy over the movement of migrants throughout the Schengen area.

The 13m (42ft) boat departed from Zuwara, in western Libya on Monday 8th April, but got into trouble in Maltese waters on Wednesday. Italian rescue ships were alerted because of a lack of appropriate vessels in Malta, according to the Guardian.

Spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the boat capsized soon after Italian coastguard vessels arrived. "The sea was rough and after people went to one side it began taking in water and sank quickly."

Italian officials say that some 200 people were on board, but the IOM has said that survivors accounts put the number at around 300.

The Italian interior minister, Roberto Maroni, told parliament that 51 people had been picked up by rescue vessels. The survivors are being housed in a reception centre in Lampedusa, the southern Italian island currently dealing with a massive influx of African migrants, fleeing the uncertainty in north Africa.

In February, Italy declared a humanitarian emergency on Lampedusa as the island, with a population of only 5,000, struggled to deal with the arrival of over 4,000 people fleeing Tunisia.

The turmoil in Libya has added even more pressure, and an estimated 26,000 immigrants have arrived on the island since the start of 2011.

Mu'ammar Qadhafi's regime in Libya is said to have been encouraging boatloads of migrants to leave the country since 22nd March, when the first boat left Tripoli.

According to the Telegraph, Libyan armed forces have been turning a blind eye to the thousands of people assembling on the beaches, hoping to secure passage on a boat to Lampedusa.

Qadhafi has long emphasized his role in restricting immigration to Europe. During a visit to Italy last year he said, “Tomorrow Europe might no longer be Europe, and even black as there are millions who want to come in.”

At the start of the coalition's bombing campaign, a spokesman for Qadhafi's regime said that they would not longer stop people trying to enter Europe by boat.

Italy has appealed to its European partners for help, but has said it has been rebuffed by a “total refusal to cooperate” by its neighbours. It has also been trying to negotiate with the home countries of the migrants and on Tuesday 5th April, Italy signed an agreement with Tunisia to try to stem the flow of migrants. Italy promised more than €200 million in aid and credit lines as well as more police cooperation.

Continued uncertainty throughout the region has, however, created a huge wave of migrants, which Italy is no longer happy to deal with on its own. It announced on 7th April that it would grant travel permits to more than 20,000 Tunisian refugees. These three-month permits would allow freedom of movement within the 25-country Schengen area.

Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni acknowledged that this would allow the majority of the migrants to move to France, despite Paris's anger.

French interior minister, Claude Guéant said the country would not tolerate "a wave of immigration" and warned that migrants without appropriate documents and funds would be sent back.

"If these conditions are not met, it is absolutely within France's rights to send them back to Italy," Guéant said.

France, Tunisia's former colonial ruler, is a top destination for the migrants, many of whom already have family or friends settled there. Most speak French and believe their prospects for finding work in France are better than in Italy.

According to Reuters, France is refusing to accept Italy's temporary permits and have been turning back migrants who try to cross the border. A unnamed French diplomat, quoted on said that there was some doubt in France over the legality of the permits, and that they are considering re-erecting the border with Italy.

The Schengen agreement allows a member country to temporarily re-establish border controls with a neighbouring country in cases of threats to public order.

On 1st April, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that it did not appear that France was facing a serious threat to public order, which suggests France's attempts to re-establish border controls would not be accepted. On 7th April, her spokesman, Marcin Grabiec did say, however, that if migrants did not have enough money to fund their stay, they could be sent back to the member state of origin.

Another possible course of action would be the activation of Mechanism 55/2001, which allows for the redistribution of displaced persons among member states. Malta has already requested the activation of the mechanism and Malmström has voiced her support for it. It requires support from the majority of the 27 EU member states, which right now is not achievable.

The mechanism has never been used before, but as the Libya crisis carries on, it is likely to be ever more discussed. Immigrants from Tunisia are considered economic migrants, and so would not be covered by the mechanism, which only applies to displaced persons.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Telegraph, Guardian,, IOM

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

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Thailand admits use of cluster bombs against Cambodia

Unexploded bomblets are found in a Cambodian field, Source: CMC

An international organisation dedicated to preventing the use of cluster bombs announced that Thailand has admitted to using them in its border conflict with Cambodia in early February this year.

The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) claimed Thailand has confirmed its findings, based on two separate on-site visits, at a meeting on Tuesday 5th April.

According to the CMC, this is the first use of cluster munitions anywhere in the world since the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force and became binding international law.

While neither Thailand nor Cambodia have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, both of them are party to a 1997 landmine ban treaty. The convention bans production, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions.

Cluster munitions are large weapons, typically deployed from the air, that release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions, according to the CWC. When dropped from the air their dispersal is often widespread, which means that both military targets and civilians can be impacted.

Many submunitions, or bomblets, fail to detonate on impact and can manifest in a similar way to landmines, killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended.

The bomblets are often brightly coloured, which attracts children, who can be badly hurt if they pick the bomblets up. According to campaigners, thousands of villagers are now at risk of serious injury because of unexploded clusters near their homes.

The Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn argued on 6th April that the shells used by the Thai army were not the same as the cluster munitions mentioned by the CMC. He did admit, however, that the Thai army used “dual-purpose improved conventional munitions”, according to the Bangkok Post.

If, however, the government admitted to using the bomblets in a meeting with the CWC, it would represent a significant shift in the government's position. Soon after the clashes, which lasted for four days in early February, Cambodia accused Thailand to using the weapons. Thailand initially denied the claim and said it was the Cambodian forces who had used the cluster munitions.

It seems plausible that the Thai army opted to use cluster bombs instead of high-explosive munitions to avoid causing extensive damage to the Preah Vihear temple. This decision is likely to cause severe problems for the local communities for years to come.

The CMC's findings are likely to add a further strain to Thai-Cambodian relations, which haven't improved much since the February conflict. The Thai army has recently refused to attend a General Border Committee meeting in Indonesia, and minutes from a Joint Boundary Committee meeting are still waiting to be endorsed by the Thai parliament.

The clash has caused further problems as well. Statistics from the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism released on Monday 4th April showed that the number of Thai tourists visiting Cambodia in February dropped by almost fifty percent from the same month last year.

6,194 Thai tourists visited Cambodia in February 2011, compared to 12,269 in 2010. Cambodia's Minister of Tourism Thong Khon acknowledged that the drop was inevitable.

“Although the clashes occurred, we have never prevented Thai tourists from entering Cambodia, but they have concerns and decided not to come”, he was quoted in Xinhua as saying.

Sales of Thai products have also fallen considerably in Cambodia.

Sources: BBC News, Cluster Munitions Coalition website, Xinhua, Bangkok Post

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

Man caught smuggling bear across Russian border

Syrian Brown Bears are an endangered species

The BBC reported today that Russian customers officers found a man trying to smuggle a bear out of Russia into Ukraine, hiding it under a blanket in his van.

The Ukrainian citizen, reportedly a circus performer, was stopped at the Belgorod border crossing. He didn’t have any documents for the bear, but he said that he performed with the bear and never went anywhere without her.

Customs officers said the bear was an aged female Syrian Brown Bear, which is an endangered species.

The man said he was returning from Moscow to his home in Yevpatoria, in the Crimea. Customs officials are trying to decide what to do with the bear.

Animals crossing borders in the region have caused problems before, although generally not for the same reason. In late March this year, Belarus detained a number of circus animals on their way from Poland to Russia where they were due to perform because of incomplete paperwork.

A similar incident occurred on the Russian-Ukrainian border in early 2009, when 20 camels were held up for two weeks before being allowed to enter Ukraine. In these situations the animals are typically held in their trucks, and are not allowed to move freely. The situation in 2009 resulted in one camel's death after it succumbed to the freezing temperatures.

Bears are still used in circuses in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, despite attempts by animal rights activists to stop the process. The UK recently banned the use of wild animals in circuses.

Sources: BBC News,, Ria Novosti

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Google Maps changes Costa Rica-Nicaragua border depiction

Google Maps' depiction of the border region in October 2010
Google Maps' depiction in April 2011
Google Maps has changed its portrayal of the controversial Costa Rica-Nicaragua border, giving Isla Calero back to Costa Rica.

In autumn 2010, Google Maps found itself at the centre of a border dispute, when its maps were highlighted by Nicaraguan politician and former military leader Eden Pastora as proof that his troops did not invade Costa Rica by occupying Isla Calero.

While the problem of a state relying on a private company like Google to supply information of its territorial claims were clear to see, the dispute took off over other, related issues of ownership in the region, and Costa Rica eventually took Nicaragua to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague.

The ICJ made its preliminary ruling on 8th March, when it ordered both countries to withdraw all troops and personnel from the disputed area. The exception to this is that Costa Rican civilians are allowed in the area for the purpose of environmental protection. The ICJ ruled that Costa Rica should consult with the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention, which governs wetlands, and inform Nicaragua prior to taking action.

The Nicaraguan government complained on Sunday 3rd April that Costa Rica had violated this part of the ruling, and said it would file a complaint with the ICJ on Monday. Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry official Cesar Vega said that in March, Costa Rican civilian staff had entered the conflict zone accompanied by Ramsar Convention representatives to verify environmental damage caused by Nicaragua along the San Juan River.

While seemingly in line with the ICJ ruling, Nicaragua considered this a violation of the decision because they were not informed prior to the visit and have yet to receive an official Ramsar report describing the inspection.

While it is true that the infraction by Costa Rica seems minor, communication between the two sides is crucial in maintaining decent relations. Costa Rica has accused Nicaragua of acting in 'bad faith' over the incident, but the same could certainly be said of Costa Rica. The ICJ ruling was clear on the issue, and it is up to both sides to uphold the ruling in every way.

Sources: Xinhua, UPI, Inside Costa Rica

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

Monday, 4 April 2011

Tensions rise between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh airport

Tension has risen between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the impending opening of an airport in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994. Ownership over seven areas are still disputed between the two sides, but the most heated is Norgorno-Karabakh, which declared itself independent in 1991.

Nagorno-Karabakh has a primarily Armenian population and has been occupied by Armenian armed forces since 1991, despite lying within Azerbaijani territory.

The enclave largely runs its own affairs, although it gets economic and military support from Armenia. Due to open in May, the airport plans to have regular flights between Armenia and Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Plans to reopen the airport, which was severely damanged during the war in the early 1990s, have angered Baku, and it said that it would shoot down any civilian planes that fly there.

Earlier this year, Azerbaijan told the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that it had not authorised flights over its breakaway region.

Head of the Azeri Civil Aviation Administration Arif Mammadov said in a statement earlier this month, "Azerbaijan has the right to shoot down plans landing in this airport which is on occupied territory."

On 31st March, Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan hit back. "It is terrorist organizations that have always aired such threats, but not states. Making such statements at the state level is marasmus, statements of sick people."

"I can announce that I, the president of the Republic of Armenia, will be the first passenger on the flight," he said.

Chief of the Civil Aviation of Karabakh, Valery Adbashyan noted that Azerbaijan had signed the ICAO Convention, under which it pledged not to attack civilian jets and said that the ICAO should strip Azerbaijan of its membership in the ICAO.

The international community has also reacted to the statement. US Ambassadors to Armenia and Azerbaijan Marie Jovanovich and Matthew Bryza spoke about the inadmissibility of such statements, according to Armenia Now.

Azerbaijan appears to have backed down from its original stance. On 1st April, the official representative of Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry, Elhan Polukhov said "Azerbaijan has never used, nor will use force against civilian objects."

There is, however, considerable anger within Azerbaijan that the flights will go ahead. Foreign Ministry representative Novruz Mammadov told Azerbaijani media that Sargsyan's comments were deliberately provocative.

"It is regretful that international organizations and the countries, give no reaction to such a blatant conduct of the Armenian side. Nagorno-Karabakh is a native land of Azerbaijan, which has been under Armenian occupation for more than 20 years."

"It turns out that despite everything Armenia continues its occupational policy before the eyes of the world community," he was quoted in Today.Az as saying.

The airport is due to open on 9th May.

Sources: Today.Az, News.Am, Alert Net, Armenia Now

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