Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Croatia and Slovenia submit maritime border arbitration agreement to UN

Piran Bay has been disputed between Croatia and Slovenia since 1991

Croatia and Slovenia have submitted an arbitration agreement to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on their long-standing sea border dispute, it was reported on 26th May.

The agreement will refer the border dispute to international arbitration.

Croatia and Slovenia have disputed ownership over the Bay of Piran since gaining independence in 1991.

In November 2009, Croatia's Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and her Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor signed the agreement, and it was narrowly approved in a popular referendum in Slovenia in June 2010.

The border row is centred on access to international waters, a signficant issue for Slovenia due to its very short coastline (29 miles).

Croatia claims the border should be drawn down the middle of the bay of Piran – a small bay of just 8 square miles, which Slovenia fears would deny its ships direct passage to international waters.

In 2004, Slovenia became the first former Yugoslav state to join the EU. Croatia hopes to become the second in 2012, but Slovenia had threatened to veto Croatia's accession until the dispute was resolved.

Any decision the arbitration tribunal makes will be final and binding.

Sources: BBC News, Hina, SE Times

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

Sudan threatens to occupy two more border states

The northern Sudanese Army is planning on seizing two more areas on the north-south border, just weeks before the south is set to become an independent country.

According to a letter from the Sudanese military's high command, the northern army plans to take over Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in the next few days.

A letter, dated 23rd May, which the New York Times is in possession of, said the northern Sudanese army will “redeploy its forces to all areas north of the 1/1/1956 borders starting from 1 June 2011.”

The letter is from the chief of staff for the Sudanese military, Ismat Abdul Rahman Zain al-Abideen.

Blue Nile's Governor Malik Agar said on 29th May that northern forces had moved "dangerously close" to the bases of southern-allied fighters.

The Voice Of America reported on 30th May that the north Sudanese government has given the south until Wednesday, 1st June to withdraw its troops from the two states.

On 21st May, northern Sudanese forces took over the disputed border region of Abyei.

South Sudan held an independence referendum in January, in which an overwhelming majority of people voted to secede.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended decades of civil war in 2005, Abyei was meant to have its own referendum to decide whether to join the north or the south, but it was postponed after disagreements on voter eligibility.

Blue Nile and South Kordofan were supposed to have “popular consultations” on their future, however the process was poorly defined, and southerners say it has not be completed.

South Kordofan is the north's only oil-producing state.

Many fear that border disputes could lead the country back into civil war, although southern political leaders have said that will not happen.

“It is not our priority now to get involved in a war”, information minister for the government of South Sudan, Barnaba Marial Benjamin was quoted in the New York Times as saying.

Analysts however say the situation may be more difficult than that. Firstly, there are many more southern-allied troops in Blue Nile and South Kordofan than there were in Abyei.

Secondly, there would be no easy way for fighters in these states to flee south, even if they wanted to. Perhaps most importantly, Blue Nile state is clearly part of northern Sudan, according to boundaries established before Sudan became independent in 1956.

The issue of Blue Nile and South Kordofan states shows the difficulties in characterising the conflict in Sudan as simply a north-south fight or an ethnic fight. It is far more complex than that, and resentment of Khartoum was shared by a variety of groups throughout the country.

Many in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states joined the Southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the fight against Khartoum, but did not gain the same right to secession as those in the south.

A northern government spokesman, Rabie A Atti, said on 29th May that like Abyei, “Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan are part of the north, and nothing else.”

On the issue of Abyei, neither side appears willing to compromise on its claims to ownership; they did, however, agree on 30th May to establish a joint committee to try to defuse tension.

South Sudan's Vice President Riek Machar said he and his northern counterpart Ali Osman Taha had the political will to resolve the dispute, and said that the south would never return to war with the north.

"During the meeting we have reiterated the SPLM position calling for withdrawal of the Sudanese army from Abyei. We have reiterated our commitment not to return to war and demanded that the UN peacekeepers remain in Abyei and the popular consultation areas in Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains," Machar told reporters in Khartoum.

The northern government has given conflicting statements about their intentions in Abyei. Some have said the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) will stay until new security arrangments have been reached, while others have said they will be there until the long-delayed referendum takes place.

South Sudan is set to become independent on 11th July, 2011.

Sources: Bloomberg, New York Times, Sudan Tribune, VOA

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

Friday, 27 May 2011

North threatens to withhold recognition of South Sudan over border issues

Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) considerably upped the tension in the country on Thursday, 26th May, when it announced that it would not recognise the independence of South Sudan in July unless the new state's borders were demarcated.

The head of the NCP's political mobilisation bureau Al-Haj Magid Siwar said “How can we approve and recognise a state separate from us that we don't know where their borders begin or end?”

There are currently six problematic border points, as well the border region of Abyei, which is claimed by both sides. Both sides blame the other for delays in demarcation efforts.

South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a January independence referendum, which was part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended the decades-long civil war.

Abyei was due to have its own referendum in January to decide whether to join the north or the south, but the vote was postponed indefinitely due to disagreements over voter eligibility.

Tensions have been high in Abyei since and clashes between the Juba-supported Dinka Ngok, permanent residents of the region, and the Arab, nomadic Misseriya tribes, supported by Khartoum, have resulted in dozens of deaths.

On 22nd May, northern Sudanese forces took over Abyei in retaliation for attacks on their troops in the area by troops from the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Speaking on Tuesday 24th May, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir said he would not withdraw his troops from the region and stressed that Abyei belongs to the north.

"Abyei is Sudanese land, Northern land [and] we will not withdraw from it,” he was quoted in the Sudan Tribune as saying.

Al-Bashir also announced that he had given northern troops the 'green light' to attack southern forces if provoked.

Despite this, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said the south remained committed to the CPA.

“South Sudan will not go back to war. It will never happen under my leadership,” he said at a press conference in Juba on Thursday, 26th May.

“The Government of South Sudan remains committed to peace. But let some people not interpret this as acts of cowardice,” he said.

“We are not new to this kind of provocation from the NCP. Their invasion of Abyei should not be viewed as an isolated incident, but part of their plan to cause havoc in the region ahead of independence,” he argued.

Experts fear the continued dispute over Abyei could return the country to civil war.

Sources: AP, BBC News, Sudan Tribune, Sudan Vision

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

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Egypt to open Rafah crossing to Gaza

The blockade of Gaza was deeply unpopular in Egypt
Egypt has announced it is to open the Rafah border crossing into Gaza from Saturday 28th May.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza since 2007 when Hamas, an Islamist movement considered to be a terrorist organisation by many governments, took control of the territory.

The blockade was a deeply unpopular part of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's rule, and the transitional military government that was established after his downfall in February said last month that it intended to open the crossing permanently.

The Rafah crossing – the only crossing into Gaza that bypasses Israel – will now be open from 0900 to 2100 every day except Fridays and holidays.

The blockade of Gaza has been condemned by numerous international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, who in 2010 said it was a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and the UN, whose officials have called it a 'medieval siege'.

It has been called 'collective punishment' for the people of the Gaza strip, most of whom rely heavily on aid and smuggled goods.

Egypt's post-Mubarak government has already helped broker a unity agreement between the two main Palestinian factions – Fatah and Hamas, and have shown a definite coolness towards Israel.

Hamas spokeman Fawzi Barhum celebrated the move as “a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion.”

"We hope that it is a step towards the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza," he said in a statement, and called on the world "to follow Egypt's example" in breaking the Israeli blockade.

Israel has condemned the decision and vice premier Silvan Shalom said on 26th May that international supervision of the crossing was necessary.

"This is a dangerous development that could lead to weapons and al-Qa'ida smuggling into Gaza," Shalom said.

Israel eased the restriction on the region somewhat last summer following a surge of international pressure after an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla killed nine activists. The situation, however, has remained dire for many Gazan residents since.

Sources: BBC News, Egyptian Gazette, Jerusalem Post

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

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Israel's Netanyahu rejects return to 1967 borders

Netanyahu called on Palestinian leader Abbas to accept a Jewish state

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected American pressure to make significant concessions and has said that Israel “will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967” in a major speech to US Congress on 24th May.

Speaking to a largely sympathetic Congress, Netanyahu repeatedly argued that he was prepared to make 'painful sacrifices' including a partial pullout from the West Bank, but said Israel would retain control of the larger Jewish settlements in the area.

US President Barack Obama gave a landmark speech on Thursday 19th May in which he argued that a future Palestinian state must be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Netanyahu said Israel recognised that any Palestinian state had to be large enough to be politically and economically viable, but said a return to the 1967 borders was impossible because of the large number of Israelis now living in the territory beyond them.

“Israel will be generous on the size of the Palestinian state, but will be very firm on where we put the border with it,” he said.

He also reasserted Israel's claim to the West Bank, called Judea and Samaria in Israel. "In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers," he said.

"We're not the British in India. We're not the Belgians in [the] Congo. This is the land of our forefathers.”

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed deep outrage over Netanyahu's speech, and said he was determined to approach the UN General Assembly in September, looking for state recognition, despite the fact that Obama had rejected it.

Abbas was quoted in Xinhua as saying a Palestinian state must have borders with Jordan, Egypt and Israel and said he was sticking with the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal signed earlier this month, which Netanyahu had encouraged him to “tear up”.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the speech proved Israel was not interested in peace.

"He dictated that Jerusalem will be undivided, that refugees cannot return, that his army will remain on the borders, that his settlements will be expanded and kept, that he wants Palestine to be demilitarised," Erekat said, according to the BBC.

Netanyahu spoke on the touchy issue of the right of return, and said that Palestinians will not get a right of return to Israel. Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and across the Palestinian diaspora want to be able to return to the homes they left in Israel.

According to the New York Times, Israeli officials say a flood of returnees would mean more Arabs than Jews in Israel, thereby compromising its identity as a Jewish nation.

Netanyahu also refused to budge on the issue of Jewish settlements, saying new boundaries would have to incorporate the large settlement areas in the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

He insisted that any peace deal would have to include an Israeli Army presence along the Jordan River.

Sources: BBC News, Guardian, New York Times, Xinhua

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

Monday, 23 May 2011

Abyei burning as Sudan situation deteriorates

According to the UN, the town of Abyei has been set on fire on Monday 23rd May.
North Sudanese forces seized the town on Saturday 21st May, and earlier today, the UN Security Council called on North Sudan to immediately withdraw its armed forces from the region.
It appears the situation has since deteriorated, with reports of looting and violence spreading throughout the region.

Abyei was granted a special status under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the two decade civil war between the north and the south. Terms under the agreement stipulate that both sides have to keep their troops out until a referendum to determine Abyei's future.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) released a statement saying it "strongly condemns the burning and looting currently being perpetrated by armed elements in Abyei town".

UNMIS emphasised that the north's troops were "responsible for maintaining law and order in the areas they control", and urged Khartoum to "intervene to stop these criminal acts".

Speaking about the situation in Sudan, French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said the North army's military operation “threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of the parties to avoid a return to war.”

The army, however, remains defiant and has vowed to hold territory it seized in the disputed region, directly ignoring UN's calls for withdrawal.

Sources: BBC News, KBC, AFP, Reuters

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

North Sudanese forces seize Abyei town

North Sudanese forces have taken over Abyei town in the disputed border region on 21st May, in what South Sudan has called an 'act of war'.

UN diplomats were on a tour of Sudan at the time, and they called for Khartoum to 'withdraw immediately' its troops from the region.

South Sudan is due to separate from the North on 9th July 2011, after voting overwhelmingly for independence in a January referendum.

Abyei, which lies on the border of the north and the south, was due to have its own referendum on whether to join the north or south, but it was indefinitely postponed after disagreements over voter eligibility.

There have been a number of deadly clashes in Abyei in recent months, but Saturday's events appear to be the most serious.

A UN spokeswoman said some 15 tanks, belonging to the northern army had been seen in the town, and that mortars had hit a UN base, although noone was injured.

The North said it acted in self-defence, after 22 of its men were killed in a southern ambush on 19th May.

This was supported by the UN, who said the northern troops who were ambushed were being escorted out of Abyei by UN peacekeepers, and have called the incident a 'criminal attack'.

Washington said the attack was 'in direct violation' of the agreement made by the north and south to remove troops from Abyei.

South Sudan has denied responsibility for the incident.

South Sudan's army spokesman Philip Aguer said a small group of southern army troops fought four battles on 20th May, but were overpowered by the north Sudanese army. They withdrew on 21st May.

Aguer said the north had attacked the area with 5,000 troops, killing civilians and southern soldiers. The majority of the town's population had fled the town, most heading south.

UN envoys arrived in Khartoum just hours before the north took the town, and they have now cancelled their visit to the troubled region.

Gerard Araud, France's ambassador to the UN and one of the envoys, read out a statement on behalf of the UN in Khartoum. He said the Sudanese army's military operation "threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of the parties to avoid a return to war."

US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said “Now [Sudan] is on a course of escalation that is quite dangerous.”

Oil-rich Abyei is one of the main unresolved issues remaining between the north and south before the latter secedes in July.

The capture of Abyei has raised fears that the two sides could return to war.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, New York Times

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

Friday, 20 May 2011

Obama backs pre-1967 Israeli borders

Obama backed the Palestinian's position on Israeli borders

Borders took centre stage in US President Barack Obama's speech on the future of US policy in the Middle East on Thursday 19th May.

Speaking to the State Department, Obama said a future Palestinian state must be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
In the 1967 war, also known as the 6-Day War, Israel took effective control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
While many analysts have long said that the pre-war borders would be the foundation for any peace agreement, having a US President say so is hugely significant, and marks a subtle change in the American position.

Obama noted, in his 45 minute speech, that Israel and the Palestinians would have to 'swap' territory on either side of the border to take into account the large Jewish settlements that have sprung up in the West Bank since 1967.

This is significant, according to the New York Times, because it means Obama endorses the Palestinian view that new Israeli settlement construction will have to be reversed, or compensated for, in any future talks over the Palestinian state.

Some 500,000 Israelis live on land in the West Bank and east Jerusalem seized during the war. Most live in government-supported settlements, but there are also hundreds of so-called 'outlying outposts', often temporary buildings in and around east Jerusalem.

Israeli settlement building has been one of the most controversial aspects of the Israeli-Palestinain conflict, and the UN deemed them illegal in Resolution 446, which was passed in 1979.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Obama's comments, saying the pre-war borders were 'indefensible'.

In a statement, he said that while he appreciated Obama's commitment to peace, “the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.”

Netanyahu and Obama are due to hold meetings in Washington on Friday 20th May. Previous meetings between the two have often not gone smoothly.

Obama's comments suggest that he expects Israel to eventually make big concessions, according to Al-Jazeera. He also, however, had tough words for the Palestinians, and said attempts to isolate Israel through the UN will fail.

The Palestinians decided to go to the UN to seek recognition of state in September 2011, after Israel resumed the construction of settlements in the West Bank last year.

The Gaza-based Islamic movement, Hamas rejected Obama's speech, saying it leant towards Israel and was part of his electoral campaigning.

Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a unity agreement in April, which marked a important shift in Palestinian affairs.

The two parties had been at odds since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Fatah then set up headquarters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, thus limiting Hamas to the Gaza Strip.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by the US, as well as many other governments, and it does not recognise Israel as a legitimate state.

Sources: Al-Jazeera, BBC News, New York Times, Press TV, Xinhua

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

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Libya and the problem of conflicting scripts: humanitarianism, European security and the 'boat people'

This article examines the different treatment of North African migrants in media reports since the beginning of the 'Arab Spring' in early 2011. Western governments and aid and humanitarian organisations have been quick to discuss a humanitarian crisis at the land borders of North African states since the revolts against regional regimes prompted many thousands of people to attempt to cross them. The plight of these migrants has contributed one strand to the rationale presented for the intervention of an international coalition.

By contrast, the migrants who have sought to cross the Mediterranean have been incorporated into a security or criminality 'script' by the European governments and media outlets. It seems that the different destintations of the migrants appears to determine the validity of their flight and, should they choose to become Europe's 'irregular entrants', then they are immediately downgraded to a criminal status as they enter the discursive 'territory' of Europe that is bound up with the exigencies of electoral and bureaucratic politics.

There are a variety of implications, chief among them the violations of human rights that European governments and the EU itself risk committing. It seems that it is far preferable for the governments of the states that receive the migrants to be complicit in the creation of a humanitarian crisis at the margins of Europe's space than it is for them to deal with migrants humanely and in accordance with international legal principles. Given the popular power of the criminality discourse in Europe, it would appear that the stakes, in electoral terms, are too high for this to be a realistic option for European politicians.

Continue reading here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

SPLM rejects NCP victory in key border state

The Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) has officially rejected the election victory of north Sudan's ruling National Congress Party's (NCP) candidate, Ahmad Haroun.

Haroun was declared the winner of the governorship poll in the oil-rich South Kordofan state, defeating his closest opponent and SPLM's candidate Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu by some 6,500 votes. SPLM said the vote was rigged.
South Kordofan borders South Sudan as well as the disputed Abyei region. The state is due to hold 'popular consultations' in 2011 which will determine whether it remains in Sudan or joins South Sudan, but the process has not been clearly defined.

Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly mobilising Arab militias to commit genocide against Africans in Darfur, during his time as a minister in the region in 2003-4. He has contested the allegations.

Speaking on behalf of the SPLM on 15th May, spokeman Yasir Arman said, “We will not accept these results because the vote was rigged.”

Experts fear that this latest incident might provoke violence in the region where more than 1.5 million people have died during the decades of conflict.

Many believe that the ongoing tensions between the North and the South - quelled by a 2005 peace deal which paved the way for the South's independence, which will occur this summer - will flare-up again if various frustrated groups and individuals take up-arms once more.

Speaking to the BBC, an official from the Justice Africa think-tank, Hafiz Mohamed, said: "These people were fighting for 20 years and their aspirations are not fulfilled...The way things are going, it's leading to a deadlock, which will end up with people carrying arms to release their frustration…If it starts, no-one can stop it – it will affect the south, it will affect the north. With the war in Darfur, we are heading for dangerous times."

Sources: BBC News, Los Angeles Times, Sudan Tribute, Sudan Vision

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

Palestinians clash with Israeli troops at borders

Clashes took place at the Maroun Al-Ras border between Lebanon and Israel

Israeli forces have fired on groups of protesters at borders with the Palestinian territories, Syria and Lebanon during clashes on Sunday 16th May.

Protests erupted in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, as well as on Israel's sensitive northern borders, and resulted in Palestinians clashing with Israeli troops and police leaving at least 13 people dead and hundreds injured.

Demonstrators were marking “Nakba” or Catastrophe, the term for the 1948 war which saw the founding of the Israeli state as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Nearly 10,000 border police officers were stationed throughout the country in preparation for the day, however the clashes on its borders were largely unexpected, according to The Guardian.
Facebook and other social media outlets appear to have played a part in organising the demonstrations, which seem to have gained impetus from the uprisings in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The clashes on Sunday are the first time that the protests of the so-called Arab Spring have been directed at Israel.

Every year Nakba is marked with demonstrations, and security forces in Israel expected larger numbers than usual in this first Nakba since the start of the protests which have swept the Arab world since January.

But never before have protesters marched on Israel's borders in all directions.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a televised address on Sunday in which he said he hoped “calm and quiet will quickly return, but let nobody be mistaken: we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for calm and urged all sides to show 'utmost reponsibility'. He called for a renewed effort to reach comprehensive peace in the region.

Clashes took place at four separate borders or crossing points, according to the BBC: on the Golan Heights, at the border with Lebanon, at Erz in Gaza and near Ramallah in the West Bank. Clashes also occurred within east Jerusalem.

Thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria marched towards Majdal Shams, a village in the Golan Heights that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

After the protesters "violently rioted" in the words of the Israeli military, its troops fired "selectively" on the group. At least two people were killed, although the real number may be as much as ten.

Resident reports suggest that some 200 protestors managed to cross into Israel, a rare incident at the usually tightly controlled border.

Israel accused Syria of provoking the confrontation to divert attention away from its own internal problems, and said the provocation was an attempt to exploit Palestinian nationalism in the wake of regional unrest. The Israeli military has also suggested Iranian involvement.

Syria was quick to condemn what it called Israel's “criminal activities”, and the foreign ministry called on the international community to hold Israel responsible for the deaths.

The confrontation could be seen as beneficial to the beleaguered Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad in a number of ways. It will divert attention away from internal troubles by focussing on the external Israeli enemy.

It will also allow al-Assad to cast himself as the only person who can bring stability to Syria, and will suggest to Israel and the US that should al-Assad go, Israel could face a much more militant neighbour.

Lebanon's border town of Maroun al-Ras also saw Israeli troops firing upon stone-throwing protestors, leaving at least two dead.

Protestors, which had received support from Hezbollah according to the Guardian, broke through the Lebanese army's barricade, however they were eventually dispersed.

Dozens of buses had brought protesters to the area under the rally slogan of “March for the return to Palestine.” Many of the protesters came from the 12 crowded refugee camps in Lebanon where some 400,000 Palestinian refugees live.

Israel's internal borders also witnessed problems. At the Erez border crossing from Israel to Gaza, Israeli troops fired on protestors with machine guns, injuring at least 125. The Israeli military said it shot dead a man trying to plant a bomb near the border.

In the West Bank, clashes occurred after some 600 people marched from Ramallah towards the Qalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem. There were also reports of clashes in other areas of the West Bank, and soldiers dispersed groups of activists who were stoning Israel Defence Forces (IDF) positions in Ramallah itself.

Tensions were also high in east Jerusalem after a Palestinian youth was shot during a riot on Friday in the capital's Silwan neighbourhodd.

Milad Ayish, 17, died after being shot in the stomach, during a confrontation between police and masked Palestinian youths.

The clashes left dozens injured and 34 people were arrested for rioting. Youths threw stones at security personnel and at Jewish homes during the funeral procession for Ayish on Saturday, and tension remained high on Sunday, when more clashes took place.

Lebanon has filed a complaint with the UN about Israel's actions, while Israel has also complained to the body that Lebanon and Syria violated its international borders.

Sources: Associated Press, BBC News, The Guardian, Jerusalem Post

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

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Border Focus: Eastern Mediterranean

What is disputed?

The problem in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea is that very few countries have established their maritime boundaries. As the extent of the quantities of gas that lies beneath the sea floor has become more clear, the potential for dispute has risen substantially. The existing territorial disputes between Israel and many of its neighbours and between Cyprus and Turkey also complicate the situation as land borders are typically considered a prerequisite for determining maritime boundaries.

Where is the oil and gas?

The US Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the Levantine Basin, which stretches from the Jordan River into the eastern Med, encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, could contain up to 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The Israeli and surrounding waters seem to be the most prospective at the moment, or at least have received the most attention. BG discovered gas in the Palestinian Authority's territorial waters in 1999, but political issues means the find has not been exploited. American firm Noble Energy had more luck in their early explorations, striking gas in Israel's Mari-B field, which has been in production since 2004.

More recently, Israel, again through Noble Energy, has made substantial finds in the northern parts of its waters. The Tamar field, discovered in 2009 is thought to contain 178.4 billion cubic metres, while new results in December 2010 suggested the nearby Leviathan field may contain up to 450 billion cubic metres of gas, making it one of the largest gas discoveries in the last ten years.

These finds have the potential to radically alter Israel's energy position, but with Lebanon already making claims to some of the new finds, taking advantage of the new finds will not be easy.

Who owns the gas?

While the blocks that Israel have licensed to Noble are in Israeli waters, the question is whether the fields they have tapped into extend across the border to Gaza in the south and Lebanon in the north.

The Mari-B license ends at the unfinalised Palestinian Authority-Israel border, but the gas field may stagger the border. Gaza is, needless to say, not receiving any revenues from the profits Noble and Israel are making. If the field does cross into Gaza's waters, Israel is required under international law to share the proceeds from the field, and while critics of Israel have pointed this out repeatedly, Gaza's lack of legal infrastructure and weak government has meant that its potential claim has been largely overlooked.

Lebanon claims that the Tamar field is partially within Lebanese territory, and in November 2010, Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, Qazanfar Roknabada, claimed that three-quarters of the Leviathan field actually belonged to Lebanon.

There is considerable difficulty in determining who owns the gas however, as Israel and Lebanon do not have a finalised land border, much less a maritime border. While any agreement on a land border is probably a long way off, what the line actually would be is fairly uncontroversial. It is likely to be very similar to the current working land border, which is the June 2000 UN Blue Line, which marked the territory from which Israel was required to withdraw.
Once the terminal land border point is determined, a maritime boundary can be determined. Given the flat, controlling coastline that exists along the eastern Mediterranean and given that there are few indentations and no significant islands to take account of, it seems the most sensible approach to determining a maritime boundary would be by constructing a line perpendicular to the coastline.

This issue, therefore, is not that it would be difficult to plot a maritime boundary line that would uphold the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea's aim of achieving 'equitable result': the difficulty is purely political.

Are other boundaries determined?

Other countries have had more success in determining their maritime boundaries, or at least outlining their claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These, however, must be seen still as provisional until Israel and its neighbours determine their boundaries.

Cyprus , much to Turkey's annoyance, has taken the lead in settling its EEZ, and has made agreements with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel.

In 2003, Cyprus and Egypt signed the first agreement specifically devoted to the delimitation of an EEZ in the eastern Mediterranean. The boundary line is composed of seven segments, each based on equidistance, and no special circumstances have been taken into account to modify the boundary.

Cyprus also signed an EEZ agreement with Lebanon in 2007, but significantly, the Lebanese parliament has yet to ratify the agreement. Lebanon's hesitations are surprising, given that they have shown their dedication to determining their maritime boundaries in a number of other ways. In July 2010, Lebanon deposited with the UN Secretary General, charts and a list of geographical coordinates of points defining the southern limit of Lebanon's EEZ: in other words where they see their border with Israeli as lying. The deposit also gave coordinates for their EEZ with Cyprus.

In August 2010, the Lebanese parliament passed a law which established a committee to oversee exploration and drilling off Lebanon. Energy Minister Gibran Bassil said at the same time that Lebanon planned to outline its maritime sea borders and auction off rights to explore offshore gas reserves by 2012. Norway's Petroleum Geo-Services has already explored Lebanese waters and said they gained 'valuable information' on potential offshore gas reserves.

In December 2010, Israel and Cyprus signed an agreement defining their EEZs, and it committed the two sides to cooperating on any cross border resources that are found.

Syria does not appear to have made any maritime agreements with its neighbours. In November 2003, it repealed previous legislation and reduced the width of its territorial sea from 35 nautical miles to the more conventional 12 nm. The legislation established a 24 nm contiguous zone and an EEZ of 200 nm, although it did not give any specifications about its delimitations.

Turkey, also, has not made any maritime boundary agreements in the Mediterranean, and its offshore hydrocarbon exploration has been focused, until recently, on the Black Sea. 

What are the prospects for the future?

Israel looks set to reap the rewards of their early exploration efforts. Noble Energy has recently announced their 2011 programme for the region worth US$650 million, and said a large portion of that sum will go towards the development of the Tamar gas field. Appraisal of the Leviathan find will also continue.

Cyprus, it appears, is also ready to push ahead with exploration despite Ankara's misgivings, and after an unsuccessful first licensing round in 2007, they signed an agreement with Noble Energy for the 1,250 square mile Block 12 in 2008. The block lies 35 miles away from the Leviathan discovery and recent reports have suggested that Noble will start exploratory drilling the region in late 2011 or early 2012. Cyprus has said it will hold a second licensing round, although a date has not yet been set.

The wealth that Israel's finds are likely to bring has caused all of its neighbours to take a closer look at what they can claim. Before the Mubarak regime fell in February then minister of petroleum and mineral resources Sameh Fahmi was quoted by an Egyptian newspaper as saying the government is “studying the precise coordinates of the maritime borders in order to determine our share of the reserves” in late January 2011.

The main issue continues to be between Israel and Lebanon, however, and the tone of conversation between the two sides has been anything but amicable. Both sides have threatened the use of military force to maintain their hold on what they see to be their rightful resources, and there does not seem to be any likelihood of an agreement between the two sides in the near or medium term future.

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British Foreign Office in Libya-Tunisia border warning

UK foreign office minister Alistair Burt has condemned Libya's border attacks

The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised Britons in Tunisia to stay away from the Libyan border, because of attacks on rebels by Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's forces.

Britons are being advised to stay at least 40km (25miles) away from the border, according to the FCO website.

Mortars and shells from Libya have landed in Tunisia at the Dehiba border crossing, and the BBC reports that there has been fighting on Tunisian soil.

On Saturday 7th May, pro-government forces shelled rebel positions in the border town of Gzaya and some shells hit Tunisian territory, although no one was hurt.

Both sides have been fighting in the area for over a week, trying to gain control of the border, which would provide important supply lines.

Foreign office minister Alistair Burt said the actions of Qadhafi loyalists showed “wanton disregard" for international law.

"Firing into a neighbouring country is illegal, wholly wrong and must cease immediately. It is another example of the regime's utter lack of legitimacy,” he said.

Burt also praised the Tunisian government's 'moderate' response to the border violations, and its efforts to manage the effects of the Libyan conflict.

Tunisia has recently stepped up its border controls with Libya, searching for arms and drugs, the Middle East Online reported on 9th May.

A lack of customers in war-torn Libya has led drug traffickers to move their business into Tunisia.

Tunisian custom officials have been searching for drugs and small arms, both on persons and in commercial vehicles.

Over 200,000 people have crossed into Tunisia from Libya since January.
Sources: BBC News, FCO website, Middle East Online

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

Sudan troops to withdraw from Abyei

North and South Sudan have agreed to withdraw unauthorised troops from the disputed Abyei region, according to a UN statement from 8th May.

There have been several clashes in the area in recent months, leading to dozens of deaths.

Both sides accuse the other of sending unauthorised troops and militia to Abyei, violating the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended decades of civil war in Sudan.

In a January independence referendum, South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to secede from the north, and will become a new state on 9th July, 2011.

The oil-rich Abyei region, which straddles the border, was due to have its own referendum on whether to join the north or south in January, but the vote never took place because Khartoum and Juba could not agree on voter eligibility.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) released a statement on Sunday 8th May which said that the troop pullout would start from Tuesday, and should be completed within a week. The region would then be monitored by joint patrols.

The move was agreed at a meeting of northern and southern representatives and headed by UNMIS Force Commander Major General Moses Obi.

A peace accord signed in January also called on both sides to withdraw all forces, excepting the special Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of northern and southern personnel, and UN peacekeepers.

The so-called Kadugli Agreement – named after the South Kordofan state capital where the agreement was signed – has not been upheld, and it remains to be seen if the most recent agreement is more successful.

South Sudan recently published a new draft constitution which specifically lays claim to Abyei.

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir threatened to withhold recognition of the new state if the claims to Abyei were not dropped.

The north backs the Arab Misseriya tribes, which spend part of the year in Abyei as they search for pastures for their cattle.

The south supports the Dinka Ngok, permanent residents of the region.

Misseriya and Dinka Ngok personnel often clash, alledgedly with the support of the northern and southern armies.

Last week, 14 people were killed at a security checkpoint 10 miles north of Abyei town when fighting broke out between southern police forces and northern elements within the JIUs deployed there.

JIUs were established as part of the 2005 CPA, but according to the International Crisis Group, they have largely failed in their intentions.

They have performed poorly, been involved in numerous large-scale clashes and are characterised by mistrust.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, ICG, Sudan Vision Daily
For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.