Thursday, 30 June 2011

North Korea threatens 'retaliatory sacred war'

South Korean troops had used pictures of Kim Jong Il as target practice

North Korea has threatened to launch a "retaliatory sacred war" against South Korea after news emerged that southern soldiers had erected signs in military camps on the border slandering the North's “army, system and dignity”.
"This is little short of a clear declaration of war," a government spokesman said in the North's official Korean Central News Agency. "We will react to the enemy's provocation with a stern punishment and counter its war with a merciless retaliatory sacred war."
South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper reported on Tuesday 28th June that some South Korean army units near the border had set up anti-North Korea slogans. One army unit in Cheolwon, a town near the demilitarized zone had a banner reading “Let's ram guns and swords into the chest of North Korean puppet soldiers!”

According to the newspaper, there were also signs saying “Let's hack the three Kims into pieces”, a reference to the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, his son and the current leader Kim Jong Il, and his grandson and heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

The reference to the Kims is a particularly touchy subject at the moment, as North Korea threatened to attack last month after it emerged that South Korean troops were using photos of the family as targets during firing practice.

South Korea's Defence Ministry told military units to stop using the photos as targets in response to Pyongyang's reaction, but according to Time Magazine it has no immediate plans to stop troops from using anti-North Korean signs.

The Defence Ministry said some army units have taken such measures to bolster their soldiers' mental toughness against North Korea

Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula since March 2010, when a South Korean warship was torpedoed, killing 46 sailors. A Seoul- and Washington-led international investigation found North Korea responsible, however Pyongyang has always denied its involvement.

A second incident occurred last November, when in response to South Korea carrying out live fire drills in disputed waters, North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four.

Despite the fact the two sides held talks on a stalled jointly-run tourism project at Mount Kumgang on Wednesday 29th June, Pyongyang has pledged to carry out unspecified military measures "mercilessly" until the South apologises for the signs.

While inflammatory rhetoric from both sides is nothing new, what makes the current situation alarming, according to the Guardian, is South Korea's hardline stance.

President Lee Myung-bak was criticised domestically for his supposedly weak response to the three previous incidents, and has threatened to respond harshly to any further attacks.

The South Korean military is preparing new rules of engagement which would allow its frontline troops to respond "robustly" to an attack without consulting Seoul, according to the Guardian.

There is also talk that instead of promising a "proportionate" response to North Korean aggression, it would chose an aggressive enough response to dissuade Pyongyang from further action.

South Korea has been upping its defensive capabilities in the border region, and have brought in Israeli-made Delilah missiles, which have a range of 150 miles: enough to hit Pyongyang.

Some analysts believe Pyongyang is upping the rhetoric because its offers to talks in the last few months have been ignored by the south.

"North Korea has been trying this peace offensive for the past seven months. Now is the time for the North Koreans to change their mode towards more a conflictual approach," a former South Korean official and government adviser predicted in the Guardian.

Some suspect Pyongyang will use a third nuclear test to get the other parties back to the negotiating table, but Seoul has said it will not return to talks until it recieves an apology for the previous incidents.

Sources: BBC News, the Guardian, Korea Herald, Time Magazine

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

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Thailand withdraws from World Heritage Convention over border dispute

Cambodian troops at Preah Vihear are on high alert

Thailand announced on Saturday 25th June that it was withdrawing from the World Heritage Convention with immediate effect, after the World Heritage Committee (WHC) refused to postpone discussion of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple management plan.

Thailand's Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who led the Thai delegation at the WHC meeting in Paris said Thailand would leave the Convention and withdraw from the 21-member WHC because it continues to ignore Thailand's concerns that Cambodia's plans could negatively affect Thailand's sovereignty and territory.

Thailand and Cambodia have long disputed the border in the territory of the eleventh century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, which was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in a 1962 ruling.

The ruling did not, however, rule on the territory around the temple, and in particular, a 4.6 square kilometer area has become particularly disputed.

Cambodia and Thailand have had a number of border clashes in the region of the temple in the last year, and Suwit had asked the WHC to defer discussion of Cambodia's plan until border demarcation was completed.

Thailand opposed the terminology of Cambodia's proposal, which called for 'urgent repair and restoration', preferring instead 'protection and conservation'.

UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova has sent a letter expressing her regret over Thailand's decision to withdraw from the World Heritage Convention.

“The World Heritage Committee did not discuss the management plan of the Preah Vihear temple nor did it request for any reports to be submitted on its state of conservation. Moreover, it needs to be clarified that UNESCO's World Heritage Centre never pushed for a discussion of the Management Plan by the Committee,” Bokova said in the letter.

Acting government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said that while Thailand has no objection to the work of UNESCO in preserving and protecting the world's cultural and natural properties, it should not impact on border disputes.

He also rejected Cambodia's claim that troop reinforcements had been sent to the border and said that Thailand was ready to cooperate with its neighbour.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday 27th June that troops stationed on Cambodia's border with Thailand had been put on high alert.

“They [the Thai WHC delegates] were angry walking out from the summit and they whispered to one ambassador that they will go back to fight. Therefore, I ordered the military to immediately [start] monitoring the situation from midnight [on Sunday],” he claimed, adding that all troops along the border were on high alert.

Thai National Army chief Prayuth Chanocha had also put his border forces on alert. “Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been in contact on a regular basis since the last clashes along the border, but there's not a high degree of trust between them yet,” the Bangkok Post quoted Prayuth as saying.

Thailand is set to go to the polls on Saturday, 3rd July, and Cambodia's Hun said Thailand might launch an attack across the border to create an excuse to cancel the election.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit, who is campaigning for re-election said the border conflict with Cambodia was not a factor that could derail the election.

Sources: Bangkok Post, MCOT, Phnom Penh Post, Thailand Business News

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.
Suwit's decision has not been universally welcomed in Thailand. He reported to the Cabinet his decision to walk out, and while caretaker prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva supported his decision, the foreign ministry did not, according to Thailand Business News.

Sudan parties reach agreement on Southern Kordofan

The Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Sudan signed an agreement aiming for a full ceasefire in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan on Tuesday 28th June.
"In South Kordofan there was an agreement on general principles on cessation of hostilities the intention is to arrive to a ceasefire," SPLM minister for cooperation Deng Alor told AFP.

There has been heavy fighting in Southern Kordofan since 5th June between Sudanese government forces and northerners allied with the ruling party in the south, the SPLM.

The deal sets the framework for political and security arrangements in the two border states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan and is part of an ongoing mediation effort by the African Union (AU), led by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki.

The framework agreement stipulates that the National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party in the north, will recognise the northern contingent of the SPLM as a “legal political party in Sudan.” NCP officials have previously said they will not allow the SPLM-North to exist after 9th July, when the South becomes a separate state, as it would mean the SPLM-North was an extension of a foreign party.

Under the agreement, fighters aligned with the SPLM in Southern Kordofan will “be integrated, over a time period and with modalities to be agreed, into the Sudan Armed Forces.”

There were two major catalysts for the current outbreak of violence in Southern Kordofan. The first was the election of NCP candidate Ahmed Haroun as governor of the state, in what the SPLM called a rigged election. Haroun is wanted be the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, which borders Southern Kordofan.

Haroun beat SPLM candidate Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu, who is also the leader of the Nuba, a non-Arab ethnic group who lives in the region.

The second catalyst was the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) announcement in May that the SPLM-North should disarm by 1st June, or else the SAF would do it by force.

The agreement signed in Addis Ababa on Tuesday will result in the two forces being combined eventually, although the actual mechanisms by which this would occur have not yet been decided.

It did specify that the NCP and SPLM-North would form a joint political committee to ensure that "the issue of governance in Southern Kordofan shall be discussed and resolved amicably…within 30 days.”

The two sides have also agreed to start working on a cease-fire agreement and to allow humanitarian access into the state.

Many people within Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states fought alongside the south in Sudan's decades-long civil war, fighting against repression and marginalisation by Khartoum.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which brought the civil war to an end in 2005, set out the process that will on 9th July lead to the independence of South Sudan (although this was not the aim of the CPA), but very little was promised to the indisputably northern states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile except ill-defined 'popular consultations' on their future constitutional status.

In recent weeks there have been reports of 'ethnic cleansing' by northern troops in Southern Kordofan and Al-Hilu has said that over 3,000 people have been killed or have disappeared due to their ethnicity or political affiliation.

Southerners voted overwhelmingly to split from Sudan in a January independence referendum, but the period since has been marred by violence in a number of border states, including the oil-rich Abyei region, which is claimed by both sides.

South Sudan will become Africa's newest state on 9th July.

The UK's Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham said South Sudan's independence was "incredibly exciting".

"It is an historic moment for Africa and the world, the creation of a new country," he said, speaking from Malabo, which is to host an AU summit later this week.

"But we don't want the great celebrations of this new country to be undermined and marred by what's happening in Abyei and South Kordofan."

Sources: BBC News, Business Recorder, Sudan Tribune

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

UN votes for Abyei peacekeepers as Southern Kordofan violence continues

The UN has voted to deploy peacekeepers to Abyei

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to send a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to the disputed Sudanese territory of Abyei, in line with the agreement signed between Khartoum and Juba on 20th June.

The force will monitor the withdrawal of Sudanese troops from Abyei, who occupied the region's main town on 9th June after being attacked by groups with links to the south.

The resolution establishes a new UN peacekeeping force, which will be called the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). It will have a mandate to protect civilians and “to protect the Abyei area from incursions by unauthorised elements,” according to the BBC.

Sudan's UN Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said northern troops would be withdrawn as soon as the Ethiopian troops had been deployed.

Abyei has been a crucial sticking point between the north and south as the country gets ready to split on 9th July. Oil-rich Abyei straddles the border and is claimed by both sides.

It was meant to have a referendum in January over whether it would join the south or remain with the north, but the vote was put off indefinitely due to disagreements over voter eligibility.

The southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a January referendum, established as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which brought Sudan's decades-long civil war to an end.

The US's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the passage of the Abyei resolution, but expressed deep concern at the continuing violence in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan.

"Tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes, and there are reports of very serious human rights abuses and violence targeting individuals based on their ethnicity and political affiliation," Clinton said.

Heavy fighting broke out in the border state three weeks ago, and renewed violence began last Wednesday, 22nd June in Southern Kordofan's Nuba Mountains, home to Sudan's indigenous non-Arab Nuba people.

Many Nuba fought on side the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) during Sudan's civil war. While the civil war is usually categorised as a north-south battle, the fact that the Nuba, whose territory clearly lies within the north, fought on behalf of the south shows the situation to be far more complicated than it is often portrayed.

According to the Guardian, 16 people were killed and at least 32 injured in an aerial attack on Sunday 26th June in the Nuba mountains.

The aerial strikes, which have happened almost daily for the past three weeks, are said to have been carried out by Sudanese planes.

Senior Sudanese officers have told the African Union panel on Sudan, headed by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that the strikes are intended to prevent the SPLA from resupplying the Nuba.

But others say the air strikes and other attacks have targeted individuals due to their ethnic or political affiliation, and some have called the situation 'ethnic cleansing'.

Nuba leader Abdel Aziz al-Hilu told the AU panel that over 3,000 people had disappeared, “either killed or their whereabouts are not known, either because they are Nuba or they are SPLA.”

The UN peacekeeping force in Sudan, UNMIS, has been ordered to withdraw from Southern Kordofan by 9th July, the date South Sudan will declare independence.

UNMIS bases have been attacked and on 17th June, a UN patrol was detained by government troops and subjected to a mock firing squad in the state capital, Kadugli. They were allegedly told "leave South Kordofan... we will kill you if you come back here.”

The latest report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation in Southern Kordofan had calmed in recent days.

But the report also suggested that northern authorities were forcing some of the thousands of displaced people to return to Kadugli against their will.

A “combination of incentives through assistance and intimidation was used to exert pressure on the displaced people to return to Kadugli,” the OCHA report said.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, a variety of insidious methods have been used, some of which have been detailed in an internal UN report. Sudanese intelligence agents pretending to be Red Crescent workers allegedly entered an UN-protected camp and ordered the displaced people to go to a stadium.

Humanitarian agencies movements have been restricted and facts are hard to verify, but reports of forcibly moving populations bears worrying resemblance to many of the well documented allegations made against Khartoum's actions in Darfur.

Indeed, one of the catalysts for the current problems in Southern Kordofan was the election of Ahmed Haroun as governor of the state in mid-May. Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, and his election was protested heavily by the South's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir is also wanted by the ICC, which has created considerable difficulties in arranging the ceremony marking the secession of South Sudan, due to take place in under two weeks.

The US's President Barack Obama has said he will only attend South Sudan's independence ceremony if Al-Bashir is not there.

Al-Tayyar Arabic daily newspaper in Khartoum has said this is the case with a number of world leaders.

“A number of European heads of state, including the French President Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister as well as the US President Barack Obama, have in principle welcomed the invitation to attend the South's independence ceremony, but they conditioned their appearance in Juba on the non-attendance of the president of the republic Omar Al-Bashir, pointing to the crimes with which he is charged by the International [Criminal] Court,” the paper quoted an anonymous southern official as saying.

Whether Al-Bashir will attend is not yet clear.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian, Sudan Tribune

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

Monday, 27 June 2011

Syrian government widens border crackdown

Some 12,000 Syrians have fled to refugee camps in Turkey

Uncertainty continues in Syria's border areas as the government's security forces widen their reach and thousands more are forced to flee from their homes.
On Saturday, 25th June, tanks moved into the village of Najia, after similar operations were carried out in Jisr al-Shughur on 12th June and Khirbet al-Joz on Thursday 23rd June.
Troops also moved into the village of Bdama on Saturday, which Reuters called a 'nerve centre', providing food and supplies to several thousand Syrians who have fled the besieged frontier towns, but have chosen to take shelter in fields on the Syrian side of the border, rather than cross into Turkey.

Umit Bektas, a Reuters photographer said he had seen armoured vehicles taking up positions on the Syrian hillside, apparently with the aim of preventing more Syrians from crossing the border.

It is believed that the government is carrying out a 'scorched earth' policy in the border region.

Some 12,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in recent weeks, and most are now residing in temporary refugee camps set up by the Turkish government.

The crackdown has been portrayed in a very different light by the Syrian government. The pro-government daily newspaper Al-Watan said of the attacks on Khirbet al-Joz, that the town was a "key crossing for armed groups from and to the Turkish" border. It said the army was 'now cleansing' the village of armed gangs, securing roads and protecting residents.

The State news agency SANA took a similar approach to the refugee question, saying families were returning from Turkey to Jisr Al-Shughur.

“Almost 730 people have returned…They had fled from the terror of the terrorist groups in the region,” it said.

There has been tension near Syria's borders with both Turkey and Lebanon

Violence is also occurring near the Lebanese borders, with activists saying people were forced to flee from the border towns of Al-Hit, Dweik and Quseir on Friday and Saturday.

At least five civilians were killed in Quseir on Saturday during house searches and funerals for anti-government protestors, killed during demonstrations on Friday. Quseir is located near the flashpoint city of Homs and only 15km from the Lebanese border.

The government of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has been hit by waves of protests since mid-March.

Sources: Al-Jazeera, BBC News,, Reuters

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

Thursday, 23 June 2011

South Korea to develop border islands

South Korea opts for the blue line, while North Korea argues for the red
The South Korean government has revealed plans to invest heavily in five islands near the border with North Korea, Prime Minister Kim Hwang Sik's office said on Wednesday 22nd June.

The 10-year, 910 billion won (US$848 million) plan will see investments in the security and living conditions on the islands of Yeonpyeong, Baengnyeong, Daecheong, Socheong and Udo.

Yeonpyeong island (labelled 1 on the map) was the site of a major confrontation between North and South Korea last November. The North's artillery attack on the island, following a Southern live fire military exercise, resulted in four people being killed and a number of buildings being destroyed.

All five islands are located just south of the UN-designed maritime border, the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which was established at the end of the Korean War (1950-1953). The North, however, does not recognise the NLL, and while it does not claim the islands themselves, it does claim the water around them.

The South's plan calls for efforts to stabilise the lives of the residents, as it is recognised that they live with considerable uncertainty, being located so close to the north.

Money will be provided to improve educational and medical access, and some 40 shelters will be built to improve security in the case of a North Korean attack.

Tourism and the fishery industry will also be invested in. The Prime Minister's office said “The plans will also be of great help in revitalizing the regional economy.”

Sources: Bloomberg, KBS World, Yonhap
For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

Border dispute blocks Heritage's progress in Malta

Heritage's Area 7 is claimed by Libya and Malta

Border disputes got the attention of UBS this week, as it cuts its stock price target for Heritage Oil in a research note on Tuesday 21st June due to the continuing border dispute between Malta and Libya.

Heritage Oil, which operates Area 2 and Area 7 in the waters lying south of Malta, is contractually obliged to drill at least one well by the end of 2011, however this is looking unlikely as ownership over Area 7 continues to be disputed.

UBS's research note said “As the Libyan crisis shows little sign of abating we view it as unlikely the company can resume discussion between the two countries in the near term, and therefore assume a low probability that Heritage will drill in the next 12 months.”

The border dispute between Malta and Libya dates back to 1974, when Valetta awarded Texaco four blocks that lay north of the median line between Malta and Libya. When Texaco spudded their first well in 1980, Tripoli sent in a gunboat, and forced exploration activities to a halt.

The dispute was taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1982 and in 1985 it was decided that the border would lie 18' north of the median line in order to take into account the disparity in length of Libya and Malta's coastlines.

While both sides accepted the agreement, it only applied to a narrow strip of water and so border disputes have continued since. Area 7 lies to the east and south of the designated border, and as such, Libya considers it to be in its territory.

Soon after Heritage received the block in 2008, Libya's then National Oil Company head, Dr Shukri Ghanem sent a letter to Heritage's CEO Tony Buckingham, informing him that Area Seven lies within the Libyan continental shelf and was under contract with the Sirte Gulf Oil Company.

The dispute has not progressed since, and with civil war in Libya continuing, it is unlikely to get much attention anytime soon. As such, UBS decided Heritage was unlikely to drill within the next year and so removed the Malta prospect from their net asset value assessment for Heritage, which resulted in a stock target price of 230p, down from 280p.

Heritage released an operational update on 20th June, in which it said, “a seismic vessel has been mobilised to start acquisition of a 1,400 kilometre 2D seismic survey in Area 7 over the large Caravaggio target. Acquisition is expected to begin within two weeks. Processing and interpretation of this date, during the second half of 2011, will help define a precise drilling location.”

Sources: Citywire, Dow Jones, Heritage Oil, the Independent, Malta Today

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

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sudan leaders agree to "full demilitarisation" of Abyei

Thabo Mbeki (L), South Sudan's Salva Kiir and Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir in April, 2011

Leaders from north and south Sudan signed an agreement pledging to end fighting in the disputed border region of Abyei, on Monday 20th June.
The agreement was reached after days of mediation by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, in the Ethopian capital of Addis Ababa.
The deal requires both northern and southern troops to leave Abyei, to be replaced by Ethiopian peacekeepers, in an agreement that Mbeki has said will provide for the "full demilitarisation" of Abyei.
Both Sudan and South Sudan claim the oil-rich border region of Abyei, and northern forces seized the town last month, causing over one hundred thousand people to flee, mostly to the south.

Violence in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan has also led to 60,000 people being displaced.

Some 4,000 Ethiopian troops are expected to be brought in after the Sudanese army has left, although the UN will determine the exact troop numbers and their mandate.

With South Sudan planning to declare independence on 9th July, 2011, Mbeki said in his announcement of the deal, it was crucial that the peacekeepers were brought in as soon as possible. He urged the UN Security Council to authorise their deployment without delay.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and pledged “the full support of the United Nations to the parties in facilitating its implementation.”

Ban also urged the two sides to resolve "all outstanding issues related to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and post-secession arrangement, and to reach an immediate cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan State and provide their full co-operation to humanitarian agencies in meeting the needs of the affected population."

The violence, which started on 5th June, continues in Southern Kordofan state. US permanent representative to the UN, Susan Rice, spoke of reports that alleged that forces aligned with the north had “searched for southern forces and sympathisers, whom they arrested and allegedly executed.”

Mbeki said political leaders from Southern Kordofan would be arriving shortly in Addis Ababa to hold talks on ending the conflict.

Violence broke out after residents in the state's Nuba Mountains, many of whom fought for the south during the country's decades-long civil war, were ordered to disarm by the new Khartoum-allied governor, Ahmed Haroun, who has been indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

South Sudan voted overwhelming in favour of independence in a January referendum, prescribed by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which brought civil war to an end.
Abyei was meant to have its own referendum on whether it would stay in the north or join the south, however the vote was postponed indefinitely over disagreements on voter eligibility, to do with the nomadic, Khartoum-backed Misseriya Arab tribespeople.

Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states are clearly in the north, however many of their residents fought with the south during the civil war, and tension has been high as the South prepares to separate.

Sources: BBC News, the Guardian, RTT News

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

Monday, 20 June 2011

Armenia and Iran plan joint border control

The Meghri-Nourdouz crossing will be jointly managed

Armenia and Iran plan to jointly manage their sole border crossing in an effort to facilitate travel and transport communication, news website reported the Armenian government to have said on Friday 17th June.

The announcement was part of an Armenian-Iranian draft agreement that stresses “the need to elevate the level of good-neighbourly bilateral relations.”

The document outlines plans for immigration and customs bodies to provide joint services at the Meghri-Nourdouz crossing, in order to “facilitate international traffic of passenger, cargoes and transport vehicles.”

The agreement aims to simplify the border-crossing procedure, as individuals would only have to fill out customs declarations in the country of departure, and have their goods checked only in the country of entry.

Armenian and Iranian nationals currently need visas to enter the other country, something Tehran has long been pushing to do away with. Tehran has also been pressing for an Armenian-Iranian free trade agreement, however the two sides have yet to work out mutually accepted terms.

The two countries have also planned the construction of two large hydro-electric plants on the Armenian-Iranian frontier.


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

South Korean troops shoot at plane near border

Gyodong island is located near the North-South Korea border
South Korean troops have fired at a passenger jet after mistaking it for a North Korean fighter jet.

The incident took place at dawn Friday 17th June, as the Asiana Airlines plane came over Gyodong island, during its approach to Incheon International Airport, which is west of Seoul and some 25 miles south of the North-South Korean border.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the jet was flying out of range of the rifles, and that all 119 people on board were safe.

It is reported that the two young marines shot their K2 rifles into the air for around 10 minutes, and shot over 90 bullets.

The incident highlights the tension in the Korean peninsula, which has been high for over a year, after North Korea reportedly sunk the South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, last March. US and South Korean naval drills in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea in November resulted in an artillery attack by the North on Yeonpyeong Island, in which four people were killed.

Tensions have remained high since, and South Korean forces are building up on a number of islands in the Yellow Sea within sight of North Korea's coast.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, South Korea has also moved missiles to within range of Pyongyang, and North Korea recently tested one of its short-range missiles in the Yellow Sea.

South Korean leaders, criticised domestically for their apparently lacklustre response to the North actions, have been cranking up the rhetoric recently. South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak last week called on South Korean forces to show 'fighting spirit'. His defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, warned of a 'surprise provocation' by North Korea.

A military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Song-il, said they were surprised that the two young marines who fired on the passenger jet were so determined to engage in combat, although given that the military has been put on high alert, their anxiety should perhaps not be surprising.

“They were so anxious” Lee said, “There will be no charges against them.”

Military sources have said the plane was flying off course, while Asiana has described the plane's route as normal. Regardless of the plane's exact positioning, the incident demonstrates the possibility for dangerous miscalculation that currently exists on the Korean peninsula.

Sources: BBC, Christian Science Monitor, the Telegraph

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

Friday, 17 June 2011

Argentina calls UK 'arrogant' over Falklands

Fernandez: "We are going to get the Falklands back"
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has called Britain “arrogant” for refusing to negotiate on the Falkland Islands.

She was speaking the day after the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated the UK's stance in answer to a question from Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell during prime minister's questions on 15th June.

Cameron said “as long as the Falkland Islands want to be sovereign British territory, they should remain sovereign British territory – full stop, end of story.”

Rosindell had asked Cameron to remind US president Barack Obama that “the British government will never accept any kind of negotiations over the South Atlantic archipelago.”

Fernandez described Cameron's comments as an “expression of mediocrity, and almost of stupidity.”

She said the British “continue to be a crude colonial power in decline.”

The Falklands, which have been a British territory since 1833, have been subject to competing claims since the nineteenth century, however most Falkland islanders wish to retain British sovereignty, and the UK defeated an Argentine invasion of the islands in 1982.

US support for the British position has long been crucial to its ability to maintain control, but there are now signs that the US's position is changing.

Last week, Washington, through the Organization of American States (OAS), called on Britain and Argentina to negotiate over the islands's sovereignty, and crucially called the islands by their Argentinian name, the Malvinas.

Writing in the Daily Mail, British Admiral Sandy Woodward highlighted the importance of American support and argued that the British position in the Falklands had become “perilously close to being indefensible.”

"Twenty-nine years ago today, we re-claimed the Falklands for Britain in one of the most remarkable campaigns since the Second World War. The simple truth is without aircraft carriers and without the Americans we would not have any hope of doing the same again today."

The US, however, has been shifting its support in favour of Argentina for some time. In early 2010 the Obama administration made it clear that it would endorse calls for talks over the islands. This was reinforced in March 2010, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, at a press conference in Buenos Aires, that she agreed with Argentina that two nations should “sit down and resolve the issues between them.”

The US has also backed OAS documents calling for talks last June, and then again recently at an OAS meeting in El Salvador.

This week, a British man became the first Falkland islander to choose Argentinian citizenship. James Peck, whose father was killed fighting on the British side during the 1982 conflict, was presented with an identity card by Fernandez.

Sources: BBC, Daily Mail, Guardian, The New American

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

Thursday, 16 June 2011

China sends in patrol ship as Vietnam carries out live fire drills in South China Sea

Vietnam held military drills in disputed territory

Tension continues to increase between China and other countries bordering the disputed South China Sea, as China sent one of its biggest civilian maritime patrol ships into the region on Wednesday 15th June.

The Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper controlled by Beijing, said the Haixun-31 would travel to Singapore, and while an exact route was not laid out, it is understood that the ship would pass near the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands groups.
“It [the Haixun-31] will protect national maritime rights and sovereignty,” according to the newspaper.

What the Chinese are calling a routine patrol has come at a time of almost unprecedented tension after Vietnam held war exercises in the waters of the South China Sea using live ammunition on Monday, 12th June. Drills were carried out on a number of islands in the Spratly archipelago that Vietnam administers.

This current wave of hostility started on 27th May, when Vietnam accused a Chinese patrol boat of cutting the cables of an oil exploration ship. On 9th June, Vietnam said a similar incident had occurred. China claimed Vietnam had illegally entered its waters and endangered Chinese fishermen's lives.

The Philippines is also going through a period of increased tension with China. In early June, the Philippines accused China of erecting poles, placing a buoy and leaving building materials in disputed waters.

The Philippine's President Benigno Aquino's office recently said it was renaming the South China Sea the 'West Philippine Sea' in light of its claims.

China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim all or part of the sea. It is an area rich in fish, oil and gas, and is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

As China's power in the region has grown, many states have formed closer relations with the US, and issues like the South China Sea will be a crucial test in whether China's rise can be as peaceful as it insists it will be.

Aquino, for example, said the Philippines would look to the US for support in the South China Sea dispute. In a press conference on 14th June he said “Perhaps the presence of our treaty partner, which is the United States of America, [will] ensure that all of us have freedom of navigation, to conform to international law.”

Vietnam has also called on the US to help resolve territorial disputes in the region, however China has rejected this, saying it "opposes any country unrelated to the South China Sea issue meddling in disputes, and it opposed internationalization of the South China Sea issue."

Beijing has said the dispute can be resolved through direct discussions and has insisted it will not use force.

Sources: BBC News, Guardian, Open Security, People's Daily, Upstream

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

Monday, 13 June 2011

Southern Kordofan fighting spreads into South Sudan's Unity State

South Sudan is due to separate on 9th July

South Sudan has accused the northern military of bombing its territory in Unity State on Monday 13th June, after fighting in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan spread across the border.

The northern army has been fighting southern-aligned troops in Southern Kordofan since 5th June, causing more than 50,000 people to flee the state, according to UN estimates.

Aerial bombardments and heavy artillery attacks were reported on Friday and Monday in Unity State, while fighting continues to rage in Kadugli, Southern Kordofan's state capital.

Ruling parties in north and south Sudan have blamed each other for the fighting in Southern Kordofan, the north's largest oil producing state.

The Southern Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) has said fighting began when the northern army tried to disarm fighters. The northern army has blamed southern-aligned armed groups for provoking the clashes. They also said Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) forces attacked a local police station and stole a number of weapons.

South Sudan voted to separate from the north in a January independence referendum, required by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which brought decades of civil war to an end.

But the situation is more complicated in a number of border states, such as Southern Kordofan, which is clearly in the north, but whose residents often sided with southern-based rebels during the war.

Another issue of tension is the oil-rich Abyei state, which is claimed by both sides. Abyei was due to have its own referendum in January on whether to join the north or the south, but it was postponed indefinitely, due to disagreements over voter eligibility.

The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) took over Abyei town on 21st May, after an ambush by SPLA forces, and has occupied it since.

According to the Sudan Tribune, an African Union-sponsored summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on June 12-13th has resulted Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir agreeing to withdraw his troops from Abyei, although this has not been confirmed.

An unnamed diplomat was quoted as saying, “President Bashir has agreed to pull his troops out before 9th July with Ethiopia sending two battalions as peacekeepers. They will be deployed under the UN flag.”

The meeting was between al-Bashir and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir. It was mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Human rights groups have warned that southerners are being targeted by pro-northern forces in Southern Kordofan state. Amnesty International's Tawanda Hondora was quoted by the BBC as saying “We think this is the start of what might be ethnic cleansing of South Kordofan, Unity State and Abyei, with the precise purpose of ensuring that, come independence, the areas will not have people who are perceived to be sympathetic to the south.”

South Sudan is due to separate from the north on 9th July.

Sources: African Union, BBC News, Reuters, Sudan Tribune
For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

Thousands flee Syrian violence to Turkey

Thousands of Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey, as the government crackdown in northern Syria continues.

More than 5,000 refugees have registered with officials, and are now staying in a three refugee camps in the border region.

It is believed that another 5,000 have entered the country unofficially, and hundreds more are massed at the border, assessing the situation, according to the BBC.

People fled after 15,000 soldiers moved into the town of Jisr al-Shughour, which lies 12 miles south of the Turkish border.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 189 people have been killed in Jisr al-Shughour in recent days, and critics say the government is carrying out a "scorched earth" policy.
The government says 120 security personnel were killed in the town last week by “armed gangs” and that the army operation is to find those responsible. Unofficial reports, however, suggest that the deaths were a result of a mutiny within the army, in response to orders to open fire against protestors.
The army reportedly seized Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday 12th June, and is now preparing to move on to the nearby town of Maarat al-Numan, where it says it is pursuing armed men who escaped the weekend offensive.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, has pledged to keep the border open.

“We will keep our doors open to all our Syrian brothers taking refuge in our country,” he said. “When deaths are getting heavy and our brothers are seeking this kind of refuge, it would be impossible for us to close our doors.”

Erdogan has previously described Assad as a good friend, and their families have vacationed together, but it appears that Erdogan is trying to distance himself from Assad. On 9th June, he called Syria's crackdown on anti-government protesters "inhumane", and said Turkey could support a UN Security Council resolution condemning the regime.

Syria has been hit by waves of protests since mid-March, and human rights groups reported that over 30 people were killed in nationwide protests on Friday 10th June, as thousands of people continue to defy official orders to stay off the streets.

The government crackdown on protestors has led to some 1,400 deaths, and the apparent army mutiny in Jisr al-Shughour has led some to fear that the country may be heading towards civil war.
Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, The Atlantic Wire, The Telegraph

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

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Chinese and Vietnamese ships clash in South China Sea

A confrontation between a Vietnamese oil and gas survey ship and a Chinese patrol boat on 26th May has brought the issue of sovereignty of the South China Sea back to the forefront of leaders' minds, just before the start of a regional security conference.

Vietnam accuses the Chinese boat of deliberately cutting the survey ship's cables in Vietnamese waters. China denies the allegation.

The clash occurred some 120 km off the south-central coast of Vietnam and 600km south of China's Hainan island.

PetroVietnam, who operates the ship, called the Binh Minh 02, released footage of the event. A boat clearly marked China Marine Surveillance is seen approaching the Binh Minh 02. The ship's captain, Alexander Belov, is heard yelling at the Chinese ship and telling them to stay away from the cable.

The South China Sea, where the clash occurred, is claimed by a number of States, including China and Vietnam. The region is an important shipping route and is thought to contain large oil and gas reserves.

Both country's have reasserted their position after the clash. Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said “The Vietnamese navy will do everything necessary to firmly protect peace and the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Vietnam.”

China's foreign ministry hit back, saying Vietnamese oil and gas operations “undermined China's interests and jurisdictional rights.”

The row comes just days before a regional security conference in Singapore, which aims to promote cooperation and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

Sources: BBC News, IISS, Sydney Morning Herald, Vietnam News Agency, Xinhua

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