Friday, 29 July 2011

Violence on Kosovo-Serbian border leaves one dead

77 countries have recognised Kosovo's independence from Serbia

NATO has deployed peacekeepers to the north of Kosovo after clashes broke out on Kosovo's border with Serbia.

Kosovo's government ordered special police forces to take over two border posts in order to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia on the night of Monday 25th July. The post had previously been manned by ethnic Serb police, and Kosovo's government suspected them of turning a blind eye to banned imports.

Serbian nationalists in the region responded immediately, and in violence on Tuesday 26th July, a Kosovar police officer was killed, reportedly with a gunshot to the head. Four others were injured

A group of about 200 Serbian nationalists in Kosovo again attacked the Jarinje border post on Wednesday 27th July. They forced the Kosovar police and customs officers, as well as their EU counterparts, to flee, before burning down the border post.

The attackers also reportedly fired shots at a nearby outpost run by the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). The attackers were described as masked men, armed with axes, clubs, pipes and guns.

NATO said that its troops were able to retake control of both border crossings on Thursday, despite being attacked by Serbs, armed with fire bombs.

NATO has been involved in the region since 1999 when it intervened to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serb forces. It currently has around 6,000 troops stationed in the region, but given the most recent outburst of violence, analysts are questioning whether it is enough.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci defended the move, saying the operation was necessary, and that “it was a concrete step in establishing the rule of law” in Kosovo's volatile north. The operation was called “provocative” by the US and was similarly criticised by the EU.

Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, has an Albanian ethnic majority. Serbia, however, does not recognise its former province as an independent state, and some 60,000 Serbs living in the north of the country are still loyal to Belgrade.

The current border situation has to do with Kosovo's custom stamp. Serbia does not recognise the stamp, fearing that doing so would be tantamount to recognising the country's independence. As such, exports from Kosovo to Serbia are effectively banned.

In retaliation, Kosovo's government recently implemented an import ban on Serbian goods, and seized the border posts in the north to ensure the ban was being enforced.

The UN Security Council held a closed meeting on Thursday 28th July in order to discuss the issue.

Solving the conflict with Kosovo is among the conditions Serbia must meet before it can be considered for EU accession. EU-mediated discussions have been taking place between Kosovo and Serbia, but little progress has been made.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Spiegel, Voice of America

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

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Border Focus: South China Sea

Chinese actions have led to protests in Vietnam

What is disputed?

The South China Sea (known as the East Sea in Vietnam) is a semi-enclosed sea in the Pacific Ocean, and covers over 3.5 million square kilometres.

Seven states make claims to part or all of the South China: China, Republic of China (Taiwan), Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. China makes the biggest claim: Beijing sees 80 per cent of the region as historically belong to it. The dispute has led to numerous navel clashes over the past 50 years and plenty of diplomatic tension.

While ownership of the sea itself is disputed, there are also territorial disputes in the region, the two most important of which revolve around the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.

The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands, which lie between Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Brunei. There are no native islanders, although some 45 islands are occupied by military forces from Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The Spratlys are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei (who claim a fishing zone around Louisa Reef). Various islands within the Spratlys are currently administered by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The Paracel Islands are a much smaller grouping of islands, made up of some 30 islets and reefs. The archipelago is a similar distance from the coastlines of Vietnam and China (through its southern-most island of Hainan). Taiwan, Vietnam and China all claim the islands, although China has administered them since 1974.

Why is it disputed?

The South China Sea is the second busiest shipping route in the world (after the Mediterranean) and the economies of the Asia-Pacific region depend on the daily journeys of up to 200 large-tonnage ships that come through the waters.

It also contains vast hydrocarbon reserves: it has 7.7 billion barrels of proven oil, with an estimated 28 billion barrels in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 266 trillion cubic feet.

The area is also significant in terms of fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

What is the history of the dispute?

What is at issue in the South China Sea is a conflict between what some countries see as historically belonging to them, or at least lying within their sphere of influence, and other countries applying modern international maritime law.

In 1982, the UN adopted its Convention on the Law of the Sea which accepted a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). If no country is assumed to own the disputed islands, most of the Spratlys would fall into the Philippines and Malaysia's EEZ, whereas the Paracels lie in Vietnamese and Chinese waters.

Vietnam, Taiwan and China, however, claim the disputed islands as their own based on 'historic rights' which would then give them the right to claim the waters around the islands.

The idea that any country can claim the region based on 'historic rights' is hard to justify, given that the islands were viewed as little more than uninhabitable hazards to fishermen until the twentieth century.

Interest in the two archipelagos heated up in the 1930s when China released official maps which showed the whole region as Chinese territory, despite the fact that France, then ruler of Indochina, actually governed both archipelagos.

China claimed that its southernmost maritime boundary was 4 degrees north latitude, thus extending all the way south to include the James Shoal, which lies just north of Malaysia.

China released its famous 'U-shaped' map in 1947, which outlined its claims to the region. It started as an 11-dotted line map, but was amended to a nine-dotted line in 1953, omitting claims over some of the Gulf Of Tonkin, which has since seen a maritime boundary agreed between China and Vietnam.

At the 1951 San Francisco Conference, set up to end the war between Japan and the Allied Powers, Japan renounced all claims to the islands. A proposal to return both archipelagos to China was put forward, but was rejected.

In 1956 the picture became further unclear as a retired Filipino admiral took possession of four fifths of the Spratly archipelago on behalf of the Philippines.

Vietnam and China fought for dominance of the Paracels throughout the 1950s and 1960s, however in 1974 China took advantage of internal instability in Vietnam and took full control of the island group.

Vietnam and Taiwan had occupied some of the Spratly islands since the end of WWII, however in 1988, China used its navy to occupy a number of islands Vietnam had previously administered.

In 2002, ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), in which all sides agreed to seek peaceful solutions to disputes.

A number of states have submitted what they see as their territory to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. China submitted a note, with a map of the nine-dotted line, in 2009, to which Vietnam immediately protested.

What has happened recently?

Tension has risen over the disputed islands in recent years, as states have looked more closely at the potential gains from confirmed ownership. Last July, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US supported freedom of navigation in the area and offered to facilitate multilateral talks on the dispute, an offer which was sharply rebuked by China.

In March 2011, two Chinese patrol boats confronted a Philippino vessel in Reed Bank, near the Spratly Islands. The Philippines sent two aircraft to the area, and filed a protest with the UN.

In May, China was accused of aggression again, when video footage emerged of a Chinese boat appearing to cut the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship, the Binh Minh 02.

The incident prompted anti-China protests in China, and both Vietnam and the Philippines have carried out military exercises near disputed waters in recent months.

The Phillipines' President Benigno Aquino said in July that his country will defend what it sees as its territory, and that it will shore up its military capabilities to ensure it is able to do so. There has been talk of the US supporting the Philippines's military.

The South China Sea has become the crucial talking point on whether China's rise can be peaceful, and Beijing's insistence that foreign powers – primarily the US – stay out of the discussion is not winning it any friends. Indeed, it seems to be pointing the other claimants closer to the US, and heightening regional tensions.

For further information, including possible settlement routes, see the full Border Focus, here.

UN-backed Cameroon-Nigeria border commission urges swift resolution

The UN-backed Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, set up to help Cameroon and Nigeria resolve their border disputes has called for “swift agreement” to resolve the remaining border disputes.

The Commission was set up at the request of the West African neighbours after the 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula, in order to help implement the decision.

It has already reached agreement on more than 1,600 kilometres of the border, however it is still working on the final 350 kilometres of the land border which needs to be demarcated.

The most recent meeting of the Commission, which took place for two days in Abuja last week, had planned to reach an agreement on the remaining 350 kilometres, however it was not successful.

The Commission instruct its sub-commission on demarcation to find "effective and practical solutions" on the remaining areas, which include previous skipped areas, areas of disagreement, and inaccessible areas.

In a press release at the end of the meeting on Friday 22nd July, Cameroon and Nigeria reiterated their commitment to complete the demarcation by the end of next year.

The commission, chaired by the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for West Africa Said Djinnit also noted the progress made by the two nations regarding the confidence-building initiatives for the populations affected by the demarcation.

A draft agreement was reached at the meeting however, on other issues such as the exploitation of hydrocarbons on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan said on Tuesday 26th July that he would form a committee to consider the draft agreement for ratification, after which the document would be signed by the leaders of both countries.

Jonathan also said it was critical for the two countries to work together to ensure security along the border.

The next session of the commission will be held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 8-9th December.

Sources: Punch, The Nation, UN News Centre

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

Friday, 22 July 2011

UN warns of war crimes in South Kordofan

A UN report has warned that war crimes may have been committed in Sudan's border state of South Kordofan, according to reports from 18th July.

The report said that both government and rebel forces were guilty of atrocities, but that the army's actions were “especially egregious”, according to the BBC.

The report called for an investigation into the conflict in South Kordofan, which has been ongoing since 5th June, and has displaced some 70,000 people.

The violence started when South Kordofan's newly elected governor, Ahmed Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur, order the disarmament of those fighters aligned with South Sudan's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

The fighters, mostly from the Nuba Mountains, resisted and there has been fighting ever since, despite the signing of a peace deal in June.

There have been reports of aerial bombardments and specific targeting of the Nuba, which may amount to ethnic cleansing.

South Kordofan borders South Sudan, which became independent on 9th July, 2011.

Sudan was embroiled in a two-decade long civil war, which ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. While the CPA established the framework which led to the South's independence, little was specified for numerous groups of people in the north – including the Nuba – who fought alongside the SPLM.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has said he would work with Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir to ensure they achieve more rights, but with the number of challenges currently facing the new state of South Sudan, it seems unlikely that the fate of their northern neighbours will be a priority.

Sudan's President al-Bashir, who is also wanted by the ICC for actions in Darfur, has said South Sudan should not interfere with the north's affairs.

Khartoum has recently accused aid agencies of giving logistical support for the rebels in South Kordofan; similar accusations led to Sudan expelling 10 humanitarian organisations from Darfur in 2009.

Despite an African Union-mediated peace agreement being signed in Addis Ababa in June, it appears the ceasefire has not lasted long in South Kordofan, and by 11th July, reports were emerging that Sudan's military had restarted its bombing campaign in the region.

It also appears that rebels in the Nuba Mountains are unwilling to give up the fight, and the northern segment of the SPLA now claims to control much of South Kordofan.

The SPLA-N seized El-Hamra, a government garrison town southeast of the state capital Kadugli, on 1st July, seizing government vehicles and weapons.

It appears that troops from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a leading rebel group in Darfur, have been supporting the rebels in South Kordofan, and Khartoum claimed on Thursday 21st July to have captured JEM's military commander, Brigade-General Al-Toom Toto during clashes in Al-Tais on 17th July.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) had previously dismissed reports that JEM forces had participated in the Al-Tais attack.

Sudan's official news agency SUNA quoted Toto as saying he had received logistical support from the Government of South Sudan on his journey from Darfur to South Kordofan.

Sources: AFP, Al-Jazeera, BBC News, Sudan Tribune

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

Thursday, 21 July 2011

South Sudan sells first oil, but still no agreement on transit fees

South Sudan's President Kiir is taking a hard line on oil revenues

South Sudan has sold its first oil as an independent country this week, despite the lack of an agreement on oil revenues with Sudan.

South Sudan, which declared independence from Khartoum on 9th July, sold 1 million barrels to Chinese buyer Chinaoil, a Petrochina subsidiary, on Monday 18th July. Reuters estimates the shipment to be worth US$110 million.

Director General for Energy in South Sudan, Arkangelo Okwang, said they would ship a further 600,000 barrels on 23rd July.

Okwang said he expected the north to bill the South for the use of its facilities, but that nothing had yet been decided.

Sudan fought a decades-long civil war, which ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The CPA outlined a revenue-sharing agreement for oil, in which Sudan and the autonomous South Sudan each received 50 per cent.

Three-quarters of Sudan's 500,000 barrel-a-day output comes from the South, and is crucial to both countries economy. While much of the oil lies in South Sudan, the new nation lacks the infrastructure to exploit its reserves, and so the oil has to be moved to market through the north.

While South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said in June, 2010 that it would be possible for oil revenues to continue to be shared, he has taken an increasingly hard line in recent months.

On Wednesday 20th June, Kiir threatened to stop using the pipelines in Sudan if Khartoum insisted on sharing oil revenues as opposed to receiving transit fees.

“I am saying that we will rent the North's oil pipelines and we will give them money for our oil to be transported, and we will of course pay and there is no problem," Kiir said at a speech to a military base in South Sudan.

"However, this offer is unaccepted by the North. We have agreed on one thing that the oil issue should not be disrupted. They [Sudan] need oil. But we fought for 21 years without oil and we can still go for 3 years until we build our own oil infrastructure,” Kiir added.

Lead negotiator for South Sudan on oil issues, Pagan Amum, was reported in the Sudan Tribune as saying that the north had asked for “unfair and unreasonable” conditions of passage.
“They came with crazy ideas saying they are going to impose several transit fees – a usage fee, something called a normal transit fee, then something called a special fee – maybe $15 per barrel, even more – then maybe other charges, and they wanted revenue-sharing to continue,” Amum said.

Amum said the south was instead prepared to offer $3bn in “assistance” to the north and offered transit fees in line with international norms, citing 41 cents per barrel charged by the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which is a similar-length.

Khartoum is keen to salvage as much from the south's oil supplies as possible, and Sudan's Finance Minister Ali Mahmood Hassanein said on 19th July that Khartoum was in the process of crafting laws which would set the fees they would expect the South to pay.

He said the fees would contain three levels based on the fact that oil passes through Sudan which requires the imposition of sovereign fees.

Khartoum has threatened to cut shipments of oil from the south along its piplines if the south refuses to pay transit fees or continuing sharing oil revenues. Likewise, Juba has said it will build its own oil infrastructure, moving the oil south, if Khartoum doesn't agree on transit fees.

A delegation from the South is expected to travel to the north to carry out talks soon.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, Reuters

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

Monday, 18 July 2011

Bolivia seeks entry into Chile-Peru ICJ case

The maritime border dispute between Chile and Peru got a lot more complicated last week, when Bolivia announced its intention to get involved in the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Monday 11th July.

A press statement from Bolivia's Ministry of Foreign relations said “Bolivia's main goal regarding the maritime dispute is to inform the ICJ regarding its views on a subject of vital interest for the Bolivian person, which is its right to sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.”

Bolivia has been landlocked since 1884, when it was defeated by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Previously, Bolivia had sea access through what is now northern Chile.

Gaining Bolivia sea access has been one of the driving issues of President Evo Morales' time in office. He announced in March that he intended to sue Chile at the ICJ for sovereign sea access. He has already created a maritime claim organisation to prepare legal actions for a future Bolivia-Chile ICJ case.

While Chile will undoubtedly be unhappy about Bolivia's interest in its case with Peru, how Peru will react is not yet clear. In 2010 Peru granted Bolivia access to the Pacific through a 99-year lease on a small strip of land in the south of the country.

For many Bolivians, however, this is not enough, and while some critics say Morales should focus on domestic issues, the loss of Bolivia's sea access in 1884 remains an issue of national outrage.

Peru took Chile to the ICJ over their maritime border is 2007. Peru, which also lost territory to Chile in the War of the Pacific, argues that the maritime border should follow the downward curve of the land border, which would give it control of an additional 37,900 square kilometres of ocean territory.

Chile, however, argues that the border should follow longitudinal lines.

A decision is not expected until 2013, however, if Bolivia's request to intervene is granted, a decision could take significantly longer to reach.

Sources: Santiago Times, UPI

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

ICJ issues provisional ruling on Cambodia-Thailand temple case

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a ruling on provisional measures in the Cambodia-Thailand Preah Vihear temple case, on Monday 18th July.

The Court, the UN's highest body, ordered both sides to immediately withdraw their military personnel from a newly defined provisional demilitarised zone.

It also ruled that Thailand should not obstruct Cambodia's free access to the Preah Vihear temple, prevent it from providing supplies to non-military personnel, and should restart talks though ASEAN.

The Court unanimously rejected Thailand's request for the case, which was introduced by Cambodia, to be thrown out.

Both sides appear to have accepted the ruling. Thailand's acting foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, said the Thai government would comply with the order, and that he was pleased that the order applied to both countries, rather than just Thailand as Cambodia had hoped for.

Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong also viewed the ruling as a victory. “It will be tantamount to the cessation of aggression of Thailand against Cambodia,” he was quoted in the New York Times as saying.

At the heart of the dispute is the eleventh century Preah Vihear temple. In 1962, the ICJ ruled that the temple lay within Cambodian territory, based on a 1907 French-Thai map. But the territory around the temple was not demarcated, and has caused problems ever since.

Cambodia won unilateral UNESCO World Heritage Status for the temple in 2008, which sparked a brief border conflict. There have been further clashes since, and over 30 people have died in a series of border clashes in 2011 alone.

Monday's decision is the first in what promises to be a lengthy and complicated judicial process, according to the BBC.

Sources: BBC News, ICJ, MCOT, New York Times

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

Census starts in Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves

Sheikh Hasina and Monmohan Singh are expected to discuss the enclaves in September

Census-taking has started in India and Bangladesh's enclaves as on Thursday 14th July, ahead of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh.

Enclaves are pieces of land detached from a country's main territory and surrounded by foreign land. India has 111 enclaves inside Bangladesh and Bangladesh has 51 Bangladesh enclaves inside India.

Folklore has it that the enclaves resulted from the losses incurred by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Mughal Faujdar of Rangpur gambling on pieces of land during chess matches.
Historians, however, believe the situation came out of peace treaties between the kingdom of Cooch Behar, now in the Indian state of West Bengal and the Mughal Empire, which ruled much of South Asia, according to the Times of India.

The current census, which is expected to take a week to complete, is the first of its kind since 1971, when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan.

In 1974, Bangladesh's prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed a pact with his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi to exchange the enclaves. The agreement was never followed through on, and poor bilateral relations has meant that the enclave issue remains unresolved.

The enclaves remain hugely underdeveloped, with its inhabitants often lacking access to running water, electricity, health, education and security facilities. In reality, the enclaves inhabitants are largely stateless. They formed the Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC) to agitate for greater rights, and have carried out a number of limited censuses.

The 2011 census will be carried out by 56 teams working in Bangladeshi enclaves and 91 teams in Indian enclaves. Each team is made up of one official from each country.

The number of people in the enclaves is estimate to range from 150,000 to 300,000, although even with this new, focussed survey, getting an exact number of residents will be difficult.

BBEECC's leader Diptiman Sengupta welcomed the initiative, but warned the difficulties the census-takers will face. "Both governments will have to be aware that touts are active to register intruder's name in the list. Similarly, there are several people who reside outside for a living. And several families have lost their land in river bank erosion. Officials will have to take necessary action to sort out these problems to get a genuine account."

Regardless of the technical difficulties the census officials may encounter, the process is undoubtedly a positive step forward for those who live in the enclaves. Singh is due to visit Dhaka in September, and it is thought that he might sign an agreement on the enclaves with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina. It is thought that some of the smaller enclaves may be swapped.

It is understood that residents of the enclave will be allowed to chose which country to be resident of when the enclaves are finally swapped.

Sources: AFP, Times of India

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

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A new 'flashpoint'? The Israel-Lebanon maritime border dispute


At first glance, a new flashpoint in the Middle East appears to be emerging in the form of the disputed maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. The states have not successfully formalised their maritime borders, and this has become problematic with the discovery of natural gas reserves in the Levantine Basin. The discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan fields has prompted speculation that other, similar discoveries stand to be made along the coastline of the eastern Mediterranean. This suggests the increasing criticality of precisely delimited maritime boundaries between the states' exclusive economic zones (EEZs), within which they exclusive rights over natural resource exploitation.

Four hundred and thirty square miles are contested in the present dispute which is made further problematic by the diplomatic relations between the state parties: Lebanon, for example, does not recognise Israel and has left the matter open for resolution by the UN. The UN has said that it cannot take any such action on the basis that the delineation of the maritime boundary between the states is no part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mandate. For its part, Israel includes the maritime boundary as but one aspect of the generalised political crisis that it says characterises the entire maritime and land border that separates it from Lebanon. The other major player, the US, has appeared to support the Lebanese position for instrumental reasons, and its representative has sought to depoliticise the current crisis, and frame it in technical and legal terms.

It would seem that the US is on its own, at least in this respect. Media reports have speculated on the potential for a repeat of the war fought between Israel and Lebanon five years ago, with the maritime border as the new, critical factor. But while the dispute may be overtly political it seems that risks of a new confrontation are being exaggerated. Moreover, it may also be that the position adopted by the US with respect to its ally, Israel, is not as unusual as it may first appear; rather, it is the continuation of policy through more nuanced means.

The nature of the dispute

In August 2010 the Lebanese government submitted a map to the UN which, through the use of a border line, defined the extent of its EEZ. This line is to the south of the equivalent line proposed by Israel on 10 July 2011, but its position has been endorsed by the US government. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has argued that the Lebanese line contradicts both the lines that both Lebanon and Israel have agreed with Cyprus in, respectively, 2007 and 2010, on the western extents of their EEZs.

In international law, the principle of acquiescence suggests that a right to a claim may be lost if a party remains silent when a unilateral move, i.e. the claim to territory articulated by the Lebanese submission of a map, is made. It was for this reason that the Israeli cabinet approved its own border delimitation during the last week. Lebanon's response has been to signal its commitment to protecting the 2010 borders. The hydrocarbon reserves enclosed by the limits of these overlapping claims are those at the centre of the present dispute. Energy analysts have discussed how Israeli control of them would make Israel a gas-exporting state whereas, at present, its supply is under threat of disruption, the pipeline from Egypt having been repeatedly bombed in recent months.

Elements within the Israeli government have argued that protestations to the Israeli line are made by elements within Lebanon, principally Hezbollah, intent on provoking a conflict. This, to Israeli officials, may represent a maritime Shebaa Farms—the area of territory that Hezbollah has long accused Israel of occupying illegally, but claimed, by Israel, as a part of the Golan Heights—and, thereby, offer the pretext to a conflict. As in the case of the Shebaa Farms, their policy view is that the territory is legitimately held, and that the existence of the dispute and the competing claims presents little more than a rationale for a confrontation provoked by the hostile powers that surround Israel. Indeed, a position used by Israeli politicians is that the present dispute is symptomatic of a relationship with Lebanon, in which elements within the country will seek to thwart everything that Israel seeks to do.

The Lebanese government's position has been that Israel has violated international law, and Lebanese sovereignty, in coming to the 2010 agreement with Cyprus. In January 2011 the Lebanese Foreign Minister wrote to the UN Secretary-General to ask that the UN work to prevent Israeli exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves in within the EEZ determined in the maps submitted by his ministry in August 2010. The Energy Minister, Gebran Bassil, has said that the government plans to auction off concessions in 2012; before then he has said that Lebanon will seek to counter Israel's continuing aggression and retaliate through political and diplomatic means.

The position of the US, and of the senior US diplomat in charge of the Israel-Lebanon brief, Frederic Hof, has been to ensure that the dispute cannot become the pretext for conflict that the Israeli government anticipates. Hof has sought to ameliorate tension through the appearance of appeasement, if not appeasement outright. The US, after all, has a number of private commercial interests within this context; companies are involved in exploratory and research activities in the Levantine Basin. Hof has appeared to back, at least in part, the Lebanese line, and has suggested that Israel submit the dispute to the UN, and indirectly negotiate with Lebanon through this channel, given the non-recognition problem. (Israel has, of course, refused this option and called upon Lebanon to negotiate all of the current border issues, both on land and at sea.) Its commercial interests considered—and its future access to the reserves in question—it is in US interests to adopt a policy that does not automatically privilege its longstanding regional ally in the Middle East. The US has recognised the danger of the pretext in the specific setting and played its hand accordingly; it will back the Lebanese claim to avoid a Shebaa Farms situation at sea and protect the interests of American firms and investors.

The way ahead

Perhaps this apparent marginalisation of Israel by the US makes more sense than at first it might appear. Granted, the commercial interests are important, but two other concerns should also be considered: Israel's energy security (and recognition of the potential disruption of the gas supply to Israel, and the increase in prices that this would dictate); and the actual scale of the natural resource reserves in the disputed area. A third factor, the likelihood of a new conflict, five years on from the border war, is also debatable despite the line peddled by news sources.

The disruption inflicted by recent attacks upon the gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel have shown that attacks on Israeli gas facilities will not be borne lightly. In this sense the US and Israel can work together: Israel can perform a display of jealously guarding its sovereignty, while its more powerful ally can adopt a pragmatic, conciliatory line, and support the Lebanese claim. This may reduce the potential for gas supply disruption to Israel given that the justification for Hezbollah sabotage could evaporate; the US conciliates so that Israel does not have to appear to stoop so low.

With respect to the scale of the deposits in the disputed area, it may be that the problem is being inflated quite falsely. According to one source, the border route that follows the Lebanese course affects only the northern parts of the Alon and Ruth licences which, although they may contain smaller oil and gas deposits, are not the prime concerns of Noble Energy and Delek, the firms that own the licences. Their primary interests are situated further south. If this view is correct then the major consequence of adopting the Lebanese maritime line would only be to delay—and by no means permanently forestall—the development of the less consequential Alon and Ruth licences.

Hof has attempted to frame the dispute in technical and economic terms and to ensure that it does not become a political matter. Perhaps this is in line with an overall US strategy, concerned with protecting Israel but, moreover, with appeasing Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Put simply, perhaps the stakes are not as high, and maybe Israel is not conceding as much, as the US and Israel might like it to appear at first sight.

In any case, as Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University has argued, a conflict between Israel and Lebanon is unlikely. Both sides have a great deal to lose. Rocket attacks on Israel, and the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure would be the consequences, and the 2006 war is still a memory fresh enough to provide a measure of deterrence. Supporting the Lebanese interpretation of the maritime boundary therefore provides the US with a route to protect the Israeli energy supply, articulate a show of its own strength (and independence from Israel), at cost (in resource terms) that is lower than it seems.

Sources: Al Arabiya, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Haaretz, The Independent, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Week, New Zealand Herald

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

Friday, 8 July 2011

South Sudan ready to declare independence

Musicians prepare for South Sudan's independence celebrations

South Sudan is getting ready to celebrate as it counts down the hours until it becomes Africa's newest nation on Saturday 9th July.

According to the BBC, the celebrations will begin after midnight local time around the countdown clock in the centre of South Sudan's capital, Juba.

At noon, Sudan's flag will be lowered in central Juba and replaced by a giant South Sudan flag, measuring six metres by four metres. It will be raised on a 32 metre flagpole, which is claimed to be the tallest on the continent

Independence has been a long time coming for residents of South Sudan, as the country has been embroiled in civil war for much of the last 50 years.

The second civil war ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which established the mechanism through which South Sudan has achieved independence.

Southerners voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a January independence referendum.

Sudan has announced its official recognition of its new neighbour, the first country to do so.

"The Republic of Sudan announces that it recognises the Republic of South Sudan as an independent state, according to the borders existing on January 1, 1956," Minister of Presidential Affairs Bakri Hassan Saleh said in a statement broadcast on state television.

While violence has broken out in numerous parts of the Sudan-South Sudan border since the referendum, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir pledged, earlier this week, to support South Sudan, saying he wanted the new country to be “secure and stable”.

“We will bless our brothers in the south over their country and we wish them success,” al-Bashir said.

Al-Bashir will attend the independence ceremonies in Juba on Saturday, which has caused considerable difficulties for the western diplomats attending.

Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, and Western officials generally try to avoid meeting him.

To get around the issue, while South Sudan's President Salva Kiir will sit next to al-Bashir, Western diplomats will be seated on Kiir's side to keep them away from al-Bashir. African Union delegates who are sympathetic to al-Bashir will be seated on his side, according to the Sudan Tribune.

The UK will be represented by Foreign Secretary William Hague. The French foreign minister Alain Juppe will also attend and he has specifically said that he will make no contact with al-Bashir. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also be in attendance.

South Sudan will face numerous difficulties once it has become a new country. It is one of the world's least developed countries, having suffered decades of marginalisation and war.

A strong government will likely to be crucial in fostering development, and the South Sudan parliament ratified an interim constitution on Thursday July 7th, which is an important first step. Analysts and opposition members, however, have expressed concern that it concentrates too much power in the president's hands.

South Sudan still has numerous disagreements with Sudan, including border demarcation, the ownership of the disputed border region of Abyei, and oil revenues.

Moreover, the Sudan Tribune reported that on Thursday 8th July, al-Bashir rejected the Addis Ababa agreement on Southern Kordofan state. Southern Kordofan has been experiencing widespread violence since 5th June, primarily between representatives of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and soldiers linked to the South's ruling party's northern counterpart, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North (SPLM-N).

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and there have been reports of ethnic cleansing of the Nuba, an ethnic group that largely sided with the south during the civil war.

Sources: BBC, Guardian, Sudan Tribune

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

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Sudanese troops mass near border as South Sudan prepares for independence

Salva Kiir will declare South Sudan an independent state on Saturday

With just days until Africa sees its newest state born, violence continues in Sudan's northern border state of Southern Kordofan.
The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has identified an apparent massing of northern troops in Southern Kordofan's capital, Kadugli. There appears to be a convoy with Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) vehicles and artillery stretching two kilometres in length, and manned by approximately 1,000 troops.

SSP has also released satellite imagery from Monday 4th July which shows SAF aircraft and helicopter gunships at the Kadugli airfield, which seems to support reports that SAF had used helicopters to hunt Nuba people in Southern Kordofan's Nuba Mountains region.

According to UN reports, over 70,000 people have fled the state since violence began in early June, many of whom have crossed into what will soon be South Sudan.

A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report issued on 5th July confirmed violence in and around Kadugli every day from 30th June to 5th July, which suggests the situation is not getting any less volatile.

While there have been rumours that the agreement between Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the northern sector of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM-N) that was signed in late June in Addis Ababa, had collapsed, the NCP has insisted it is holding.

A NCP spokesperson said that Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir had met with former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who has led the African Union mediation efforts, which showed that the agreement was still being upheld.

Mbeki told reporters that he met with Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir on 6th July to discuss Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The Addis Ababa agreement said the NCP would recognize the SPLM-N's right to continue "as a legal political party in Sudan." Al-Bashir said on 4th July that the SPLM-N had yet to conform to laws on creating political parties, and therefore could not yet be recognised.

While the agreement dedicated both sides to working on a ceasefire agreement, on Friday, 1st July, Al-Bashir instructed the SAF to continue military operations in Southern Kordofan, according to the Sudan Tribune.

It is alleged that northern forces have been targeting the Nuba people, many of whom fought on behalf of the SPLM/A during Sudan's two decade long civil war.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which brought the civil war to an end established the process by which South Sudan will now become independent. But very little, other than ill-defined popular consultations, was specified for those in the north who had fought against Khartoum.

In the run up to the South's independence, southerners in the northern army have been being dismissed. The final group will be dismissed in a 'dismissal ceremony' on 7th July.

According to SAF spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa'ad, all of the dismissed had received their full financial and pension entitelements.

Sa'ad was scathing in regards to the SPLA's actions in the north, and said that SPLA fighters from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile were dismissed without financial entitlement or moral support.

“The SPLA left the northern Sudanese who fought alongside it to face an unknown future”, Sa'ad said.

South Sudan has planned considerable celebrations for Saturday 9th July, when they will declare their independence. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he will attend.

Sudan's Al-Bashir announced on 7th July that he planned to attend.

The US has announced it will send a delegation that includes a number of high ranking diplomats and military figures and will be headed by US envoy to the UN, Susan Rice. There was originally speculation that US President Barack Obama would attend, but it does not appear this will happen.

While South Sudan will be an independent nation as on Saturday, it still has not resolved a number of issues with the north, including border demarcation, ownership of Abyei, and how to deal with oil revenues.

Sources: Egyptian Gazette, Satellite Sentinel Project, Sudan Tribune, Sudan Vision, Times of India, UN OCHA

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

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Cambodia welcomes Thai election results

Thaksin Shinawatra described his sister Yingluck as his "clone"
Cambodia has expressed its pleasure at Thailand's election results, as Thailand's opposition Puea Thai Party won a landslide victory on Sunday 3rd July.

Puea Thai's leader, Yingluck Shinawatra, who only entered politics six weeks ago, is the youngest sister of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who in 2009 and 2010 served as a special economic advisor to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“We cannot hide that we are happy with the victory of the Puea Thai Party,” Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters after making a toast with a glass of champagne with diplomats.

“We hope this new government will solve the problems with Cambodia more positively and more peacefully,” Hor said.

The Phnom Penh Post reported that incoming prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, said on 4th July that restoration of ties with neighbouring countries would be a priority for the new government.

While she did not name any specific countries, it is understood that she was referring to Cambodia.

Tension between the two southeast Asia neighbours resulted in border clashes in February and April this year. The fighting left nearly 30 people dead and destroyed many homes.

Much of the tension revolves around the eleventh century Hindu Preah Vihear temple. While the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the temple lay in Cambodian territory in a 1962 ruling, the grounds around the temple were not demarcated and have proved a thorny issue since.

The difficulties between Cambodia's Hun and Thailand's outgoing prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva were well known. In 2009, Hun said Abhisit had “no family honour” and said he was the most difficult Thai leader he had ever worked with, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

Hun's relationship with Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, is known to be very close. Hun has called Thasin his “eternal friend” and he appointed him an economic advisor.

Thaksin, who was convicted in absentia on corruption charges, now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai.

Analysts believe the election of a pro-Thaksin government in Bangkok will bring in a period of closer relations with Cambdoia.

“Cambodian officials have said border conflicts surrounding old temples can be resolved [immediately with a new Thai government]. The prospect is better now than under Democrat Party rule,” University of Indonesia Southeast Asian political expert Cecep Hidayat was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying.

Indonesia, as current chair of ASEAN, played a large role in trying to encourage talks between the two sides in recent months. It is expected to make a push to resume negotiations once Yingluck has taken office.

The Bangkok Post reported that as news of the election results came in, Cambodian soldiers at the border expressed delight at the news and said the atmosphere relaxed considerably.

Sources: Bangkok Post, Jakarta Post, Phnom Penh Post, Reuters

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

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Afghanistan, Pakistan in unreported border war

According to UN Dispatch, there is an “undeclared and intensifying border war” between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the past month, shells coming from the Pakistani side of the border have forced thousands of people from their homes in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar and Nangarhar provinces.

While it has long been known that events on the Pakistani side of the border influence what happens in Afghanistan, reports of Pakistani soldiers crossing the border in raids against Afghan militants have increased in recent months, and public anger towards Pakistan is rising in Afghanistan.

While Pakistan has denied the shelling of Afghan territory, saying its troops may have fired a few accidental rounds while pursuing Afghan militants, its role in Afghanistan is murky.

Pakistan was a key ally of the Taliban until joining the US-led “war on terror” in 2001 and many have accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of continuing to train the Taliban and tacitly or actively supporting Afghan insurgents.

While Pakistani officials point out that it has 140,000 troops in the northwest fighting a Pakistani Taliban insurgency, it is undeniable that rebel safe havens remain, primarily in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

“When Pakistan says it will crack down on them [Taliban fighters], it is just pretending. The Pakistan government protects them,” says Wali Shah, an Afghan district governor.

“Pakistan doesn't want the violence here to stop. It doesn't want Afghanistan to develop,” he told AFP.

Pakistan has recently launched a military offensive against insurgents in the Kurram tribal region, according to the BBC. The area is near the Afghan border, and is thought to hold a large number of militants who have fled another military operation in Orakzai.

NATO forces, who have primarily concentrated in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan, are aware that the focus will have to change.

The outgoing commander of US and NATO forces, General David Petraeus said on Monday, 4th July, that by autumn, more special forces, intelligence, surveillance and air power will be concentrated in areas along Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan in the east of the country.

The attacks do not just go one way, however, and Pakistan's government rebuked the Afghan government for allowing Afghan militant groups to “terrorize Pakistani villages and attack Pakistani soldiers”, according to UN Dispatch.

In early June, for example, hundreds of militants from Kunar crossed the border and attacked a village in Pakistan. The incursion triggered a two day battle that left 66 people dead.

For Afghan civilians living in border regions, the situation seems to be deteriorating. Afghan scholar Orzala Ashraf Nemat wrote in a recent essay for the Guardian of his fears for the region.

“The greatest concern for people in this region is the increase in rocket attacks from the Pakistani border side, which continues to take the lives of ordinary villagers over the past months. We are worried about a direct invasion by Pakistani forces, even as the world is watching.”

Throughout June, death tolls rose in Afghanistan as Pakistani strikes continued. On 28th June, the eastern regional commander of the Afghan Border Police, Aminullah Amarkhel, said artillery shells launched from Pakistan into Kunar the day before had killed 20 civilians.

While this figure has not been verified, if true, it would make the attack the single deadliest incident in the low-level border conflict to date.

The government in Kabul is also starting to pay attention to what is happening along its border.

In late June, Afghan president Hamid Karzai warned Pakistan to cease strikes against Afghan territory and parliamentarians demanded that their government authorise military action against Pakistan if the shelling continues.

The border situation presents the possibility of full-on war breaking out between Afghanistan and Pakistan. With both sides resisting admitting and solving the problem of cross-border militancy, what UN Dispatch calls an 'undeclared border war' could continue to escalate indefinitely.

Sources: BBC News, Express Tribune, Sydney Morning Herald, UN Dispatch

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