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South Korea Tests the North's Intentions

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

North Korea: Update. A press report from a reporter in North Korea who went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) confirmed that North Korean front line soldiers are engaged in spring planting. Farmers in Panmunjom-ri, the North Korean village inside the DMZ, were busy planting rice, cabbage, soybeans and radish in fields surrounded by barbed wire and anti-tank barriers.


The reporter saw soldiers helping the farmers, but military escorts assured him they were ready for war on short notice.

Comment: This is an annual practice because all the units in the armed services must provide a significant part of their own rations. The significance is that the activity is normal, though it has begun late because planting weather arrived late.

Both North and South Korean farmers cultivate fields inside the DMZ, which is two kilometers wide on each side of the Military Demarcation Line. The farmers on both sides are trusted veterans who will not defect. The barbed wire and tank barriers are always present.

The Rear. Anecdotal reporting from provinces along the China border also report normal conditions, except for mandatory Saturday lectures on the threat of war and North Korea's superiority over South Korea. The reports are so trite and false, according to the sources, that even the Party officials who are supposed to give the lectures are embarrassed. The workers complain that the official descriptions of how well off North Koreans are compared to South Koreans do not explain the continued shortages and hard living conditions in the North.

Some party cadres reportedly have refused to give the prescribed lectures. The sources reported no one expects a war.

South Korea-North Korea: South Korea offered to hold talks with the North regarding the status and future of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. "We make an official offer to the DPRK to hold a working-level talk and provide humanitarian aid to South Korean workers in the Kaesong complex. DPRK (North Korea) should reply to our offer until 26 April morning," the Unification Ministry said in a formal statement on Thursday, 265 April.


"We will have to take important measures if DPRK refuses the offer," he added.

Comment: This is the second offer for talks. South Korean businessmen made the first, informal offer shortly after the North Koreans closed the complex on 9 April. All 123 plants are idle and only 176 South Koreans remain.

The offer is significant because it also conveys an indirect offer of aid to the North in the form of profits from the factories which had been working at full capacity before 9 April and from employment for 53,000 North Koreans. The South Korean parliament voted today to provide support to the companies hurt by the closure. That means South Korea will help bear the costs of restarting the factories in North Korea, probably including feeding the North Korean workers.

Politically the offer is a test of the North Korean leadership's ultimate intentions. In the past, Kim Chong-il typically raised tension in order to extort aid or other concessions from the South in return for a restoration of normality.

In this confrontation, North Korean statements have rejected aid or economic gains as their motives in the crisis. This week they stated again they want recognition as a nuclear armed state and talks on an equal basis with the US as between  nuclear armed states.

North Korean acceptance of the South Korean offer would mean that those who argue that Kim Jong Un is practicing an extreme version of the same old North Korean negotiating tactics are correct. On the other hand, a North Korean rejection would mean that the North's leaders are serious about securing international acceptance as a nuclear armed state. If they are serious and not yet desperate, they will reject the offer as demeaning and insulting and it will increase tension.


China: Clashes between security forces and armed Uighurs resulted in at least 21 people killed on 23 April in Kashgar Prefecture, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in far western China, according to a spokeswoman for the regional government. Six of those killed were identified as "gangsters," and eight more people in the "gang" were detained. Six policemen died in the clashes.

Gun fire began after police went to search the home of residents suspected of owning illegal knives and axes. At least one house was burned. Eleven of those killed were ethnic Uighurs.

Comment: This was the first violence since regional authorities sentenced 20 Uighurs to life imprisonment for separatism and plotting jihad in March. It was the worst act of violence since July 2009 when nearly 200 Han Chinese died in Uighur attacks.

The so-called gangsters, who were also labeled terrorists, appear to have been Uighur separatists. Since 2009 China has heavily suppressed the Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims who want to secede from China. The arrests and convictions last month and today's raid indicate Uighur activism is growing again. The Chinese know it and are taking preventive action.

This is significant as an example of one of several serious internal threats that the Chinese armed forces are required to control, according to the Defense White Paper. Internal stability in parts of China, especially the western and southwestern border regions, is maintained primarily by force and internal migration by Han Chinese.

Pakistan: Bombings. The main political party in the city of Karachi, the MQM, has closed its offices in protest over a fatal bomb explosion on Tuesday night. City businesses and offices closed following the blast, which killed five people and wounded several others.


The violence coincided with bombings in the south-western city of Quetta in which eight people died and nearly 60 were wounded. The two incidents are not related except by timing.

Comment: The MQM is a political movement based mainly in Sindh Province, whose capital is Karachi. Its membership is mostly the descendants of Urdu-speaking migrants to Pakistan from India at the time of the partition of British India in 1947. They are called mohajirs. Former president Musharraf is a mohajir, but the Karachi bombing does not appear related to his return. It almost certainly is part of a continuing struggle to control politics in Karachi. The same is true of the Quetta bombings.

News services have reported that Pakistan has experienced 20 bombings in the past two weeks. The tempo of violence is likely to increase in the run-up to the 11 May elections. All of the bombings are politically motivated and usually locally inspired.

Afghanistan: The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Mr. Jan Kubis, addressed NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on political, economic and security conditions in Afghanistan on the 23rd. His theme was the interconnection of political and economic conditions to security conditions during the transition to local Afghan authority. The UN assistance mission believes that reduced corruption and improved economic health will help create better security conditions.

His most significant remarks, however, were on security conditions. He expressed dismay over what he described as "a troubling rise" in the number of Afghan civilians killed or injured in the first quarter of this year. The UN mission, UNAMA, reported that civilian casualties were up by almost 30 per cent, with 475 civilians killed and 872 injured between 1 January and 31 March this year as compared to the same period in 2012.


He called a 3 April Taliban attack against a Government compound in the south-western province of Farah that resulted in the deaths of at least 41 civilians and injuries to over 100 others "nothing less than a war crime". Public statements by the Taliban that courthouses and judicial personnel are now considered targets are of "extreme concern," Kubis said.

Comment: The UN reporting has been a reasonably reliable measure of violence in Afghanistan by all sides to the conflict. The UN thesis that reliable government and prosperity undermine security has some historic basis, in Malaya and Cameroon, for examples, but only after a minimum level of security had been established so that investors would be willing to take economic risks with a reasonable return on investment and for political tutelage to flourish. Afghanistan is not remotely close to those conditions.

Last year was arguably the best year since the Taliban resurgence in 1986. The long backward slide has begun.

Iraq: Update. Clashes erupted Wednesday, 24 April, between the Iraqi army and armed Sunni tribesmen who sealed off two central Iraqi towns, leaving 38 dead. Gunmen seized control of Sulaiman Bek, a town north of Baghdad, after fighting with Iraqi security forces. Security forces have withdrawn from the area, which is now under the control of the gunmen, a local administrative official said.

Comment: Clashes occurred in more than a dozen cities yesterday and killed more than 100 people, including the 56 killed in Hawija. Now the Iraq Army must execute clearing operations on its own.

Egypt: The Islamist-led upper house, the Shura Council, a pseudo-parliament, on Wednesday pushed ahead with a controversial judicial law that is likely to lead to more civil disorder. The law, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, would force the retirement of up to 3,000 judges appointed by former President Mubarak, mainly by lowering the mandatory retirement age.


The Brotherhood charges the more than 10,000 judges are corrupt. Last Friday it staged a demonstration in Cairo calling for the judiciary to be purged.

The government's support for this law has generated a severe and increasing backlash among judges, attorneys and the secular opposition.  They charge the law is an attempt by the Islamists to take over the courts. On Tuesday, Mursi's chief legal adviser resigned in protest of the "assassination of the judiciary," among other reasons listed in a published letter.

Comment: Mursi and his Islamist advisers are waging virtual war against the judiciary which has, in fact, blocked many of their attempts to stack the government and the parliament with Islamists. Now they want to stack the judiciary to eliminate it as an obstacle. This is an executive putsch.

The Shura Council has no constitutional authority to draft legislation. Mursi decreed it would have such authority.

The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled the June 2012 parliamentary election unconstitutional. Courts also ruled Mursi's attempt to assume extra-constitutional authority and invalidated a new election law. Parliamentary elections, for the lower house, were supposed to have begun on 22 April, but Mursi postponed them in March because of the court ruling.

The judiciary, with mostly secular-minded professional judges, is seen by the opposition as the only institution restraining Mursi's attempts to create an Islamist government. There will be protests by both sides this week.

Mali: Update. On 24 April French troops in Timbuktu ceded control of the city to forces of the African-led support mission in Mali. The UN peacekeeping mission has yet to receive approval.


Comment: Apparently conditions in Timbuktu now satisfy the French conditions for "military success." Expect the al Qaida militants to test the new Timbuktu garrison, just as they tested the French.

End of NightWatch


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