Panama Holds Off North Korean Diplomats

Posted: Jul 19, 2013 12:01 AM

North Korea-Panama: A two-man team of North Korean diplomats arrived in Panama to explain about and participate in the inspection of the detained cargo ship. However, the Panamanian presidency declared invalid a document issued by the Foreign Ministry that would have granted them access to the ship.  The presidency notified Cuba and North Korea that the Panamanian Attorney General has jurisdiction, not the Foreign Ministry.

Comment:  Panama exposed a serious lack of coordination in handling the North Koreans today, but the ship is arrested and not going anywhere. US intelligence agencies will be exploring every inch of the ship and its documents. That explains Panama's statement that it will take seven to 10 days to unload the cargo. 

The UN has agreed to Panama's request for a UN team of experts to inspect the cargo. That team is expected to arrive on 5 August.

North Korea published a low level statement.

"A spokesman for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Foreign Ministry gave the following answer to a question put by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday, 17 July, as regards the case of the DPRK trading ship Chongchongang apprehended in Panama: There occurred an abnormal case in which the DPRK trading ship Chongchongang was apprehended by the Panamanian investigation authorities on suspicion of "drug transport," a fiction, before passing through Panama canal after leaving Havana Port recently."

"The Panamanian investigation authorities rashly attacked and detained the captain and crewmen of the ship on the plea of "drug investigation" and searched its cargo but did not discover any drug. Yet, they are justifying their violent action, taking issue with other kind of cargo aboard the ship."

"This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to send back (sic) to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract."

"The Panamanian authorities should take a step to let the apprehended crewmen and ship leave without delay."

Comment: This is likely to make Kim Jong Un furious because he most likely will interpret it as an act of disrespect. Multiple Readers questioned the need for hiding the weapons under tons of sugar for a legal cargo. The facts, thus far, show the ship was carrying contraband and got caught. The Cubans tried to put the best face on their complicity in dodging UN resolutions, but to no avail.

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood has threatened to stage a "million-man" anti-government demonstration in Cairo after night prayers during the night of 17 July.

In the past two weeks, security has deteriorated significantly in North Sinai. Hard line Islamists and self-styled pro-Mursi militants are mounting daily attacks against Egyptian police and security forces. On the 17th four attacks were reported.

Egyptian forces are losing at least one killed and a half dozen wounded daily. In coordination with the Israelis, 11 Egyptian Army battalions, supported by armor and helicopters, are now preparing for large-scale operations against the Sinai militants.

Intercepted logistics activities indicate the Islamists intend to start a violent campaign west of the Suez as well. On the 16th security forces captured a shipment of uniforms and other military equipment near Suez. On the 17th they intercepted 19 GRAD rockets in a truck heading for Cairo from the port of Suez.

Comment: The demonstrations in Cairo appear to be mostly a diversion, while anti-government militants prepare for violence. The main Islamist effort is developing in North Sinai. Weapons are being smuggled across the Suez Canal to cause an uprising west of the Canal. The logistic activity implies that fighting groups are organized and waiting for weapons. The GRAD rockets almost certainly were made and supplied by Hamas and came from the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian Army has had little success in controlling militants during the past two years. Since 3 July they have become more agressive and apparently been reinforced.  The Army's prospects of suppressing this emerging insurgency are not good.  

The Egyptian Army will need significant extra US military support afteroperations begin. This fight will be the precise opposite of the Syrian fight and, thus, will pose a major policy challenge to the US administration as to whether and how deeply to get involved.

Tunisia: President Marzouki held talks with top political leaders to avoid an "Egyptian scenario" in Tunisia. The leaders hope to develop a consensus on key issues, especially the new constitution, behind the scenes before submitting it to public scrutiny.

Presidential spokesman, Adnan Mansar, told the press that Tunisia will have to draw lessons from what happened in Egypt and not fall in the same problem.

This will require a higher level of consensus and stronger communication among political leaders, he said.

President Marzouki also had talks with Brigadier General Hamdi, the Chief of the Land Staff about security and social conditions in the armed forces. A spokesman said, "President Marzouki stressed the major role played by the Army in protecting national borders and backing the efforts expended by the security apparatus to fight crime."

The presidential press release also said, "This meeting is one in a string of many others held by the President of the Republic with members of the Higher Armies Council."

Comment: The ripple effects of the Egyptian Army's ouster of President Mursi are strong in all states that experienced the so-called Arab Spring. That is because military forces were responsible for the overthrows of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qadhafi and Saleh. All were coups or partial coups that exploited the public demonstrations.

In Tunisia, the presidential guard, not the street protestors, overthrew Ben Ali. That puts in perspective President Marzouki's meeting with the chief of the ground forces plus his stress on its national defense mission and its role in assisting the police. Marzouki did not mention any responsibility for protecting the political order. That is the mission that the Erdogan government is seeking to eliminate for the Turkish armed forces.

End of NightWatch


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