North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The two Sudans

I think we're on top of the recurring news and trouble spots: Syria, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinians, Hamas and Hezbollah, along with the diminished hopes for an Arab "Spring" in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. Then there's the rather unexpected grasping for others assets by Argentina in the Southern Hemisphere; the endless (it seems) fiscal woes in Europe - Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Iceland. Let's top it off with China's continuing announcements about its ownership of all the South China Sea...

The two Sudans - sliding back into conflict ...

But it is in Africa where we need to return. For the tensions between South Sudan and The Republic of Sudan have ramped up closer and closer to a full scale war. South Sudan, having become independent after a split with the Republic of Sudan just nine months ago, has not been able to successfully negotiate numerous issues with its northern counterpart - borders and oil transportation revenues are the primary issues of disagreement. Complicating these major issues, a number of splinter groups in the area seeking autonomy and/or revenge from either of the two recognized nations, have added their own violence to the mix.

The BBC provides the following timeline (simplified further by Teatree)

1899-1955 - Sudan is under joint British-Egyptian rule.

1956 - Sudan becomes independent.

1958 - General Abboud leads military coup against the civilian government elected earlier in the year

1962 - Civil war begins in the south, led by the Anya Nya movement.

1964 - The "October Revolution" overthrows Abboud and an Islamist-led government is established

1972 - Under the Addis Ababa peace agreement between the government and the Anya Nya, the south becomes a self-governing region.

1978 - Oil discovered in Bentiu in southern Sudan.

1983 - Civil war breaks out again in the south involving government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by John Garang (an Iowa State graduate). President Numeiri declares the introduction of Sharia Islamic law.

1985 - After widespread popular unrest, Numayri is deposed by a group of officers and a Transitional Military Council is set up to rule the country.

1993 - Revolution Command Council dissolved after Omar Bashir is appointed president.

1999 - President Bashir dissolves the National Assembly and declares a state of emergency. Sudan begins to export oil.

2002 - Government and SPLA sign landmark ceasefire agreement providing for six-month renewable ceasefire in central Nuba Mountains - a key rebel stronghold.

2003 February - Rebels in western region of Darfur rise up against government, claiming the region is being neglected by Khartoum.

The darfur region of Sudan soon to become characterized with the term genocide

2004 January - Army moves to quell rebel uprising in western region of Darfur; hundreds of thousands of refugees flee to neighbouring Chad. March - UN official says pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias are carrying out systematic killings of non-Arab villagers in Darfur.

2004 September - UN says Sudan has not met targets for disarming pro-government Darfur militias and must accept outside help to protect civilians. US Secretary of State Colin Powell describes Darfur killings as genocide.

The toll in the Darfur region depicted here by a single woman walking past a burnt out village

2005 January - Government and southern rebels sign a peace deal. The agreement includes a permanent ceasefire and accords on wealth and power sharing.

2005 9 July - Former southern rebel leader John Garang is sworn in as first vice president. A constitution which gives a large degree of autonomy to the south is signed. 1 August - Vice president Garang is killed in a plane crash. He is succeeded by Salva Kiir.

2007 October - SPLM temporarily suspends participation in national unity government, accusing Khartoum of failing to honour the 2005 peace deal.

2008 July - The International Criminal Court's top prosecutor calls for the arrest of President Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur; the appeal is the first ever request to the ICC for the arrest of a sitting head of state. Sudan rejects the indictment.

2009 March - The International Criminal Court in The Hague issues an arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

2009 July - North and south Sudan say they accept ruling by arbitration court in The Hague shrinking disputed Abyei region and placing the major Heglig oil field in the north.

2009 December - Leaders of North and South reach deal on terms of referendum on independence due in South by 2011.

2010 July - International Criminal Court issues second arrest warrant for President al-Bashir - this time on charges of genocide.

Republic of Sudan's President Bashir

2011 July - South Sudan gains independence after referendum earlier in January overwhelmingly backs separate nation.

2011 October - South Sudan and Sudan agree to set up committees tasked with resolving their outstanding disputes.

2011 November - Sudan accused of bombing refugee camp in Yida, Unity State, South Sudan.

2012 January - South Sudan halts oil production after talks on fees for the export of oil via Sudan break down.

2012 February - Sudan and South Sudan sign non-aggression pact at talks on outstanding secession issues, although tensions remain high over oil export fees. South Sudan-Kenya-Ethiopia announce plans to build alternate pipeline route east to Lamu, Kenya.

2012 April - After weeks of border fighting, South Sudan troops temporarily occupy the oil field and border town of Heglig. Sudanese warplanes raid the Bentiu area in South Sudan.

Beyond the timeline, three points might be noted:

This is about oil, not totally, but revenues from oil is key to both nations, and means the tensions will not easily be reduced. Because it is about oil, other powerful nations are going to be interested if not involved: China, the US, and the EU. Indeed, South Sudan's Salva Kiir had to cut short a state visit to China during the past week. China, with its long involvement in Sudan primarily to develop oil production and purchase it, has a delicate line to walk now with both Sudans.

South Sudan President Kiir and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao inspect Chinese honor guard (a strange custom/ritual that every leader seems to do, walk past a shiny military contingent of the host country).

A toast between the two leaders

This is also about sub-Saharan Africa and Arab northern Africa with Islamist extremism tossed in. Uganda has already declared that it will support South Sudan if the Republic of Sudan army moves south. Kenya is unlikely to stand by. The Republic of Sudan's targeted attacks on populations of non-Arab people groups during the civil war and in Darfur, as noted in the timeline, did not sit well with these two neighbors.

As so many conflicts play out in Africa, they are often low-tech, vicious, and poorly reported on. Here, South Sudanese soldiers patrolling a road

South Sudan has a friend in Israel. Israel has offered strong and steady support for Southern Sudan, both before and after independence, rooted in offsetting the power and cohesion of many Arab states arrayed against it. When the Republic of South Sudan officially declared its independence from Sudan and established itself as the world's newest country, the following day, the State of Israel officially recognized South Sudan and three days later Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with South Sudan President Salva Kiir and said that Israel would happy to help the fledgling country in “any way.”

Salva Kiir accepting a menorah from Israeli President Shimon Peres in December 2011 - a token of friendship between the two countries.

Less than two weeks after their declaration of independence, South Sudan and Israel established and formalized their diplomatic relations. A number of revelers in Juba celebrating independence in July 2011 waved Israeli flags, a gesture interpreted by some as a sign of gratitude to Israel for support during years of struggle against the north.

In August 2011, President Kiir announced that he would maintain South Sudan's relations with Israel despite pressure from Arab countries and that he wishes for South Sudan's embassy to be built in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and not in Tel Aviv as has become custom for many Western nations due to the perceived disputes over Jerusalem's sovereignty. In the past few weeks, the Republic of Sudan accuses Israel of flying into Juba nightly, full of tangible support of various kinds.

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The detail of the two Sudan's conflict - rooted in oil wealth and ethnicity

Question for the day ... Why does the UN (as do many nations I must admit)tend to equalize conflicts by asking "both sides" to refrain from attacks, as if both sides are equally at fault or aggressors when one side or the other is clearly the initiator?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Argentina ready to nationalize Spanish oil company assets

The normally quiet - or ignored - South American continent has cropped up for the third time in a little over a week. We just covered the Summit of the Americas held in Colombia, which will most likely be remembered for US Secret Service agents cavorting in Cartagena. Earlier, we had noted that Argentina had raised a call for a return of the Malvinas (the Falkland Islands) to its jurisdiction on the 30-year anniversary of the UK wresting back control of the islands from an invasion by said Argentina.

Argentina again in the news - eighth-largest country in the world by land area and the largest among Spanish-speaking nations. Its population is over 40 million people.

This week, Argentina shredded amicable relations with Spain (the European nation from which Argentina maintains it received "title" to those Malvina islands, acquired when Argentina became independent from Spain itself in 1816 ...) along with confidence among many of the world's nations and institutions. It did so by announcing its intentions to nationalize assets of a foreign owned oil company, Repsol, that are operating on Argentinian soil under the name YPF. Technically, the country is expropriating (seizing) 51% of the shares of YPF, thus giving Argentina control of the company's decisions and handling of its assets and operations.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

As the UK Guardian newspaper put it, "Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina's president, introduced the new measure to Congress in a bid to recover sovereignty over its national hydrocarbon resources. Kirchner accused Repsol of failing to produce enough oil through YPF to meet Argentina's energy requirements. Repsol's alleged failure threatened to "practically turn us into an un-viable country," Kirchner said. ... Economic and political interest in the country's hydrocarbons has rocketed since the end of last year when YPF announced it had discovered a shale oil site that could potentially yield 1bn barrels. The move to seize 51% of Repsol's YPF business in Argentina sent the company's shares spinning down 18% on Wall Street and will worry other big foreign investors such as BP."

A YPF oil refinery in Argentina, on course to be nationalized by the country as soon as legislation now in the Argentinian Congress is finalized.

And so we enter the murky world of global assets, financial investment, national sovereignty and when it is appropriate to break or suspend prior agreements. Any given country with a military of sufficient strength can simply seize control over facilities within its territory. The repercussions are that usually those who built the assets won't like it, and will resist through legal and/or other means. Governments can either rush legislation through the system ahead of time to give a veneer or respectability to their actions, or make the new legality retroactive, and hope that will suffice.

When the action involves investors or owners of assets outside of the country - as in the case of this oil company YPF, based in Spain - seizure is usually modified and called "nationalization." "Expropriation" is another term which describes the government's recognition that there is value in the assets, and some sort of payment is made to compensate the owners for the loss of those assets. If the compensation is recognized as reasonably fair, that particular point of disagreement may be lessened, but the larger arbitrary action itself is likely to severely reduce the attractiveness of the country for further investments. And then, of course, most countries have agreed in numerous alliances and world courts that they will respect and follow a interlocking set of legal precedents and protocols for arbitrating disagreements. Nationalization (seizure of assets) is quite far down this list of accepted steps.

Argentina's expropriation of YPF's assets will likely be punished by a variety of actions from the G-20 group of nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF headquarters shown here), and the World Bank.

Argentina's planned actions in this case have troubled the very nature of international relations - after all the country is not a small, shaky nation, but the second largest on the 10-nation continent. Nor is this latest announcement an isolated surprise. From a Business Week article, "[Since 2001] Argentina has been a pariah state with international creditors. At the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, Argentina has more disputes pending against it than any other nation."

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Argentine President Kirchner discussing something somewhere but before Chavez began his visible battle with cancer ...

Argentina seems to be following the path vaguely similar to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Some observers point to a charismatic, left-leaning economist in President Kirchner's cabinet, Axel Kicillof, who stridently champion's direct government control rather than corporate control over a country's resources, unfortunately often using bellicose rhetoric to frame his arguments.

Argentine Axel Kicillof, hopefully not another rising personality who will needlessly trouble the world in the decades to come. Teatree emphasizes the word, "needlessly" as the world could use some constructive shaking up of paths being trodden...

As a Reuters article puts it, "Government economist Axel Kicillof stormed the world stage this week when Argentina moved to nationalize energy company YPF, defending the plan he helped devise in a fiery speech worthy of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Charismatic and polarizing, the 40-year-old Kicillof lambasted "free-market fundamentalists" as he defended the push to seize control of YPF from Spain's Repsol. Just four months after taking the deputy economy minister post, Kicillof has penetrated the small circle of trusted advisers to President Cristina Fernandez, who singles him out for praise in her speeches. Sporting sideburns and an open collar, Kicillof told Congress that only "morons" would think the state was stupid enough to play by Repsol's rules and make an offer to buy 100 percent of its shares. He blasted economic theories that "justify the looting of our resources and our companies."

These are not new political battles - capitalism, socialism, who directs, who controls, play out again and again on the global arena. This is just a rather abrupt eruption of the continuing debate. And it has serious consequences, as foreigners are often scapegoated for a country's troubles, and egos among leaders can do much more damage than simply being insufferable to listen to. Just look at Syria, Iran, North Korea to name three whose populations are trapped in the grip of destructive leaders.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Summit of the Americas, held in Colombia, ends in disarray

This really isn't much of a story - which is too bad, because it would be great to hear of significant progress being made in the Western Hemisphere on the many issues among its many nations - one of which happens to be the world's economic and military superpower.

Yes, there are thirty five countries in the Western Hemisphere, all in the Organization of American States (OAS) which organizes the Summits

Before the Summit of the Americas, the BBC article narrative to the event read this way:

"The colonial Colombian city of Cartagena has become, once again, a fortress as it prepares to host the Summit of the Americas. Submarines and warships are protecting the bay, aeroplanes and helicopters are patrolling the Caribbean sky. Only those involved with the summit are being allowed inside the walled old town, where leaders of 33 countries in the western hemisphere, excluding Cuba and Ecuador, are meeting this weekend.

The beautiful coastal city of Cartagena

For Colombia, the summit offers a great opportunity to show its best face and all the progress it has made since the violence-ravaged 1990s. But, more importantly, the host country also aims to reassert itself as an increasingly influential regional player, ideally placed to bring Latin America and the United States closer together after years of drifting apart.

Colombia, hosting the Summit this year, has a long history of unneeded conflict and unfulfilled promise.

Indeed, Washington's influence in regional affairs is a shadow of what it once was. "Brazil is now Latin America's dominant economic power. Its influence in regional affairs, especially in South America, rivals that of the United States," said a report this month from the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think-tank."

During the event, President Obama's Secret Service advance team disgraced itself when there was a row at the hotel where the President would be staying, because some prostitutes demanded pay from the security personnel. Eleven-twelve (the number keeps changing) Secret Service agents were sent home, the President was embarrassed, the news media found the story the most sellable of anything else happening.

The advance security team of the US Secret Service disgraced itself and a dozen or so agents were sent home early. Their actions embarrassed the US and offended Colombia's efforts to portray itself in the best light.

As the Summit ended, the story ran this way:

A meeting of the heads of state of the Western Hemisphere has ended without a joint declaration. The leaders failed to reach agreement on whether Cuba should attend the next gathering. The US and Canada opposed demands by the Latin American nations to invite Cuba to the next Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama in 2015. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa had boycotted the summit in protest at the lack of an invitation for Cuba.

The pomp and spectacle of the Summit opening did not translate into meaningful conclusions - but on the other hand, didn't set back any particular national relations.

The summit's host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, denied the meeting had been a failure. "Who thought that an agreement would be reached here about the Falklands and Cuba?" he asked, referring to the two subjects which had most divided opinion.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (left), and Colombia's President, Juan Manuel Santos (right)

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez left the summit before its official closing ceremony. Diplomatic sources said she was frustrated that no agreement was reached to include a declaration of support for Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands in the summit's final statement. President Santos said she had bid him goodbye with the "usual friendship and affection". But asked what Ms Fernandez had whispered to him after his opening speech, Mr Santos said: "You forgot to mention the Malvinas", in a reference to his omission of the subject in his remarks.

Besides Cuba's lack of participation in the Summit, and Argentina's disappointment that the country's claim for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands/Malvinas was not given, much of the conference was focused on more mundane, or at least technical, items such as technology and communications sharing, and nurturing the investment climate. The other topic that had generated some heat was the hemisphere's continuing drug trafficking and intra-cartel gang violence. The violence is a huge, and under-reported issue. Over 50,000 people have died in Mexico alone since 2006 from the war on drugs by the Mexican government and the fight for control among various drug cartels over access to the US border and share of the market.

Perhaps a sad commentary that Teatree can only recognize by sight six or seven Western Hemisphere leaders at any given time: President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, Argentine President Fernandez, Brazil President Rousseff, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

So, on we go. Much was on this Summit of the Americas agenda, just about as much remains for the future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The South China Sea

In my last blog, we looked at the hopeful signs found in Burma's by-election. We mentioned that countries in the ASEAN (the very matter of factly named Association of Southeast Asian Nations) gave strong and immediate support for the results and went on the record that sanctions meant to pressure Burma towards democracy should be lifted immediately.

The ASEAN is in the news for other reasons as well, several of which have to do with a piece of geography called the South China sea. So, for some context, ASEAN was established in 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, the original members were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam then joined on 7 January 1984, Viet Nam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999, making up what is today the ten member states.

The 10 member states of ASEAN, with China to the north, Australia to the South, and India to the West.

The ASEAN mission has seven points, with items 2-7 stemming from the first which reads, "To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;"

Today, one of the more immediate challenges is rising from the increasingly assertive claims by China regarding a variety of islets and shoals that are scattered in the South China sea. China has declared an expansive claim to most of the South China sea, which several ASEAN members dispute.

China's claim which ruffles the feathers of many ASEAN nations.

Tonight there is news that The Philippines main naval vessel is engaged in a stand-off with Chinese surveillance ships at a disputed South China Sea shoal. According to the report, The Philippines said its warship tried to arrest Chinese fishermen anchored at the Scarborough Shoal, but was blocked by the two surveillance boats. Both countries dispute the ownership of the shoal, which lies off the Philippines' northwestern coast. The Philippine government said it would "assert sovereignty" over the area. A statement from the county's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the naval vessel, the Gregorio Del Pilar, found eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal when it was patrolling the area on Sunday. Two Chinese surveillance ships then apparently arrived in the area on Tuesday, placing themselves between the warship and the fishing vessels."

The Philippine's flagship naval vessel, the Gregorio Del Pilar.

The confrontation is a the latest in a long series of incidents involving China's fishing fleets and subsequent support from its naval forces. Japan to the north has had several similar incidents in the past two years.

The wariness over Chinese claims amid its neighbors is behind the US Obama administration's recent announcement in December last year that it is bolstering its alliance with Australia by establishing a permanent military base in the northern Australia port city of Darwin.

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The northern port city of Darwin will be the most noticeable site of shifting power in the region, fueled in large part by the tensions in the South China sea.

As the Washington Post stated, then, "Starting next summer, the U.S. will send 250 Marines to bases here for six-month tours, eventually rotating 2,500 troops through the country. President Obama announced the partnership at a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, describing it as a key step in his administration’s evolving emphasis on the Asia Pacific region ... part of a high-profile foreign policy shift toward Asia that is intended as a counterbalance to China’s growing power. ... The United States has grown alarmed by China’s increasingly confrontational stance in the South China Sea, a critical commercial shipping channel that is thought to contain valuable oil and minerals."

US President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announcing a strategic strengthening of military ties

So there we have it. President Obama made it clear this move was not meant to fuel tensions, and emphasized there were many win-win scenarios for all of Asia and its resources. Indonesia, one of the ASEAN nations with little direct exposure to the South China sea expressed its concerns over the US move, that militarization of the region would not be helpful. And of course, the US and VietNam and China (and Laos and Cambodia)were involved in one of the of major and deadly conflicts that reverberates still - the Vietnam War beginning in the early 1960s and lasting for another 12-13 years.

But the resources of the South China sea - gas, oil, minerals - are in play, and the sea is one worth being aware of.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Burma election results bode well

Back in early December, we looked at some positive movements in Burma - namely when Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was given freedom from nearly two decades of house arrest. Since that time she boldly embarked on a round of speeches in the country promoting her vision of a democratic Burma (Republic of Myanmar), and declaring that she would stand for parliamentary office in by-elections to be held in the spring of 2012 to fill 45 vacant seats.

A refresher map - The Republic of Myanmar - population 60 million, primarily a Buddhist country

Those elections have been held - last Sunday - and somewhat stunningly, Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, after contesting 44 of the 45 vacant seats, won 43 out of those 44. Aung San Suu Kyi, indeed, was elected herself and is now headed for the Burmese parliament - reminiscent of the Czech Republic's own Vaclav Havel, who ascended to the Presidency nearly direct from the status of political prisoner.

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Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledging crowds of supporters after her personal election to the Burmese parliament, as well as an overwhelming show of support for her party, the National League of Democracy (NLD)

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Supporters at the NLD headquarters jubilant upon hearing the election results.

As the UK Daily Mail noted at the time, "There was no word from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was formed by the military junta before it ceded power a year ago, or the Election Commission on the outcome of Sunday's ballots. If confirmed, the sweep would mean the NLD even won four seats in the capital, Naypyitaw, a new city built by the former junta where most of the residents are government employees and military personnel, who were expected to back the USDP, the parliament's dominant party."

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Novice Buddhist nuns, either just happy, or very much more politically attuned than similar aged girls in the US

The ruling USDP party is of course, still dominant in Parliament. The governing structure itself - Pyidaungsu Hluttaw - similar to the US Congress is made up of two houses, the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities), a 224-seat upper house as well as the Pyithu Hluttaw, a 440-seat lower house (House of Representatives). So the 43 seats taken by the NLD is not a sea change.

Burma's rather impressive Parliament building housing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

But, the reasonably fair elections, and the quiet acceptance of the results by the governing party (headed by Burma's President Thein Sein) is very positive. His party, the USDP is said to be reviewing its own positions in light of larger parliamentary elections due in 2015. Whatever the positions taken, let's hope that all parties can see that regardless of their own political perspective, it is in everyone's interest to continue on the path for a responsive government and status among the nations as a responsible, thoughtful country in its foreign relations.

Actually Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and President Thein Sein (right) are both working together to remove sanctions against their country

During the past few days, the "fruits" of holding an open and generally acknowledged fair election began to emerge with the news that the US (as well as Australia and the European Union) would be reviewing economic sanctions against the country that have been in place for some time. US Senator John McCain, who had met with Aung San Suu Kyi in January 2012, said “We should now work with our many international partners to begin the process of easing sanctions on Burma. This will be a gradual and incremental process, and the U.S. Congress will have a critical role to play.” The Obama administration announced that it would nominate an ambassador to the country and ease some travel and finance restrictions, without specifying a time table. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “The results of the parliamentary by-elections represents a dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government. This is an important step in the country’s transformation, which in recent months has seen the unprecedented release of political prisoners, new legislation broadening the rights of political and civic association, and fledgling process in internal dialogue between the government and ethnic minority groups."

Leaders of the Southeast Asian trading block and alliance - the ASEAN - including those from Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, have called for the immediate removal of sanctions. Singapore's Prime Minister said the following: "President Thein Sein has been much bolder than many observers have expected. ASEAN is happy that Myanmar has been able to take these steps forward."

ASEAN leaders at a recent summit where Burma direction towards democracy was a hot topic. ASEAN member countries are: Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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ASEAN member countries on a map

So a positive story nestled between the continuing malaise of violence and resort to arms found in Mali, Syria, Sudan's split entities, and Libya.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Falkland Islands

Among the many legacy tensions of the era of the British Empire are a conglomeration of islands just 180 or so miles east of the southern coast of South America. Much of the following is pulled from Wikipedia which summarizes the history of the islands as follows.

The Falkland Islands, population just 3200 or so, 180 miles east of Argentina,and not all that far north of Antartica

Controversy exists over the Falklands' original discovery and subsequent colonization by Europeans. At various times there have been French, British, Spanish, and Argentine settlements. Britain re-established its rule in 1833, but the islands continued to be claimed by Argentina. On April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the islands which resulted in a conflict as Britain countered with a task force which steamed to the islands and retook them after a two month conflict. And today, April 2, 2012, is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict.

Geographically speaking, these islands are an awful long way from UK, which provides its defense, and awfully close to Argentina, who claims the islands are part of its territory

The archipelago comprises East Falkland, West Falkland, and 776 lesser islands. Stanley, the capital and only city, is on East Falkland. The islands are a self-governing British Overseas Territory, with the United Kingdom responsible for its defense and foreign affairs. The population, estimated at 3,140, primarily consists of Falkland Islanders, the majority of British descent. Other ethnicities include French, Gibraltarian, and Scandinavian. Immigration from the United Kingdom, Saint Helena, and Chile has reversed a former population decline. The predominant and official language is English. Under the British Nationality Act of 1983, Falkland Islanders are British citizens. (Note that citizenship was granted after the conflict ...)

Despite its defeat, Argentina still pursues its claim to the islands (called Malvinas by the Argentinians), and on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, the festering sore point is still being noted in both Argentina and Britain.

Protests by Argentinians who consider the Malvinas their own, are relatively frequent these days

Argentina's claim is it inherited its rights to them from Spain, and Argentina has asked for negotiations about sovereignty. The British government says they will not do so without the agreement of the islanders.

Falkland Islanders, who were granted UK citizenship status one year after the 1982 conflict.

A BBC article notes, "London has also accused Buenos Aires of trying to impose an economic blockade on the islanders, after it banned Falklands-flagged ships from docking in its ports, as well as those of other countries which are members of the Mercosur trading block. Argentina has also complained about what it calls British "militarisation" in the south Atlantic, after one of the Royal Navy's newest warships was deployed to the region.

The UK keeps a significant military presence at the islands

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner is expected to visit the southern port of Ushuaia on Monday, to remember the Argentine troops that died. She is expected to lead rallies to commemorate the Argentine dead and light an eternal flame.

Current Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner continues to speak out regarding the country's position that the islands are part and parcel of their territory.

Mr Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, is expected to sound a conciliatory tone by suggesting the anniversary be used to remember the Argentine dead as well as British losses. Though the text of a speech he is expected to give Monday, doesn't sound all that open ... as the words are, "Thirty years ago today the people of the Falkland Islands suffered an act of aggression that sought to rob them of their freedom and their way of life."

He will say: "We are rightly proud of the role Britain played in righting a profound wrong. And the people of the Falkland Islands can be justly proud of the prosperous and secure future they have built for their islands since 1982. Britain remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future. That was the fundamental principle that was at stake 30 years ago: and that is the principle which we solemnly reaffirm today."

30 years ago, it was the UK's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who decisively chose to send a fleet of ships to the islands, thousands of miles away, to dislodge 10,000s of thousands of Argentinian troops who had taken over the island, at the behest of what was then a notorious junta of generals running the country. After short but fierce naval and air battles, the British landed at San Carlos Water on 21 May, and a land campaign followed leading to the British taking the high ground surrounding Stanley on 11 June. The Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June 1982. The war resulted in the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as 3 civilian Falklanders.

A memorial on the island for those killed during the 1982 conflict

After the humiliating defeat of Argentina by the task force from so far away, the military dictatorship, led by Gen Leopoldo Galtieri, collapsed. In the 1983 electoral campaign that followed, the man who would become President, Raúl Alfonsín called for national unity, restoration of democratic rule and prosecution of those responsible for the violence of the previous dictatorship. He established the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) to investigate the forced disappearances. The CONADEP generated a report detailing 340 centers of illegal detentions and 8961 forced disappearances. The 1985 Trial of the Juntas sentenced all the heads of government of those years.

So, what to do, Argentina has progressed in so many ways the past three decades, a much more responsive government with reasonably fair elections, even between parties assuming and relinquishing political control of the government apparatus. Argentina has a market-oriented economy with abundant natural resources, a well-educated population, an export-oriented agricultural sector and a relatively diversified industrial base.

Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital has a population itself of 15 million. The country as a whole has 42 million, has first world health and longevity measures, and is Spanish speaking - probably an issue for Falkland Islanders if they are anglophiles

Its just this pesky island issue. From a geographical standpoint, it sure seems as though the Falklands might be best integrated with South America, its just that the islanders don't want it. The issue is similar to that of Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, as the majority of the population wish to remain British, not become part of the Irish Republic. It is vaguely similar to the island of Taiwan which maintains its sovereignty, though China considers it a wayward province that eventually must be reunited. It is similar too, to the partitioned island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, which has Turkish and Greek populations and a militarized internal border.

Here's to trust-building and tolerance in the face of history and current status - in so many places in the world.