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 "

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Islamic extremist attacks in Africa bookend the past week

First, there was the horrific attack in Kenya's capital city on Saturday, September 21. A shopping mall targeted by al-Shabaab extremists, the carnage ending four days later with nearly 70 dead and 200 wounded. The coverage was extensive in the world press highlighting Kenya's visibility as the economic hub of East Africa. What also stood out in the attack is that while al-Shabaab took credit for the bloodshed, they had recruited ideologues from many countries, including the West.

Eight days later, Sunday, September 29, another Islamic extremist group, the notorious Boko Haram (fluidly meaning "Western education forbidden") attacked a college in Nigeria's troubled northeast state of Yobe, killing at least 50 students, many in their sleep. In this instance, the coverage will likely be much briefer and certainly less intense.

At the risk of sounding like a drum once again, the common thread, in Teatree's opinion, is the vigorous, violent religious-directed action of Islamic fundamentalists. It seems like many years ago (in the 1990s) that the world heard a host of excuses for the first attacks on Western targets - "it is what happens when the West ignores the plight of the poor, it is because of the West's oppression of the rest of the world, it is the presence of Israel and its occupation of Palestine," etc. Over time, with fellow Muslims taking the brunt of the bloodshed, these rationales have fallen away. What remains is an extremist vision of utopia - Sharia law - and the use of force to achieve it, and an equally bewildering hesitance in so much of the world to focus on it clearly.

Westgate shopping mall, Nairobi, Kenya

The attack of the Westgate mall was horrific, though what stands out most in Teatree's mind is the incredible acts of bravery by outmatched police and volunteers to lead individuals out of harms way through the corridors of the mall itself. Muslim, Christian, Hindi, others all helping each other. There is something so powerful to witness bravery in action, then and there, when so much is on the line.

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Rescue efforts broke past racial space, and human bonds emphasized. Photo from by Amanda Sakuma

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Photo from Yahoo news, by Jason Straziuso

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We've learned that this individual in the police force is a Muslim who is credited with many acts of bravery and compassion. Photo from nydaily news by Philip Caulfield

Photo from terrorfreesomalia.blogspot by rahm Warsame

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Likewise, outgunned plainsclothes police and detectives - all races - worked together in the fluid situation.

Later, there always plenty of stories and analysis, much true, much simply repeating stereotypes. The New York Times captured one thought well - that while Kenya showcases much of what is modern, its depth of security is overstated. While the "wananchi" shown, there remains the spectacle of rivalry between police and security forces. And all that overshadowed by the spectacle of Kenya's President and Vice President both facing charges over their influence in violence during the 2007 elections when 1,200 people died and more than 500,000 were uprooted from their homes.

College of Agriculture, Yobe state, Nigeria.

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The northeast provinces of Nigeria have for more than a decade been battered by a series of Islamic extremist attacks, the local Boko Haram demanding a state of their own, framed in Sharia law. This latest incident was in the state of Yobe. Graphic from

In the comparatively sparse reports on Sunday's attack, up to 50 mainly male students at a local college were killed in their sleep by West Africa's premiere jihadists. Very few if any pictures have turned up yet - a testimony to the difficulty of media to get to these sites, and perhaps not the urgency ... As we read in, "Residents believe the attack has the imprimatur of the extremist Boko Haram sect which has in the past three years slaughtered thousands of innocent Nigerians in attacks on schools, places of worship, media establishments and security installations.

Academic activities only resumed last week in schools across Yobe state following 10 weeks of closure after the brazen attack by members of the violent sect on two secondary schools, which led to the death of 29 students and three teachers. The state government ordered the closure of all schools in the northeastern state after the attack by members of the sect on Government Secondary School, Mamudo. But Government Secondary School, Mamudo, remained closed for another two weeks for the conclusion of ongoing reconstruction work in the school, the state Commissioner of Education, Mohammed Lamin said.

The Boko Haram sect had on Wednesday and Thursday murdered at least 27 persons in two separate attacks in the border towns of Borno State, government officials and security sources said. ..."

July 6, 2013, 30 killed in a Boko Haram attack on Mamudo Secondary School

In the latest AP report, "The extremists rode into the college in two double-cabin pickup all-terrain vehicles and on motorcycles, some dressed in Nigerian military camouflage uniforms, a surviving student, Ibrahim Mohammed, told the AP. He said they appeared to know the layout of the college, attacking the four male hostels but avoiding the one hostel reserved for women. "We ran into the bush, nobody is left in the school now," Mohammed said. Almost all those killed were Muslims, as is the college's student body, Usman said.

Much was made over al-Shabaab gunmen in the Kenya attack asking people if they were Muslim or not, and if so, they could flee. Yet in this tragedy in Nigeria, with no westerners around, Muslims were given no pass, rather were focused targets to make the extremists point (men, not women - who will find their rightful place later). And in fact, while western victims provoke a large international outcry and coverage, it has been the Muslim populations around the trouble-spots of the world who have borne the brunt of Islamic extremists.

As with Kenya, secondary reports just now starting to filter in include some disturbing news of a system out of whack. The necessary investment and discipline in providing security is simply not reliable or sufficient. In this case, the Nigerian government had promised police protection for schools if they would reopen after the July attacks. While the schools did, apparently the police protection did not come through, at least at this school.

In any case, it seems to Teatree that a struggle for Islam itself is underway - it is the central question underlying both the visible attacks on westerners and on the more frequent and less covered attacks on fellow believers of Allah. From recurring unrest in Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and even Sudan itself, the internal struggle rages on this continent, and on into the Middle East.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sri Lanka's Tamils bolster presence with election win

In searching through an unusually bleak variety of news items this week, an election in Sri Lanka emerged as a bit of good news.

Sri Lanka is that little teardrop of an island, once known as Ceylon, off the the southern tip of India. Its recent history during the past three decades has been one of a civil war between the nation's Tamil people minority and a Sinhalese majority. The civil war came to an abrupt end in 2009 with a collapse of the Tamil forces and a complete victory of the Sri Lankan military.

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Sri Lanka, an island nation of nearly 21 million people, with beautiful beaches, mountainous terrain that supports a tea sector, and the scene of a tragic civil war for 30 years pitting the two largest population groups against each other. map is from Encyclopaedia Britannica used at

A recent provincial election (the first since the war's conclusion) resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The first words from the leader of the party, TNA leader R. Sampanthan, were conciliatory, saying "his party is ready to participate in the Parliament Select Committee appointed to resolve the national issue if the government agrees to a meaningful measure to devolve power." At the same time, addressing a media briefing in Colombo, Sri Lanka's Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is in charge of the development in the war-torn North, said the government is willing to work together with the TNA within the framework of the Constitution. "Minister Rajapaksa stressed that now the TNA has received the power they have responsibility to fulfill the needs of the Tamil people. He expressed hope that the Tamil party would not lead the northern people to another separatist struggle."

Tamil National Alliance leader, R. Sampanthan, now has a political platform from which to negotiate with the national government. Photo from

Sri Lankan Economic Development Minister Basil Rajakaksa, has been overseeing the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, and was the first to respond on behalf of the national government to the victory of the TNA in the northern provincial elections. Photo from

A quick summary. The defeated Tamil people, concentrated in the north of the country, have a stronger more unified voice now, and want their elected leader to pursue a policy of greater autonomy for the "distinct Tamil people" in their historical lands. The Sri Lankan government, overseeing the victory over armed separatists four years ago, also want to move forward in a positive fashion - one thinks that elections themselves is a step forward.

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The rusting hulk of this tank (personnel carrier, etc.?) along Sri Lanka's northeast coastline is a reminder of the recent civil war, and the continuing efforts of the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples to find a different path this time. Photo from

As Teatree thinks about it, there are some similarities between this story and the previous post about the Philippines where separatists have moved to seek autonomy in practical aspects of government, in spite of sporadic outbreaks of violence. The temptation of advancing a cause through violence.

One also thinks back to the Muslim Brotherhood winning elections in Egypt within a year of the former Egyptian President Mubarak's loss of power, and how quickly the new President Morsi attempted to move beyond constitutional limits by issuing decrees, etc. So many ways to instigate violence and further instability rather than carefully treading a path that avoids them.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Philippine's long running conflict flares again ...

The Philippines, located in the South China Sea, has a population of over 98 million.

The Philippines (officially The Republic of the Philippines) made the news this week due to a flareup of violence between one faction of an Islamic separatist movement and the national government. The conflict comes, unfortunately, at a time when there has been a recent agreement between the state and the main Muslim separatist group in the South which is set to bring greater autonomy to southern lands.

The most recent incident is apparently a local faction at work, but it has its roots in a long history of unrest that is complex, to say the least. Insurgencies in the Philippines have run for decades - government oppression and corruption to varying degrees over the past 50 years, communist influences, a rise in Islamic militancy - have all intertwined and morphed with various alliances, understandings, and support from a variety of other nations and ideologies. A short history of these streams of insurgencies can be found at

The long running Muslim separatist movements are in the South.

An article in the New York Times captures the essence along with the context,

"In August 2011, President Benigno S. Aquino III flew secretly to Tokyo to meet with the leader of the Philippines’ largest Muslim separatist group. The meeting, with the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, led to a landmark October 2012 framework agreement for peace. But in the year since, Mr. Aquino has received a rough reminder that the quest for peace in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, one that goes back more than a century, remains as difficult as ever.

The most recent fighting, in Zamboanga, began last Monday when several hundred armed members of the Moro National Liberation Front, a rebel group that was not included in the 2012 peace deal, entered the port city by sea and, the police said, declared an independent Islamic state. Under attack by police and the army, the rebels took hostages and retreated to the poor Muslim areas outside the city, where on Sunday they were fighting house to house with the security forces. Officials said that nearly 100 rebels had been killed or captured, and that many had cast off their military fatigues in an effort to blend into the civilian population. Over all, more than 50 people have been killed, and nearly 70,000 displaced, in the battles during the past week between the military and the rebels, officials said."

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The 2012 agreement with the MILF granting greater autonomy to the southern islands remains in place, and the current conflict is isolated to some degree with one faction (MNLF) who did not sign the plan.

Unless the reader wants to get deep into the weeds, perhaps it is just as useful to consider the challenges that face this nation. The most unique aspect of the country is its geography. North to south, the length of the country is about 1000 miles (1609 km), which in the US is similar to Chicago to New Orleans. But the Republic consists of 7100 islands, only 154 of which are over 5 square miles, and if all the landbase could be compressed into a square it would be similar in size to Arizona. The two largest islands, Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south, comprise about 65 percent of the total land area of the archipelago. Info from And to emphasize the diversity that island legacy brings, Wikipedia notes, "According to the 2000 census, 28.1% of Filipinos are Tagalog, 13.1% Cebuano, 9% Ilocano, 7.6% Bisaya/Binisaya, 7.5% Hiligaynon, 6% Bikol, 3.4% Waray, and 25.3% as "others""

Let's hope that the government can continue to honor the agreements it has made, and that the Muslim movements in the South adhere to the spirit and letter as well.

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Article and photo in the NY Times, showing the despair of an individual "in Zamboanga City on Thursday as a standoff between rebels and the Philippine military continued ..."

The Philippines has many challenges on its plate. The country, along with a number of Southeast Asian nations, is challenging China's claims to expanded jurisdiction over the region's seas - and there have been confrontations. With over 7100 islands, international recognition of the the Philippines claim to the seas and waters around its lands is crucial for a peaceful Southeast Asian future.

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Map showing the Philippine's claimed (and recognized) zones of economic sovereignty regarding its territorial seas. from wikimedia

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kenya MPs agree to legislate a withdrawal from the International Criminal Court

Last week, Kenya's lawmakers agreed to draft a bill that would withdraw the country from membership in the international criminal court, situated in The Hague, Netherlands.

The motion was approved by the allies and party of the country's current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who is scheduled to face trial in that court by the end of the year for crimes against humanity based on, as the BBC describes it, "the disputed elections in 2007, in which more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 forced from their homes."

Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo from the BBC

His Deputy President William Ruto is also being tried. Both winners of the most recent Kenyan presidential election have combined their supporters into a "Rainbow Coalition" in the current Parliament.

The article continues, "MPs from the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, walked out of the debate, calling the motion "capricious" and "ill-considered". Kenya's withdrawal would not bring "honour to the nation and dignity to our leaders", Cord said in a statement. "Kenya cannot exist outside the realm of international law," it said."

This would be the first country to withdraw its ratified support for the ICC.

Still this is not Kenya on its own.

The BBC article goes on, "In May, the African Union accused the ICC of "hunting" Africans because of their race. The ICC strongly denies this, saying it is fighting for the rights of the African victims of atrocities. The ICC was set up in 2002 to deal with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The court has been ratified by 122 countries, including 34 in Africa.

It is even more ironic that the ICC's Chief Prosecutor is Fatou Bensouda, from The Gambia who took over the position after the first prosecutor had served a 9 year term. According to other accounts, in 2011, the African Union strongly supported and lobbied for Ms Bensouda, hoping for a more evidently fairer to wider selection of cases to pursue.

New ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Photo from the BBC

So this is all rather murky, and certainly under-reported. - a news service - has plenty of details on the case. Noting that President Kenyatta has asked for postponements 4 times, requested a change of venue from The Hague, and in some ways, his legal counsel seems to be turning the protocols inside-out to avoid or postpone the proceedings.

The Washington Post did run an editorial back in May, 2013, noting the following. "Almost 15 years ago, delegates from more than 100 countries gathered in a crowded conference room in Rome, cheering, chanting and even shedding a few tears. After weeks of tense negotiations, they had drafted a charter for a permanent court tasked with prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes around the world.

Kofi Annan, then U.N. secretary general, cast the new International Criminal Court in epochal terms: “Until now, when powerful men committed crimes against humanity, they knew that so long as they remained powerful, no earthly court could judge them.” That earthly court is now rooted. Its glassy headquarters on the outskirts of the Hague houses more than 1,000 lawyers, investigators and staff members from dozens of countries. Judges hail from all regions of the world.

But for an institution with a global mission and an international staff, its focus has been very specific: After more than a decade, all eight investigations the court has opened have been in Africa. All the individuals indicted by the court — more than two dozen — have been African. Annan’s proclamation notwithstanding, some very powerful people in other parts of the world have avoided investigation."

So while the case of Kenya's President and his Deputy likely has strong merits, there is certainly some uneasiness over the broader history of this court. On the other hand, the ICC is not at all shy of describing the cases before it at the institution's website,

The Washington post article goes on,

"Great-power politics are the key here. China has a veto over Security Council action and wants the court to stay well away from North Korea, for instance. Russia will not permit an ICC investigation in Syria. And when violence in Iraq was at its most intense, the United States would have blocked any move to give the court jurisdiction there. A stray comment by an Iraqi minister in 2005 suggesting that the country might join the ICC produced nervous phone calls from U.S. diplomats. They got the assurances they wanted: Baghdad would not become a member.

Much of the responsibility for the court’s skewed caseload therefore falls outside the institution — but not all. The court has chosen not to open several non-African investigations that it could have taken on. As a senior Rwandan official has argued: “There is not a single case at the ICC that does not deserve to be there. But there are many cases that belong there, that aren’t there.”

Afghanistan is the most glaring example. Thousands of civilians have been killed in that country since the court began operating, most by the Taliban and other extremist forces but also by NATO troops and aircraft. The court has not moved to investigate. The ICC also stayed out of the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, which produced thousands of deaths and injuries and well-documented war crimes. It has not opened a full investigation of rebel and paramilitary violence in Colombia. The prosecutor’s office has moved extremely cautiously on accusations against Israel by the Palestinians, who attempted to give the court jurisdiction in 2009.

Still fragile, the ICC has no desire to provoke Washington, Beijing or Moscow. A full-blown confrontation with a major power could threaten the court in ways that tussles with Sudan and Kenya do not. It’s not so much that the court is biased against Africa as that it is reluctant to meddle in cases in which the geopolitics are intense. But the result is the same: stricter justice for one part of the world."

Yet again

Teatree remains unclear about the ICC focusing only on African cases. How separate is the ICC from an international war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia, the ICTY - also based in the Hague - that prosecuted several leaders of the Balkans War. A lot of careful stepping and avoidance of snap judgements is probably needed.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Baltic Sea Anomaly

Teatree enjoyed an unusual dinner last night, ending up talking with a German man who spent his early traumatic childhood in Prussia, emigrating to the US after WWII at the age of 9-10 with some of his family. That journey is a story all by itself. And Prussia? Who's heard of that?

Prussia was a loosely affiliated German province stemming from control of the area by the Teutonic Order from the 13th century on. The original inhabitants were Baltic Prusi ... After WW1, part of the Prussian territory became Lithuanian, some went to Poland, and some staying in German jurisdiction. After WW2, the war-torn lands of Prussia were divided between Russia itself, with portions handed to the Soviet states of Lithuania, Poland, and the Ukraine. After 6 centuries, Prussia per se existed no more.

Prussia in "ancient" days from the 13th century to 1805 Graphic from

Diminished Prussia after defeat by Napolean after 1808 Graphic from

The remains of Prussia after World War 1. Graphic from

The disappearance of Prussia, and the new exclave of Russia after WWII. And after 1991 surrounded by pro-Western nations. Graphic from

It was interesting to talk with someone whose homeland had officially disappeared, though the villages and land remains ... Another dinner partner was a Russian woman who had lived in Kazakhstan before the breakup of the Soviet Union, but she and her husband found themselves without a welcoming home after Kazakhstan became independent. They were not welcome either in Russia (where they had never lived even though ethnically that was their ancestral home).

These individuals both however had found a new home and citizenship in the US. For Teatree, a rather startling closeup encounter with the concept of fragile belonging or exile.

The Kaliningrad Oblast

Beyond these individual stories, today there remains an isolated territory of Russia around the town of Kalingrad, once known as Konigsberg in East Prussia. When the Soviet empire dissolved in 1991, this territory (which had been established after WW2 to provide Russia with a relatively ice free port on the Baltic Sea running through its "allies") now found itself surrounded by newly independent Baltic nations and Poland - all enthusiastically orienting themselves to Western Europe, as well as East Germany being re-united with its Western counterpart.

Sad? It depends ...

From, we read, "Russia's smallest oblast (region) of Kaliningrad is an exclave located 200 miles away from the border of Russia proper. Kaliningrad was a spoil of World War II, allocated from Germany to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference that divided Europe between the allied powers in 1945. The oblast is a wedge-shaped piece of land along the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania, approximately one-half the size of Belgium, ... The oblast's primary and port city is also known as Kaliningrad."

The isolated oblast of Russia today, called Kaliningrad. Graphic from

At one time during the cold war decades, this Russian enclave was home to nearly 500,000 soviet forces - today there are around 25,000. Here are a few more factoids of this region's history ... "The philosopher Immanuel Kant was born in Konigsberg in 1724. The capital of German East Prussia, Konigsberg was the home to a grand Prussian Royal Castle, destroyed along with much of the city in World War II. Konigsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after Mikhail Kalinin, formal "leader" of the Soviet Union from 1919 until 1946. At the time, Germans living in the oblast were forced out, to be replaced with Soviet citizens."

From wikipedia, we read, "In 1996, Kaliningrad was designated a Special Economic Zone. Manufacturers based there get tax and customs duty breaks on the goods they send back to Russia. Although corruption was an early deterrent, that policy means the region is now a manufacturing hub. One in three televisions in Russia is made in Kaliningrad ... and it is home to Cadillac, Hummer and BMW related car plants... Moscow has declared it will turn the region into "the Russian Hong Kong."

The European Commission provides funds for business projects under its special programme for Kaliningrad. The region has begun to see increasing trade with the countries of the EU as well as increasing economic growth and rising industrial output. With an average GDP growth of more than 10% per year for three years to 2007, Kaliningrad is growing faster than any other region in Russia, even outstripping the success of its EU neighbours.

So a few pictures of Kaliningrad - the region and its capital city.

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Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia - population just under 1 million, 94% of which are "newcomers" - Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians, with virtually no Lithuanians, Germans or Poles.

The capital city, Kaliningrad Photo from

A Russian Orthodox church in the Oblast, photo taken from

Arts and crafts attract folks everywhere ... photo from

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This picture made the news a week or so ago, when a giant Russian military hovercraft landed near a crowded beach - everyone seemed to take it in stride. Photo from One can see the craft land on youtube ...