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 "

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Big steps by big players ...

In the past 48 hours, some rather large developments among the world's big players. Agreements large and small regarding nuclear power and climate change, along with a unilateral decision on ocean boundaries. Whether these developments pan out, represent progress or rather a kicking of the can down the road, or even constitute taking steps backward, remain to be seen.

Iran and the Big Six sign "historic" nuclear deal

An early CNN reports, "A historic deal was struck early Sunday between Iran and six world powers over Tehran's nuclear program that freezes the country's nuclear development program in exchange for lifting some sanction while a more formal agreement is worked out. The agreement -- described as an "initial, six-month" deal -- includes "substantial limitations that will help prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a nationally televised address.

The deal, which capped days of marathon talks, addresses Iran's ability to enrich uranium, what to do about its existing enriched uranium stockpiles, the number and potential of its centrifuges and Tehran's "ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium using the Arak reactor," according to a statement released by the White House. Iran also agreed to provide "increased transparency and intrusive monitoring of its nuclear program," it said.

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From the UK Daily Telegraph ...
John Kerry meets with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Iran Nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: JASON REED/AP

The world's media will cover this story repeatedly over the next few days. Let's hope it is meaningful.

UN climate change conference pulls out a fragile agreement

One day ago, the French AFP reports, ""Just in the nick of time, the negotiators in Warsaw delivered enough to keep the process moving," said climate analyst Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute. But climate economist Nicholas Stern warned that "the actions that have been agreed are simply inadequate when compared with the scale and urgency of the risks that the world faces from rising levels of greenhouse gases, and the dangers of irreversible impacts."

Rich and poor nations have been at loggerheads ever since the talks opened on November 11 over who should do what to curb the march of planet warming. In particular, they clashed over sharing responsibility for curbing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, and about funding for vulnerable countries....

Emerging economies like China and India objected to any reference in the Warsaw text to "commitments" that would be equally binding to rich and poor states and failed to consider historical greenhouse gas emissions. Developing nations, their growth largely powered by fossil fuel combustion, blame the West's long emissions history for the peril facing the planet, and insist their wealthier counterparts carry a larger responsibility to fix the problem. The West, though, insists emerging economies must do their fair share, given that China is now the world's biggest emitter of CO2, with India in fourth place after the United States and Europe."

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From the UN news centre, "Ban Ki-moon addresses UN climate change conference in Warsaw, urging negotiators to rise to the challenge and pave the way to a binding climate deal by 2015. UN Photo/Evan Schneider"

China defines its new Pacific Ocean defense zone

From Pakistan's International News, we read, "The Chinese Defence Ministry on Saturday issued a map of an East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone that includes a chain of disputed islands also claimed by Japan, triggering a protest from Tokyo. Beijing also issued a set of rules for the zone, saying all aircraft must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing. It said it would “identify, monitor, control and react” to any air threats or unidentified flying objects coming from the sea. The rules went into effect on Saturday.

In Tokyo, Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, protested by phone to Chinas acting ambassador to Japan, Han Zhiqiang, saying the zone is “totally unacceptable,” according to a ministry statement. Ihara also criticised China for “one-sidedly” setting up the zone and escalating bilateral tensions over the islands. Both Beijing and Tokyo claim the islets, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Protests erupted throughout China last year to denounce the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands from private ownership."

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From the BBC, a graphic showing the new China defense line ...

Teatree notes that this zone in the East China Sea is not referring to Chinese claims in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and Vietnam and others are resisting Chinese claims. And to top off THAT area, it didn't help tensions when China initially offered less aid to The Philippines regarding the typhoon, than did the Swedish store business, Ikea.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Maldives, where is it, and who was elected

Not a great deal of earth-shaking news this week: Syria continues its deadly internal conflict with international proxies and extremist groups backing various factions; Iran and the West continue to negotiate over nuclear development in that country; the Philippines continues to struggle with the aftermath of the super typhoon which hit its islands so hard.

So, repeatedly in the news was an election drama in the small country of Maldives. It might be time to check in on this land.

First, where is it?

Maldives is a collection of islands off the SW coast of India. Map from

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The collection of islands in count is nearly 1200 such protrusions out of the Indian Ocean, with a double chain of 26 atolls as the major framework. The population is just under 329,000, which makes it similar in numbers to Iceland, though much less than the least populated state in the US - Wyoming with its 576,000 citizens. Map from

A Mr. Abdulla Yameen was sworn in as 6th President of Republic of Maldives, one day after he defeated former President Mohamed Nasheed in the presidential runoff election. However, there was apparently high drama over the past months, as the Times of India reports, "Abdulla Yameen was sworn in as the new president of the Maldives on Sunday after a shock run-off victory over favourite Mohamed Nasheed, ending nearly two years of political turmoil that plagued the nascent democracy and raised international concerns over the country's future. Yameen, the half-brother of former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was sworn in as the 6th president of the Maldives by Chief Justice Ahmad Faiz at a special session of the Parliament ..."

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President Yameen at swearing-in ceremony conducted by Chief Justice Faiz. From various reports, Yameen, 54, an economist and a candidate of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) won the runoff with over 92% of the population voting. Photo from

The article goes on, "Maldives has witnessed political turmoil since 46-year-old Nasheed resigned under duress in February 2012 in a controversial transfer of power. Nasheed conceded defeat in Saturday's run-off after a bitterly fought battle and said he was pleased that the country finally had a democratically elected leader."

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Ex-President Nasheed, who leads the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) votes here in an apparent happy state (Teatree assumes, with his wife) in a losing effort during the runoff. Photo from the Washington Post

Again from the Times of India, "The Maldives had failed to elect a president in three attempts since September, raising concerns in the international community that the fledgling democracy may slip back to authoritarian rule. The international community led by the US and India had called for the democratic process to be resumed. The Commonwealth, European Union and the US had called for democratic process to be observed.

In the first round of elections held in September, Nasheed led over Yameen and Jumhooree Party candidate Gasim Ibrahim but failed to secure a more than 50 per cent of the votes. But before a run-off could be held, the results were annulled by the supreme court which cited irregularities in the voters' list. A second attempt to hold the polls on October 19 was thwarted by police after another Supreme Court ruling.

The re-vote finally took place on November 9 and Nasheed again comfortably led in the first round but could not cross the half-way mark, resulting in Saturday's run-off with Yameen. The Commonwealth on Thursday suspended the Maldives from the Commonwealth ministerial action group (CMAG), a first step towards expulsion from the 53-member organization for failing to uphold its shared democratic values. However, following the inauguration of Maldives' new president Yamin, the CMAG removed the country from its formal agenda."

President Yameen immediately stated that the major goal for the country was to secure political stability, then seek to restore an economy that had been shaken by the past year of unrest.

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Male, the capital of Maldives, holds about 1/3 of the total population, was once known as the King's Island, (and looks unreal to Teatree). Photo from

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Heavily oriented to tourism, this resort also looks amazing and unreal. Photo from

Issues everywhere.

While Maldives works on rebuilding its image, a recent hubbub implies many matters to deal with. "A newly wed Sikh couple from UK recently went to Maldives for vacation. Upon arrival they discovered Maldives had a policy against the Kirpan. The couple were very distressed as their Kirpans were seized from them by Airport Security. The security informed the couple that Maldives is an Islamic country and serious violations of local laws may lead to a prison sentence. Public observance of any other religion other than Islam is prohibited, including materials deemed contrary to Islam. The security officials referred to the Sikh Kirpan as part of what they considered to be “idols for worship."

This picture shows the geography of islands sprinkled within the national boundaries. Photo from

What is a Kirpan?

This is a kirpan, worn by baptized Sikhs. Photo from (Teatree thinks Maldive security might have a case ...)

Western bikinis are apparently not religious

Photo from

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pakistan and Afghanistan linked by latest militant death

While the devastating cyclone that ravaged The Philippines was appropriately the focus of media coverage, a pair of deaths in Pakistan this past week highlighted one of the most enduring and foreboding global trouble-spots.

In Pakistan, a US drone strike on November 1, killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a compound in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal district. According to an AFP news article, "The death of its young, energetic leader represents a major setback for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a coalition of factions behind some of the most high-profile attacks to hit Pakistan in recent years."

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The recently deceased Hakimulla Mehsud who had been under a US$5 million dollar bounty) - photo from the Voice of America new agency

Mehsud was the head of the ultra-extremist Taliban coalition, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The killing angered Pakistan officials who had hoped to begin peace talks with this group. And in quick response, the TTP leadership selected an even more extreme replacement, Mullah Fazlullah. There apparently was some resistance among the 40-plus governing council members to the choice, but that is likely to be expected in a fractious, murderous coalition of men who wish not only to themselves live in the 12th century but impose their vision on the rest of us.

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The new TTP commander, Mullah Fazlullah, is the notorious leader of the men who shot teenage activist Malala Yousafzai last year -

With that death and aftermath past, another Islamic fundamentalist leader, Nasiruddin Haqqani, was killed in Pakistan in the past few days. This time, it was not a lethal drone strike from the air, but from a gunman on a motorcycle in the town of Islamabad itself, Pakistan's capital. Haqqani had close ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and his faction, the Haqqani network, is considered by the International Security Forces there one of most formidable foes in that country.

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Nothing new here, a list of competing extremist factions in Afghanistan - graphic from wikipedia

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Much more difficult to find are graphics showing just how little or much control there is in Pakistan by the government or extremists - map from

Questions are being posed:

What was Haqqani doing in Islamabad?

Just as Pakistan was embarrassed when Osama bin laden was found hiding within a mile of Pakistan's foremost military academy, the Haqqani killing in the capital city has raised again the accusations that Pakistan's armed forces and intelligence services are severely compromised with the presence of extremists and mixed loyalties.

Is this killing a precursor of conflict within the broader extremist coalition?

Apparently, relations between the Haqqani network and the TTP have been never been close, and most recent increasingly tense. Furthermore, an article in the Christian Science Monitor noted, "Just last week, The New York Times reported on emerging fractures in the Haqqani network at home in Afghanistan.
…[M]urmurs of discontent have broken out on the Haqqanis’ home turf. As the Haqqanis themselves — Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin, his son, who now leads the group — shelter across the border in Pakistan, support has turned to resentment in some corners.
Most startlingly, leaders of Mr. Haqqani’s native Zadran tribe in Khost Province say they have formally broken with the feared militant network. “The tribe now understands who Mr. Haqqani works for,” said Faisal Rahim, a former Haqqani commander and head of the Zadran Tribal Council, referring to Pakistan’s support for the network. “His war is not a holy war. It’s a war for dollars, for Pakistani rupees and for power.”

And now a book ban?

To conclude the disturbing set of events, a book written by Malala Yousafzai, the 14-yr old girl shot for attending school, has been banned in Pakistan. From the UK Daily mail, "Education officials in Pakistan have banned the memoir of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot by the Taliban, from 40,000 schools as she 'represents the West'.

I Am Malala - apparently a troubling book that is dangerous to read, according the Pakistan's education establishment.

Adeeb Javedani, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, said his group had banned the book from the libraries of all affiliated schools. He said Malala, 16, was representing the West, not Pakistan."

So, it is possible that the recent drone strike and the more recent assassination of Haqqani is ushering in a more open inter-faction conflict, as well as a more extremist ideology (if that is possible). All of this is occurring within Pakistan which possesses nuclear weapons, even as ISAF forces in Afghanistan prepare to leave by the end of 2014. Pakistan, based on a prominent education official's decision on a book, also faces continued challenges to what sort of society it wishes to build ...

Not a particularly positive trajectory...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Some hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Teatree last posted on the DRC nearly two years ago - 11/27/11 - which by and large remains a troubled, anarchic nation-state, at least in much of the east of this huge African country (2/3rds the size of Western Europe and 1/3the size of the US) with a population of 75 million.

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The DRC compared to Western Europe - graphic from the BBC

The DRC compared to the US - graphic from

The news this week is that the nation's military supported by UN forces have beaten the main rebel group in the east of the country, the M23, in a series of battles, now taking all towns once controlled the group. The M23, in turn, have offered a cease-fire.

In a recent BBC article, "Last Monday the UN special envoy to DR Congo, Martin Kobler, said the group was all but finished as a military threat in DR Congo. His comments came after government forces captured five rebel-held areas, including one where the rebels had a big military training camp. ... The government forces have been backed by a UN intervention brigade deployed earlier this year to confront the M23 and other armed groups.

The rebels briefly occupied the eastern Congolese city of Goma in November 2012 before pulling out under international pressure. The M23 rebel movement is named after a 23 March 2009 peace deal that ended four years of rebellion in eastern DR Congo."

So we shall see whether there has finally been a significant breakthrough of this most recent flareup of conflict in the rich country. The current rebel group is only the latest of a string of separatists in the long running war which, since 1998 has resulted in nearly 5.5 million deaths. The conflict itself is a consequence of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that ended with nearly 1 million killed in a three month period.

For a sorry look back on the tragedy of this country, read DR Congo: Cursed by its natural wealth at

The presence of a UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)was a first for the international agency that usually does not receive authority to enter into offensive operations. According to an article at, "The FIB is the first UN peacekeeping force to ever be given an offensive mandate. It is under the command of Tanzanian Brigadier James Mwakibolwa and the more than 3000 strong brigade is made up of soldiers from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania."

A few pictures of this land and its people in the heart of Africa ...

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Beautiful terraced land is testimony to the small landowner diligently at work, and the roads a testimony to the lack of investment in infrastructure. Photo from which is a Care website with lots of pictures of its own ...

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Women in their colorful wraps - a French speaking country, with lots of tribal languages(though one wonders why these words are in English ...). Over 800,000 Congolese are internally displaced in the east of the country, with entrenched poverty, ever-present sickness, and insecurity the unfortunate consequences. Photo from

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As so often, lots of small groups quietly working at local improvement. Photo from

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Such richness, beauty, isolation, and potential! Photo from