Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Week in Separatist News, Feb. 12-18, 2012


100 Tuaregs Executed in Mali.  Media are quoting France’s Minister of French Cooperation, Henri de Raincourt, as reporting that over a hundred Tuareg separatists were executed by Mali’s military in Aguelhok, in the northern Azawad region, which is trying to establish a separate Tuareg republic.  “We’re talking about 100 people who were captured and executed in cold blood,” Raincourt said after returning from a fact-finding mission in Mali.  “The execution method was similar to those used by al-Qaeda.  Some had their throats cut, others were killed by shots to the head—barbaric methods.”  (See my recent blog post on the Tuareg rebellion.)

President Wade Campaigns in Casamance.  The octogenarian president of SenegalAbdoulaye Wade—who has been dogged by legal disputes and a popular uprising over his plans to run for a third term this year—took his re-election campaign to the secessionist Casamance region this week.  He offered the southern separatists a new three-point peace plan he calls DDP: “disarmament, demining, and projects.”  Casamance’s decades-old civil war erupted into violence again late last year, and four soldiers were killed by rebels there on Feb. 13.  Before his election in 2000, Wade promised to end the conflict within a hundred days.  (Casamance and other north–south splits in Africa’s larger Sahel region were discussed earlier this month in this blog.)

President Abdoulaye Wade with Paris Hilton

Kenyan Leader Reaches Out to Mombasa Rebels.  The president of KenyaRaila Odinga, visited Kwale in Coast province on Feb. 12th to try to reach out to the banned Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), which wants the province to secede from Kenya.  The MRC argues that the provincial capital, Mombasa—where Muslim and Arab influences are stronger than elsewhere in the country—was originally part of the Sultanate of Zanzibar and was attached to Kenya illegitimately.  (Zanzibar, to the south, was one of two colonies, the other being Tanganyika, that merged after independence as the United Republic of Tanzania, in 1964.)  Previously, the Kenyan government had tried to link the MRC to Al-Qaeda.

Ethopia’s Ogaden Turn to International Court.  The Ogaden Somali Community in Ethiopia filed a complaint against the Ethiopian government with the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) at its offices in South Africa.  The complaint sites displacement of communities, confiscation of livestock, and unlawful imprisonment and torture of civilians.  The Somali-speaking Ogaden people inhabit a large desert area including part of the Somalia–Ethiopia border.  Somalia, which included Ogaden while it was a colony of Italy, tried to retake the territory in the late 1970s but lost to an Ethiopian military backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba.  Today the Ogaden National Liberation Front is trying to secure independence for the territory or attach it to the Republic of Somalia.  Ethiopia is not a signatory to the I.C.C., so the Ogaden complaint, even if taken up, may have little effect.  (See my recent blog post on Ethiopia’s separatist divisions.)

South Sudan Accuses North of Bombing Border Town.  The two Sudans seemed to inch closer to open war, with peace talks breaking down and, on Feb. 14th, the Republic of South Sudan accusing the Republic of Sudan of bombing Jau, a town in the disputed border region of South Kordofan and site of a massacre in December 2011.  The Republic of South Sudan seceded from the Republic of Sudan in July 2011, with international blessing, but with the status of several border provinces left undefined.

Bodies Wash Ashore in Somaliland.  Twenty-four badly decomposed corpses and seven miserable apparent shipwreck survivors washed ashore on a beach in the Sanaag region of Somaliland this week, apparently after trying to seek refuge in Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.  The Republic of Somaliland is a de facto independent parliamentary democracy administering what the rest of the world calls the northwestern arm of the “failed state” of the Republic of Somalia.  The beach where the bodies washed ashore is in a self-governing but ideologically pro-Somalia-unionist clan fiefdom called the Sool, Sanaag, and Cyn State of Somalia, comprising parts of eastern Somaliland and parts of western Puntland, another de facto independent republic.  The discovery of the bodies came as Somaliland delegates began departing for a London conference on the decades-old Somalia crisis.  The delegates’ claim that their unrecognized state is a model of stability amidst the Horn of Africa’s chaos may be complicated by the apparent willingness of some of its citizens to flee in makeshift boats through pirate-infested, storm-tossed seas for better opportunities in a war-torn dictatorship.  Initial Somaliland reports say the dead were “Somali”—possibly meaning from Somalia proper rather than Somaliland—but this has not been clarified.

Puntland’s President Pledges Unity.  First reports of a meeting in Puntland of leaders from different parts of the formerly unified Republic of Somalia are quoting the president of the de facto independent Puntland State of Somalia, Abdirahman Mohamud Farole, as saying that Somalis need to set aside differences and work toward establishing a strong and democratic Somalia.  This represents a note of optimism, ahead of Thursday’s conference on Somalia in London, that Puntland may try to reenter the fold of a Mogadishu-based government.

Ghanaians Threaten Secession over Gas Project.  The Bonyere Citizens Association, representing a town in extreme southwestern Ghana, have reacted to news that a planned gas processing plant, Ghana’s first, may be built not in Bonyere but in a nearby town by threatening to secede from Ghana and join nearby Côte d’Ivoire (a.k.a. Ivory Coast).  Both Bonyere and the other town, Atuabo, are dominated by the Nzema ethnic group.


Cameron Pleads with Separatist Scots in Edinburgh.  The prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, visited Scotland this week to meet with Alex Salmond, head of the Scottish National Party and Scotland’s First Minister and call for unity.  A referendum for separation is planned for 2014, but Cameron would like for it to be held earlier, so that the S.N.P. has less time to try to raise the current level of support for secession, which is currently at about a third of the Scottish public.  Meanwhile, Scottish diplomats have taken up the issue of remaining in the European Union with bureaucrats in Brussels, but legal experts there have said that there is no precedent and no guarantee.

David Cameron and Alex Salmond this week

Minority Serbs Reject Kosovo’s Rule in Referendum.  Serbs in a border region of the partially recognized Republic of Kosovo voted overwhelmingly in a non-binding referendum held Feb. 14-15 to reject Kosovar rule.  The no votes were a stunning 99.7%.  Europe and much of the world are split over recognition of the 1999 United States– and NATO-sponsored secession of Serbia’s Kosovo region.  (Uganda this week became the 88th country to recognize Kosovo.)  The 35,000 Serbs, a minority in a nation dominated by ethnic Albanians, prefer to remain part of the Republic of Serbia.   The Serbian government opposed the referendum, since its hopes for eventual membership in the European Union depend on peaceful resolution of the Kosovo issue.  (See a recent blog post discussing this week’s Kosovar and Latvian referenda.)

The flags of Albania and Kosovo

Russian an E.U. language?  In Latvia, on the eve of a Feb. 18th referendum, underway as this blog is being written, on whether to make Russian—spoken by a third of Latvia’s population—an official language of the country, an ethnically-Russian member of European Parliament for Latvia has raised the possibility that, if the referendum passes, Russian could also become an official language of the European Union.  The legislator, Tatjana Zdanoka, of the Green Party, points out that in addition to Latvia’s more than a half million Russians, there are 9 million native Russian-speakers scattered throughout the E.U.  Currently the E.U. recognizes 23 official languages—into which all E.U. business must be translated—including some, like Irish Gaelic and Maltese, that have vanishingly few monolingual speakers.  Some languages which have significant numbers of monolingual speakers, like Welsh and Catalan, are only “semi-official languages,” and others, such as Flemish (the Germanic variety spoken by half of Belgium, which the E.U. classifies as a dialect of Dutch) and Romany (the language of millions of Roma or “Gypsy” people), have no official status at all.  (And of course any attempt to make Turkish an official language in Cyprus would send Greece into a screaming hissy-fit that would make its tantrum over Macedonia’s name look like a brief pout.)  Russian would be the first official E.U. language whose eponymous home nation is not an E.U. member-state.  But a European Commission spokesman said that no country’s request to make one of its official languages an E.U. language has ever been turned down.  However, Latvian nationalists and Russophobes can take heart: with the voting already underway, even the Latvian electoral commission predicts that the referendum, which requires more yes votes than there are even Russians in Latvia, was doomed to fail.  (See a recent blog post discussing this week’s Kosovar and Latvian referenda.)

The flag of Latvia

Chechens Ask Hilary Swank to Show Them the Money.  The U.S. actress Hilary Swank’s embarrassment over attending an event hosted by Chechnya’s authoritarian, anti-separatist, Moscow-appointed ruler surfaced again this week.  Swank had had to apologize to the world after Human Rights Watch and others criticized her attendance (and that of the Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme), in October 2011, of a 35th-birthday celebration and concert in Grozny for Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of using torture, abductions, and executions to suppress Chechen aspirations for an independent homeland free from Russia.  After initially praising Kadyrov’s “passion to make peace and to make something beautiful,” she later said she “deeply regretted” attending and promised to compensate by donating to a charity that serves the Chechen people.  But now Chechnya’s separatist leader, Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in exile in London, has said that Swank never donated the money.  He says that he is in touch with the heads of the charities he recommended, and that they have persisted in asking him when the money will show up.  Swank’s spokeswoman said that Swank had fulfilled the pledge, but declined to specify the recipients or amount.  Zakayev also reiterated doubts that Swank could have been as ignorant as claimed about who Kadyrov was and what he had done.  Elsewhere in the Caucasus, Kadyrov reported that 20 members of a criminal had been killed by his forces in the mountains between Chechnya and the lawless, warlord-run Republic of Dagestan—Dagestani sources also said 11 police were killed—and three separatist militants were reported killed in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic in the northwestern Caucasus.

Ramzan Kadyrov (left) and Hilary Swank (right) in Grozny in October 2011


Turks Round Up Kurds.  Police in Turkey arrested 100 activists hoping to establish an independent Kurdistan, in coordinated raids in six cities on Feb. 13th, including Istanbul and Ankara, as well as Diyarbakyr, the Kurdish capital.  The dragnet targeted both the militant separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its political wing, the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK).  Meanwhile, Turkish bombers attacked alleged PKK positions in the mountains of northern Iraq.  This comes as Turkish political world continues to reel from revelations that the central government had been secretly negotiating with Kurdish separatists.

South Ossetian President Describes Police Raid, May Quit Politics.  The de facto president of the de-facto-independent Republic of South Ossetia, Alla Dzhioyeva, continued to recover from a “hypertensive episode”—apparently, a stroke—which she suffered during a police raid on her headquarters last week, and says she will soon decide whether to leave politics.  In her first interview since the incident, she told a Russian reporter, “People with guns and in masks barged in, destroying the doors, furniture, and tried to take me away by force.  One grabbed me by the hands, others by the feet.  They picked me up and dragged me like an old, overripe watermelon.”  She also said she was hit on the hid with a rifle butt, then lost consciousness.  The police dispute her version of events.  Dzhioyeva won a presidential election in November, but the South Ossetian supreme court invalidated the results.  She had been serving her term nonetheless, till the raid.  In other developments, the Russian forces occupying South Ossetia have for the first time begun forming army units that include Ossetian recruits.  Nearly all the world’s nations, except for Russia and a handful of others, regard South Ossetia as an autonomous region within the Republic of Georgia, but the Georgian government has not administered the territory since losing to Russia in the 2008 South Ossetia War.  (See my blog post on the South Ossetian election crisis.)

Allia Dzhioyeva

Kidnappers Release Georgian Cleric in Abkhazia.  The Republic of Georgia’s Ministry of the Interior announced on Feb. 11th that it had negotiated the release of Mamuka Maisuradze, a.k.a. Father Iona, a Georgian Orthodox “priest-monk” who had been kidnapped in Georgia’s de facto independent Abkhazia region while visiting holy sites 25 days earlier.  The Georgian government is keeping mum about further details of the mysterious case.  Abkhazia denies that he was arrested by Abkhaz authorities for political activities, though it also seems no ransom was paid.  Georgia has also confirmed Abkhaz assertions that Maisuradze had been expelled from Russia in 2009 on charges of spying for Georgia and that he joined the Georgian Orthodox Church only two years ago.  Abkhazia, like South Ossetia, is recognized by most of the world as part of Georgia but has been functioning as an independent state since Russia expelled Georgian forces from the region in a 2008 war.

Terror suspect arrested after Abkhazia visit.  Meanwhile, just days after a foiled Feb. 13th assassination plot in Tbilisi against Israel’s ambassador to Georgia, the Georgian interior ministry announced that it had arrested a suspected terrorist in an unrelated incident.  The man, Bezhan Shakia, was arrested in Zugdidi, in Georgia’s Mingrelia region, after returning from a visit to Abkhazia.  Police later said the man had been planning a terror attack against a market in Zugdidi and accused him of being a Russian agent.

Georgia Cuts Ties to Tuvalu.  The Republic of Georgia has severed diplomatic relations with the fourth-smallest country in the world, a handful of Polynesian atolls called Tuvalu.  The cause was Tuvalu late last year becoming the sixth United Nations member state—and the third South Pacific island mini-state—to formally recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  The two republics are recognized only by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu, Nauru, and, now, Tuvalu.  They are also recognized by each other and by the similarly unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (a.k.a. Transnistria) and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.  The two Caucasian republics’ relations with the South Pacific are similar to that of the Republic of China (a.k.a. Taiwan): Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China will each not recognize states that recognize the other, but Taiwan has wooed small, impoverished Pacific nations with development aid in exchange for recognition, just as Russia has been doing on behalf of its client states South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Taiwan has diplomatic relations with just 23 countries, nearly all of them island mini-states, including six in the South Pacific (Tuvalu and Nauru among them), São Tomé and Príncipe off the coast of West Africa, and ten nations in the Caribbean region.



Iraqi Sunnis Funnel Arms to Syrian Rebels.  The New York Times reports on a new wrinkle in Syria’s civil war: rebels in this predominantly Sunni Muslim country, trying to depose an Alawite Shi’a ruling family, are receiving arms and other assistance from the Sunni minority just over the border in Iraq.  During the height of Iraq’s sectarian civil war several years ago, some of these same Sunnis were receiving weapons from their co-religionists in Syria.  Syria’s looming Sunni takeover after the eventual fall of Bashar al-Assad, whenever it comes, will be an odd reversal: the 2003 fall of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein after a United States–led invasion removed a Sunni dictator from a country with a Shiite majority.  All of this is part of a widening Sunni–Shi’a conflict that has driven Arab Spring conflicts in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain, to say nothing of the Sunni Arab uprising in Iran’s Khuzestan region, by the Iraq border.  As I discussed in an earlier blog post on sectarian and regional dimensions to the Syrian conflict, as well as a more recent one on Iraq’s separatist tensions, Iran initially regarded Iraq’s shift to Shi’a rule as the potential key link a chain of Shiite Iranian client states stretching from Iran to the Hezbollah-controlled parts of Lebanon.  Iran’s frustration at seeing its ally Syria falling to a Sunni-led uprising is one of the reasons, the Times points out, that the Iraqi government has been so slow to join the West and its American allies in criticizing the Syrian regime: Iraq doesn’t want to be an Iranian client state, or part of its Shi’a crescent stretching to the Mediterranean, but it cannot afford to alienate its powerful neighbor.  The Syrian conflict’s geopolitical implications are beginning to become apparent as the international community cracks down on the Assad regime.

U.N. Rejects Kashmiri N.G.O. as Pakistani Front.  The United Nations’ Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations has denied a long-in-the-works application for observer status from the Kashmir America Council, reportedly on the grounds that it was receiving money from Pakistan’s brutal Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) spy agency.  The organization, founded in 1990 by Ghulab Nabi Fai, is one of many organizations lobbying for more autonomy and respect for human rights in the parts of Kashmir administered by the Republic of India.  The application had long been contested by the Indian government, while the organization itself has been investigated by United States federal authorities for its ties to I.S.I.  Meanwhile, riots erupted in Kashmir itself after a young man was either “gunned down without provocation” by an Indian soldier or killed by an accidentally firing weapon.  Within Kashmir there are militant pro-independence movements as well as movements to attach the territory to Pakistan.  Kashmir has been a territory in dispute among Pakistan, India, and China since British India was partitioned in 1947.

Reporter Found Dead in Aceh.  The same week as a journalist from the Czech Republic was arrested for covering a pro-independence march in Indonesia’s sealed-off West Papua region (see last week), an Indonesian reporter has been found dead in another separatist region, Aceh, on the northwestern tip of the island of Sumatra.  He was found in a ditch with face wounds and signs of lethal blows with a blunt object.  The reporter’s wife believes he was murdered for his investigatory work.

Flag of Aceh

Pakistani bombing blamed on Baloch Separatists.  Three people, including boys aged about 12, were killed and eight injured by a remote-control bomb planted near a police vehicle in a crowded goat market on Feb. 13th in southwestern Pakistan.  The Baluch Republican Army, which is trying to establish independence for Balochistan province have claimed responsibility.  Two days earlier, Pakistan’s military had told media that arms for the Baloch separatist struggle were flowing not only from India but from Afghanistan.  (See a blog post in which I listed Balochistan as one of ten separatist movements to watch in 2012.)

South Yemen Separatists Set Fire to Protest Camp.  Activists in the Republic of Yemen hoping to re-establish South Yemen as an independent country set fire on February 12th to a tent housing anti-government protesters in Aden, the port city that was the Marxist state’s capital before the two Yemens reunified in 1990.  Meanwhile, also in Aden, a man killed by his bomb while trying to plant it in a polling station was suspected of being a Southern separatist.  Elections are to be held on February 21st to replace President Abdullah Ali Saleh, but many southerners feel they would be better off as a separate country.

The flag of South Yemen

Tibetan Exiles Hint at Mass Action; Hundreds Arrested upon Return.  At an open forum hosted by several Tibetan human-rights groups at the nation’s exile headquarters in Dharamsala, India, speakers aired frustration over an inability to help Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China, where a recent wave of self-immolations by monks, as well as other protests, have led to a new crackdown.  A pro-independence activist is quoted as saying, “Although I don’t know in specific details, ... a big and effective campaign is in the schedule, possibly this month.”  Another said, “I am tired of candlelight vigils.”  A few days later, Chinese authorities have rounded up hundreds of returning Tibetan P.R.C. citizens returning home from Dharamsala, where they had attended religious events hosted by the Dalai Lama, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Dalai Lama

China Appoints Top Cop to Rule Area of Tibetan Unrest.  The Chinese government has appointed Liu Zuoming, a career law-enforcement bureaucrat, as Communist Party secretary for Aba prefecture, an ethnically-Tibetan area in Sichuan province that has been the site of many of the recent self-immolations and other actions protesting Chinese rule of Tibet.


Maori Militants Tried in New Zealand.  In Auckland, trial proceedings began on Feb. 13th against four Maoris arrested after police in 2007 raided a military-style training camp in the hilly Te Urewere region of New Zealand’s North Island, a separatist hotbed.  The four are accused of plotting a violent separatist campaign against the New Zealand government, using Molotov cocktails, AK-47s, and other weapons.  The defendants reject all charges.

Accused Maori separatist Tame Iti arriving in court


Trudeau’s Son Backtracks from Pro-Separatist Comments.  Justin Trudeau, a Liberal member of Canada’s parliament and son of the revered former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had to backpedal after public reaction to an interview in which he seemed to support Quebec’s independence.  He had said, in a French-language interview that was not immediately reported in the English press, that if the current conservative government in Ottawa were to reverse national policy on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, then “maybe I would consider wanting to make Quebec a separate country.”  In a subsequent interview, he clarified his position, saying he would fight for Canada to his “last breath” and that it was the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, that was sowing division.

Justin Trudeau

Southern Mayor Retracts Week Honoring Black Separatists.  The mayor of Fayetteville, North Carolina, is scrambling to retract his town’s declaration of the week of January 8th as “Moorish American Week in Fayetteville” after realizing that the “Moorish-American” cause was associated with Black nationalists who reject the legitimacy of the United States government and refuse to pay taxes.  The mayor, Tony Chavonne, apologized and said he’d never heard of the group when he signed the proclamation.  The Moorish Science Temple of America was founded in the early twentieth century—in the same milieu that generated the Nation of Islam and similar groups—by Noble Drew Ali, an African-American (born January 8, 1886, in North Carolina—hence the choice of date) who claimed that an Egyptian magician declared him the reincarnation of Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed and who subsequently composed his own version of the Quran, heavily influenced by Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and crackpot anthropology.  The Moorish Science Temple believes that the Americas were originally inhabited by “paleo-Negroid” races that predated American Indians and that therefore African-Americans are the true owners of the continent.  The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations, derides the Moorish American movement as “Sovereigns in Black”—a reference to the extremist right-wing, anarcho-libertarian, and nearly all-white “sovereign citizen” movement.  Many cities have proclaimed Moorish American Weeks, including Chicago.

A Moorish Science Temple conclave in Chicago, 1928.


Falklanders Ask for Special Passports; MPs Plan Visit.  The government of the Falkland Islands has requested from its parent government in London for special passports that state “Falkland Islands” on the front.  Prompted by the recent escalation of Argentina’s claims on the South Atlantic territory, the new passports would indicate pride in being Falklanders while still emphasizing their status as part of the United Kingdom.  The move is being treated by the government in Buenos Aires as a further provocation, as is the planned arrival in the islands next month of the British parliament’s defense committee and of the H.M.S. Dauntless, an air-defense destroyer, to replace an older vessel.  (See my recent blog article on the Falklands conflict.)

Chilean Falklanders March against Embargo.  Members of the Falkland Islands’ Chilean community, joined by some native British Falklanders, held a demonstration in Stanley, the capital, to protest plans by the government of Chile to cancel the archipelago’s last regular air service to the South American mainland.  Most other Latin American and Caribbean states fall in behind the Argentine air-travel embargo on the colony, but Britain’s relations with Chile have tended to be warmer than with other South American states—a relationship dating back to Margaret Thatcher’s close personal friendship with the mass-murderer dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Chileans demonstrate in Stanley

Argentine Dockworks to Boycott English “Pirates.”  In Buenos Aires, the Argentine Confederation of Transport Workers, a longshoremen’s union, announced that, in response to U.K. “militaristic pretensions,” it will “boycott any vessel with the English flag, with the invented Falklands flag, or registered under any of the convenience flags from the English pirates (Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Panama, Malta, etc.).”  The reference to the Falklands flag as “invented” suggests that the transport union believes that other flags, such as the Argentine national flag, either are naturally occurring or were created by God, or were generated automatically during mediumistic trances.  (The first vessel to defy the ban was the British Ruby, a British Petroleum natural-gas tanker which docked in Bahía Blanca, Argentina, under a flag from the Isle of Man.)

Sean Penn Sides with Argentines.  The U.S. actor Sean Penn has spoken out against what he calls the U.K.’s “colonialist, ludicrous, and archaic” claims to the Falkland Islands, which he calls the Islas Malvinas.  He spoke Feb. 13th while meeting with Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on a visit to Uruguay.  The television personality Ben Fogle, a friend of Prince William and his new wife the Duchess of Cambridge, suggested that Penn should be fed to crocodiles for his comments.  In 2010, Penn called Venezuela’s authoritarian president, Hugo Chávez, a “model democrat” and suggested that journalists who called him a dictator should be imprisoned.

Separated at birth?  Sean Penn meeting on Feb. 13th with Uruguay’s president José Mujica

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