Somaliland Brings Independence Message to London Conference. The president of the Republic of Somaliland, H. E. Ahmed Mahmoud Silanyo, made his case in the United Kingdom on Feb. 23rd for international recognition of his country’s independence from the Republic of Somalia. His attendance at the 23rd international conference on Somalia at Lancaster House near Buckingham Palace in London marks the first time delegates from Somaliland and the Horn of Africa’s other de facto independent unrecognized state, Puntland (which, unlike Somaliland, does not seek outright independence), have attended the annual conference, which tends to focus on how to bolster the failed transitional government in Mogadishu. The U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, said at the opening of the talks that the focus would be strengthening the barely-functioning Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu and in combatting piracy and terrorism, but he declined an opportunity to speak against Somaliland’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, Godfrey Bloom, a Member of European Parliament for Yorkshire on the anti-Brussels, right-wing U.K. Independence Party ticket, called on Cameron to recognize Somaliland. No United Nations member states formally recognize Somaliland or Puntland. (See a spot-on New York Times opinion piece on the subject by Alex de Waal of the World Peace Foundation.)
David Cameron at the Somalia conference in London
South Sudan Asks Kenya to Mediate Border Dispute. The government of the seven-month old Republic of South Sudan has asked the leadership of Kenya to mediate a dispute with the Republic of Sudan—from which South Sudan seceded in July 2011—over the disputed district of Abyei and provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which together stretch out along more than half of their shared border. When South Sudan voted to secede in early 2011, separate referenda were to be held later in the disputed areas, but fighting there between forces loyal to the two governments has made that impossible. Many fear the Sudans are on the brink of all-out war. (Read here and here recent reports by the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan.)
Rebels Attack in Darfur. In the Darfur region in the western part of (north) Sudan, both rebels and the government are reporting on a new clash, where as many as twelve soldiers were killed and government heavy weapons were captured. The attack, on the town of Alawni, was claimed by the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Army. In 2003-04, a Darfur uprising was brutally put down by the Sudanese government, killing as many as 300,000, resulting in the convicion of the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity.
Trial of Caprivi Strip Separatists in Namibia Nears End. In Grootfontein, Namibia, the prosecution rested today in a trial of 112 separatists that has been going on since 2003. The accusations include 275 charges of murder, sedition, and treason. In 1999, members of the Caprivi Liberation Army attacked civilian targets in Katima Mulilo, in the Caprivi Strip, killing eleven. Their ringleader, Mishake Muyongo, is in exile in Denmark. The Caprivi Strip, also called Itenge, is a shard of the Republic of Namibia which juts east between Botswana and Zambia and is home to the Lozi ethnic group that also inhabits the neighboring Zambian secessionist region of Barotseland. Germany bought the land from the United Kingdom in 1890 to form a supply route between the German colonies of Südwest-Afrika (now Namibia) and Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). South Africa assumed control of the strip after Germany’s defeat in the First World War and used it to run guns to white Rhodesian militants resisting Zimbabwe’s independence in the 1970s. As a reward, South Africa, which administered Namibia, made it a Lozi “homeland” (autonomous tribal reservation), but when Namibia became independent in 1990, they revoked the autonomous status of the “traitor” region. Meanwhile, four ethnic groups in Namibia—the Ovahimba, Ovatwa, Ovatjimba, and Ovazemba—have banded together to protest the building of a dam in the Kunene region.
The Caprivi Strip
Latvian Voters Reject Russian Language. Latvians—and minority citizens in Latvia—voted in a national referendum Feb. 18th to reject the idea of making Russian a second official language alongside Latvian. The votes were approximately 75% against the proposal and 25% for it. Latvia has just over 2 million people, and a third of them—about 600,000—is ethnically Russian. This makes Russians in Latvia one of the largest linguistic minorities in the world, proportionally speaking, and the highest percentage of Russians in any Soviet successor state outside the Russian Federation itself. Still, 750,000 votes were needed to pass the proposal, so no one expected anything other than a resounding “no” at the polls. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow said that the results showed that a quarter of Latvia’s population “do not agree with the course of building a mono-ethnic society.” (I discussed the referendum in detail in a blog article last week.)
A defaced sign in Latvia
Spain Arrests Two Basques. Spanish authorities on Feb. 21st arrested two militants from the banned Basque separatist organization E.T.A., using information passed along by judicial authorities in France. E.T.A. laid down its arms in October 2011 after a decades-long struggle to establish an independent homeland in the Basque Country of northern Spain and southeastern France.
The flag of the Basque Country
More Dead in North Caucasus Militia Battles. Russian forces trying to wipe out militant gangs in a days-long quasi-military operation in the separatist, predominantly-Muslim northern Caucasus mountains are reporting more deaths, including those of seventeen policemen. The skirmishes are occurring along the mountainous border dividing the Republic of Chechnya—the formerly autonomous region now being ruled directly from Moscow after brutal suppression of an independence movement—from the Republic of Dagestan, a multi-ethnic, warlord-ruled no-man’s-land where the government of the Russian Federation is barely able to operate.
BITS OF ASIA WHICH LIKE TO PRETEND THEY’RE PART OF EUROPE
Abkhaz President Escapes Assassination Attempt. The president of Abkhazia, Alexandr Ankvab, survived a sixth assassination attempt on Feb. 22nd when his motorcade hit a land mine and then was attacked with a grenade-launcher and a machine gun. One or two of his bodyguards were killed (reports differ) and another injured in the ambush, in the town of Gudauta, on the Black Sea. Ankvab’s spokesman said that police were still searching for the assassins—the republic has been sealed off—but rejected the idea that the Republic of Georgia, which claims the de facto independent republic as part of its territory, was responsible. Meanwhile, Nugzar Tsiklauri, a legislator for Georgia’s ruling party, suspects Russia of being behind the attacks, pointing out that Ankvab bristles at Russia’s implicit policy of eventually absorbing Abkhazia into the Russian Federation. Ankvab himself the next day blamed “mafia, criminal groups” and “political circles close” to these groups, adding, “There are forces, which want Abkhazia to have controllable President and weak-willed, dependent supreme leadership.”
Pres. Alexandr Ankvab, in front of his nation’s flag
South Ossetia Sealed Off; Hospitalized President Boycotting Election. The Internet has been extinguished throughout South Ossetia as public anger crests over the police beating earlier this month of the pseudo-state’s de facto but disputed president, Alla Dzhioyeva. Soldiers with AK-47s are turning away anyone other than family trying to visit the 62-year-old Dzhioyeva’s intensive-care hospital room in the capital, Tskhinvali, and relatives are guarding her hospital bed in shifts, fearing an abduction. Dzhioyeva also says she is boycotting next month’s presidential elections as a sham. Meanwhile, mysterious elements to the Dzhioyeva story are confounding observers: journalists began being turned away from the border before the alleged beating, and on the day of the incident Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations announced that snowslides had forced the closure of the tunnel that is the one link between South Ossetia and the outside world. Late last year, Dzhioyeva won a presidential election (see my blog article on those elections), but the results were annulled by a judge. However, she continued to serve in her post until the beating. Forces loyal to Russia, or the military of Russia itself, are obvious suspects in all this intrigue; Dzhioyeva is not pro-Moscow and was never expected to win. The official line from Moscow is that she was hospitalized for hypertension, but she has reiterated her version of events to several journalists over the phone. As she described it recently, “The militants tore my body apart, threw me on the floor. I felt their guns sticking into my body the moment before I lost consciousness. They acted as if they were my [executioners].” The Daily Beast, in a report on the situation, quotes an historian, Fatima Margiyeva, as saying, “By stealing the very last right our people had, the right to vote, by isolating us here like cucumbers in a bottle, Moscow is pushing South Ossetia to the verge of a civil war.”
Caucasus Diplomat Accuses West of “Blackmail” over Recognition. A member of Abkhazia’s diplomatic corps has told the media that “the West” routinely puts pressure on countries to discourage them from granting diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In particular, the ambassador, Juris Gulbis, said that countries like Nauru, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu pay a price in economic sanctions and denial of development projects for being among the few nations recognizing the two South Caucasus republics, which were fully separated from the Republic of Georgia by Russia’s military in a brief 2008 war. Gulbis called this Western tactic “blackmail.” Pravda, also is reporting on the financial payoffs from Moscow that prompted the Republic of Kiribati to recognize Abkhazia. Kiribati is a mini-state composed of 32 tiny atolls spread out over more than a million square miles of the Pacific in Micronesia.
Abkhazia Home to Record-Breaking Cave Insect. Also in Abkhazia, Russian scientists are reporting their discovery, in a cave considered the world’s deepest (more than 7,000 feet / 2,000 meters deep), a species of eyeless springtail insect which is believed to be the deepest-dwelling land animal known to science. The creature, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis, found in the Krubera–Voronja Cave, feeds on decomposing organic matter. The tiny mountain republic also holds putative world records for human longevity.
Abkhazia’s newest celebrity, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis
Hearings Open in North Cypriot Soldier’s Torture Death. On Feb. 17th a military court in the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus convened a third inquiry into the death of a soldier, Uğur Kantar, who was apparently tortured to death amidst disciplinary action taken by the military. The judge turned down a request from the Kantar family’s lawyer to shift the hearings to a civilian court. The only officer among the defendants, Sgt. Ayhan Şentürk, was never arrested but appeared in court on opening day.
15,000 Kurds March in Strasbourg for Öcalan’s Rights. A crowd of Kurds and their supporters estimated at 15,000 demonstrated in Strasbourg, France, home to the European Parliament, to protest the ongoing imprisonment in Turkey of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the militant separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Fearing that Öcalan was being poisoned, the demonstrators demanded that Öcalan be given a medical examination, in conformity with international norms. Eighteen Kurds have been on hunger strike for 32 days in Strasbourg in support of the cause. Öcalan founded the PKK, which in 1984 launched a war to establish an independent Kurdistan in what is now southeastern Turkey. In 1999 he was captured in Kenya, where he was being harbored by the Greek consul. He was initially sentenced to death, but in 2002 Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its bid to reform their abysmal third-world-calibre justice system and become a candidate for membership in the European Union. In 2005, the European Court of Justice found that the defendant’s rights had not been observed and urged that Öcalan be retried—an idea Turkey rejects. Öcalan now resides in the notorious prison on the island of İmralı in the Sea of Marmara, the gulf that separates the European from the Asian part of Turkey. (The prison was once home to the American writer Billy Hayes, whose brutal treatment in Turkey’s prison system was described in his book—later a film—Midnight Express.) (I listed Kurdistan in a recent blog post as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)
Zhirinovsky Sees Looming World War Focused on Caucasus. The neo-fascist hypernationalist firebrand and head of Russia’s misnamed Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, predicts that the escalating Western rhetoric against Iran over its nuclear program presages a coming world war, one in which the micro-geopolitics of the southern Caucasus will figure. “The third world war over Iran may start this summer,” Zhirinovsky said. “After Syria is rolled over, Iran will be attacked. Azerbaijan will use [the opportunity] to seize Nagorno–Karabakh. Armenia will oppose, Turkey will support Azerbaijan. It is how Russia may be involved in war this summer.” Russia has tended to side with Armenia, Syria, and Iran in the post-Communist period.
English Baroness Escapes Separatist Attack in Yemen “Election” Violence. An alliance of clans and militias pressing for the reestablishment of a separate state in southern Yemen called for its followers to disrupt this week’s sham presidential “elections,” in which only one candidate was on offer. The Higher Council of the Peaceful Movement for the Liberation of the South, as it is known, asked for “civil disobedience” to prevent “voters” from casting “ballots.” But not all separatists kept it civil. On Feb. 18th, secessionist gunmen injured two policemen during an attack on a “polling station” in Aden, the former South Yemeni capital. And on “election” day, Feb. 21st, similar attacks in the south killed four and injured nineteen. One of the Aden attacks narrowly avoided killing a British life peeress and former Member of European Parliament visiting to observe the “elections”—the Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, a gin-distillery heiress and Liberal Democrat (who had also, ironically, survived an Irish Republican Army bombing attempt on Margaret Thatcher’s life in Brighton, England, in 1984—back when Lady Nicholson was a Conservative). Yemen’s Higher Council opposed the Feb. 21st “vote” because it did not provide an opportunity for southerners to decide whether to stay in Yemen. In fact, it did not allow “voters” to choose anything: there was only one presidential candidate on the “ballot” (hence all the scare quotes): Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, vice-president to the outgoing authoritarian leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who eventually relented to a months-long Arab Spring street movement to unseat him. To no one’s surprise, Hadi received 99.8% of votes cast. The entire transfer of power was orchestrated in a United States–backed agreement to end the country’s civil war, which it probably still will not do. The elections were also being boycotted by Shabab al-Mu’mineen, a militant group representing Yemen’s minority Zaidiyyah Shiites, who would like to impose Islamic law in the country. (I listed South Yemen in a recent blog post as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, survivor of two ethnonationalist bombings
Pakistan Accuses U.S. of Stoking Baloch Rebellion. The prime minister of Pakistan, Yusuf Raza Gilani, has condemned a recent resolution in the United States House of Representatives in support of Baloch self-determination as an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty. It comes after a year of lethal U.S. drone attacks and a unilateral U.S. raid last year to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory. The U.S. has traditionally supported any government in power in Pakistan, for reasons of stability and nuclear security, but after ongoing revelations of the role of Pakistan’s secret police in supporting terrorism, as well as other divisive issues, U.S. foreign policy is turning away from Pakistan. Separatists in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan have stepped up activities in recent months, and the Pakistani government has cracked down brutally, with hundreds of activists “disappeared.” Some U.S. policymakers’ shifts may be related to another Baloch insurgency just over the border in Iran. Many observers predict a coming war by the U.S. and Israel against Iran, and there has already been documented C.I.A. and Mossad support for separatists in southwestern Iran’s Arab Sunni Khuzestan region, bordering Iraq. (I listed Balochistan in a recent blog post as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)
U.S. Backs Accountability for Sri Lankan War. Human-rights groups welcomed the United States government’s support for a coming resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council that will push both the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil separatists to come to a final settlement, including agreeing on how war crimes on both sides will be accounted for. A U.S. Under-Secretary of State, Maria Otero, stated the U.S. position in a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the end of a three-day visit to the Buddhist-majority island nation, where the government succeeded in 2009 in putting down a separatist rebellion by nationalist Tamils after a bloody fifteen-year-long civil war. Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, hoped to establish a separate state in the north of the island, to be called Tamil Eelam.Filipino Muslim Separatists Deny Role in Prison Break. A representative of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group fighting for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines, has denied involvement in a recent failed prison break attempt. The prison, in Kidapawan in Cotabato province on the island of Mindanao, was attacked by fifty militants on Feb. 19th. Prison guards repelled the attack, but not before the militants, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, killed two civilians in a karaoke bar and a third, a Red Cross driver, in the mêlée.
India Orders Crackdown on Bodoland Rebels, Claims International Maoist Conspiracy. The Republic of India’s Minister for Home Affairs, P. Chindabaram, has directed the state government of Assam, in the country’s tribal-dominated far east, to intensify its operations against rebel factions that are still refusing to hold talks after the general cease-fire agreed to last year by separatist militias. In particular, New Delhi is concerned about the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a group representing the separatist faction of an ethnic group making up about 5% of Assam’s population. In October 2011, the Indian government signed a treaty with the United Liberation Front of Asom, an umbrella group seeking independence for the state, agreeing to an end to hostility. But not all separatist groups support the document. Now Chindabaram’s ministry claims to have evidence of a vast conspiracy to set up a Maoist confederation of tribal peoples taking in separatist movements in India, Burma, and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, in New Delhi, four members of the banned and mostly dormant Sikh separatist group Babbar Khalsa International were sentenced to time served on Feb. 22nd after pleading guilty to a 2008 plot to attack religious figures in Punjab.
The flag of Bodoland
Burmese Refugee Camp in Thailand Burns. Initial reports describe a fire sweeping through a refugee camp in Thailand near the border with Burma (Myanmar) on Feb. 23rd. The Umpiem Mai refugee camp is home to about 17,000 members of the Karen ethnic minority seeking refuge from fighting between Myanmar’s junta and Karen rebels seeking an independent homeland to be called Kawthoolei. Arson is not suspected. (See my recent blog article on ethnic separatism in Burma.)
Ex-Stripper “Trailer Park Mata Hari” Shook Booty to Snare White-Power Bombers. Just before the federal terrorism trial of Dennis and Daniel Mahon, two 61-year-old White-supremacist identical twins, was handed to the jury for a verdict, their lawyers were decrying as entrapment the methods of the federal informant who snared them. Dubbed by the media the “Trailer Park Mata Hari,” Rebecca “Becca” Williams is an ex-stripper who worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for five years (for $45,000 per year, plus promise of a $100,000 conviction bonus) by moving into the Mahons’ Catossa, Oklahoma, campground, bonding with them by using racial slurs and White-separatist rhetoric, and flirting with them by, for example, sending them photos of herself from behind in a bikini bottom with a Confederate-flag design, as well as other photos showing her posing with pick-up trucks and swastikas. The Mahons, members of the White Aryan Resistance, were tried for sending a near-fatal package bomb to the African-American diversity director for the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2004. The federal prosecutor in the case points out that Williams never actually resorted to sexual acts to extract information. In the verdict Feb. 25th, Dennis Mahon was found guilty and Daniel not guilty. Dennis has yet to be sentenced.
Your tax dollars at work
New York’s Iroquois Tribes Profit from Tobacco Loophole. The New York Times is reporting that the Oneida Indian Nation, along with others of the eight federally recognized American Indian tribes in upper New York State, has increased its investment in the tobacco trade, despite controversy, including manufacturing its own cigarettes using tobacco shipped from the Carolinas. This exploits a loophole in a law, only inadequatelly enforced, which prevents tribes from selling name-brand cigarettes to non-Indians on reservation land without charging New York’s exorbitant $4.35-per-pack sin tax on the product. The Oneida are one of six members of the centuries-old Haudenosaunee, or League of the Iroquois, who interacted with arriving Europeans in the colonial period as a sovereign confederation that even partly inspired the United States federal system of government. They are still recognized as a sovereign nation within U.S. territory and issue their own driver’s licenses and even passports.
Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy
Remote Chilean Town Begs to Be Annexed to Argentina. Citizens of Puerto Aysén, in the isolated, glacier-pocked mountains of southern Chile’s Patagonia region, added a new demand to their month-old campaign to attract more assistance from the federal government. Now they say they want neighboring Argentina to annex their district. Marchers, including students, environmentalists, and trade unions, chanted, “Argentina adopt us!” and lit bonfires. The rhetorical ploy attracted more attention in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital than in Santiago, 800 miles to the north. Argentine news websites featured references to Chileans as “dirty traitors” and remarks such as, “Why don’t you ask England to adopt you? They are your best friends and allies!” Chile has maintained the closest ties to the United Kingdom of any South American nation amid rival Argentine and British claims to the Falkland Islands. During the Falklands War of 1982, Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, a personal friend of Margaret Thatcher’s, sided with the U.K.
Ecuadorian Calls for Decolonization. The United Nations’ newly seated chairman of the Select Committee on Decolonization, Diego Morejón Pazmino, who is from Ecuador, has called for the “final disappearance of the archaic concept of colonialism.” He listed sixteen remaining “non-self-governing territories,” with a combined population of over 2 million. The list includes ten overseas territories of the United Kingdom (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, St. Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Gibraltar, Pitcairn, and Tokelau), three United States ones (the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam), two belonging to France (New Caledonia and Montserrat), and Western Sahara, the former Spanish Sahara, which is currently divided between a majority of the territory ruled by the Kingdom of Morocco and a landlocked sliver administered as the unrecognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
PRACTICALLY BLOODY ANTARCTICA
Argentines May Court Scottish Nationalists on Falklands Issue. The government of Argentina is considering seeking support for their claims on the Falkland Islands from a possible eventual independent Scotland. Argentina has few military or diplomatic options in pressing its goal of wresting the archipelago, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, from the United Kingdom, which has administered it for virtually its entire history of permanent settlement. But Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, says she is “analyzing the possibility of sending a delegation” to the government of Alex Salmond, Scotland’s separatist First Minister. The idea seems doomed: although both Scots and Argentines have railed lately against “English colonialism,” there is no reason to think there is any more sympathy in Scotland than in England for Argentina’s position. Argentina attacked the Falklands in 1982 and was easily defeated by the U.K. in the brief war that followed. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires’s claims on the Falklands is being criticized by an ad hoc alliance of Argentina’s leading intellectuals. (See my recent blog article on the Falklands dispute.)
In other Falklands-related developments, the American actor Sean Penn is still a moron and has as of press time not yet been fed to crocodiles.
Sean Penn, still a moron
Gingrich Proposes Making Moon 51st State. The former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, promised while campaigning in the Florida Republican primary that by the end of his second term as President there would be an American colony on the Moon. He also promised regular flights to Mars by 2020. Further, Gingrich reminded the crowd in Coco Beach, Florida (setting for the 1960s television situation comedy I Dream of Jeannie), that while he was a U.S. representative he sponsored a bill allowing any lunar colony with a population of 13,000 or more to apply for statehood. (The U.S., however, is signatory to international agreements barring the claiming of national territory on other planets or moons.) Gingrich relished accusations that he is “grandiose,” adding, “I accept the charge that I am American and Americans are instinctively grandiose because we believe in a bigger future.” At other times, Gingrich has proposed that public schools hire children as janitors and that a giant mirror be placed in Earth orbit to light highways and catch criminals.