Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Week in Separatist News, 1-7 April 2012: Mali/Azawad Update, Bossi Resigns, Barzani Raises Stakes in Iraq & Syria, Chechen Assassination Plot in London



Tuareg rebels display the Azawad flag

[See my recent blog article on the Azawad independence declaration, including background and analysis.  What follows is a summary of the week’s events.]

Tuaregs Declare Independence from Mali; Islamists Control Northern Cities.  Tuareg separatists in the north of the Republic of Mali claimed victory in their quest to control the entire Azawad region, declaring independence as the Islamic Republic of Azawad, prompting the junta that took control of the capital, Bamako, last month to beg for Western help in defeating the Islamists that have moved in to control three northern cities.  Soon after, the junta agreed to a plan to hand power to civilians.

By April 1st, rebels had taken over the ancient city of Timbuktu, a Unesco World Heritage Site.  But an Islamist militia backing the Tuaregs seized actual control of the city.  Malian troops first deserted a military base near Timbuktu, and an Arab citizens’ militia held out for a while, but finally fell to a coalition of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (N.M.L.A.) and an Islamist group called Ansar Dine (a.k.a. Ansar Eddine), which has ties to the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.  After the fall of the cities of Kidal and Gao the previous week (reported in this blog), Timbuktu was the last major northern city still controlled by the Malian government.  In Gao, which was “liberated” on March 31st by the N.M.L.A., rebels opened a prison and sparked looting in the city.  The leader of the new junta in Bamako, Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, announced over state television that he was surrendering Gao to the N.M.L.A. in order to spare civilians.  N.M.L.A. statements called the fall of Timbuktu “the end of Malian occupation” of the Azawad region and promised “order and administration.”  But, according to reports, it was Ansar Dine, not the N.M.L.A., that led a ceremonial 10-car convoy through Timbuktu to plant their black flag.  And in Gao and Kidal, Ansar Dine gunmen were ordering shopkeepers to take down any images of unveiled women.  There are also reports of looting and rape, and a reported quarter-million people have fled their homes since the takeover.  Despite the Islamist factor, an N.M.L.A. spokesman, Hama ag Mahmoud, explained, “Our objective is not to go further than the Azawad borders.  We don’t want to create problems for the government of Mali, and even less create problems for the sub-region.  We don’t want to give anyone the impression that we are gung-ho for the war, so for now we have liberated our territories and our objective is achieved, we stop there.”  The Islamic Republic of Azawad’s declaration of independence, announced first on the N.M.L.A. website on April 6th, has been roundly condemned by the entire membership of the African Union, by the United States, and by France and most other European nations.  No state has extended recognition.  Ansar Dine’s avowed aim, meanwhile, is not independence but the imposition of shari’a law throughout Mali.

Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo

At the same time, in Bamako, Sanogo, although saying he was “not going anywhere,” buckled to international pressure by mid-week and promised to restore the 1992 Constitution, though apparently he didn’t mean the part about the country being ruled by an elected president.  Still, the maneuver failed to buy him time as the 72-hour deadline set by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) for the return to civilian rule approached: on April 2nd, Ecowas sealed off Mali’s borders, froze its assets, and halted the flow of cash into its banks, causing a severe economic crisis.  On April 5th, Sanogo begged Western countries to intervene and turn back the Islamists, saying, “The enemy is known and it is not in Bamako,” adding, “If the great powers are able to cross oceans to battle fundamentalist structures in Afghanistan, what’s stopping them coming to us?”  On April 6th, Sanogo, caving in to Ecowas pressure, agreed to hand over power to the speaker of parliament, Diouncounda Traoré, a civilian, though no date for the transition has been set.

Meanwhile, on April 5th, Algeria’s consul in Gao and six of his staff members were abducted, with their whereabouts unknown and the N.M.L.A. disavowing responsibility or knowledge of the snatching.

(See my recent blog article on the Azawad independence declaration and an earlier article putting the Tuareg conflict in an African context.)


Cease-Fire Eases Toubou–Arab Strife in Southern Libya after 150 Dead.  A second week of fighting in and around Sabha, in Libya’s remote sandy Fezzan region in the south, left more than 150 dead in the conflict but ended in a cease-fire brokered by the central government.  The southern conflict is between Arab tribesmen and the separatist Toubou (a.k.a. Tubu, a.k.a. al-Tibu) ethnic group, non-Arab oasis farmers who were stripped of their citizenship during the rule of Moammar al-Qaddafi and would like their own autonomous region.  Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (N.T.C.) sent more than 1,500 troops to Fezzan last week and then negotiated a cease-fire between the belligerents, according to an announcement on March 31st by the N.T.C.’s interim prime minister, Dr. Abdurrahim Abdulhafiz el-Keib.  The N.T.C. has had limited authority in Fezzan due to the refusal of militias to disarm since last year’s civil war.  But in the joint press conference with Dr. Keib, the N.T.C.’s military chief of staff, Yousef al-Mangoush, said, of conditions in Fezzan, “Now the situation is calm, and defence ministry forces are securing strategic zones and installations, notably the airport.”  (See my recent blog article on separatism in post-Qaddafi Libya.)

Berbers Clash with Qaddafi Loyalists in Tripolitania; 22 Dead.  In Tripolitania, in western Libya, fighting between Berbers and Arab loyalists of the late deposed dictator, Moammar al-Qaddafi, raged for much of the week, with 22 confirmed dead, including civilians, and government forces helpless to intervene.  The fighting is between Berbers from Zuwara, a coastal town just west of Tripoli, and Arabs from the neighboring inland towns of Jumail and Regdalin.  The clashes began on April 1st, when the accidental shooting of a Regdalin resident by game hunters from Zuwara led to Zuwaran fighters being taken hostage.   Zuwara, like most Berber communities, opposed Qaddafi in last year’s civil war, while the Arabs of Regdalin supported him.  The mutual hostility remained and simmered after Qaddafi’s defeat and death, in a climate where almost none of the numerous ad hoc militias that sprang up throughout the country during the civil war have laid down their arms.  (See my recent blog article on separatism in post-Qaddafi Libya.)

Members of Libya’s Berber community, with their flag

Barotse Leader in Zambia Rescinds Independence Declaration, Calls for Dialogue.  Winyae Clement Sinyinda, the chairman of the Barotse National Council, which voted last month for Zambia’s Western Province to secede as independent Kingdom of Barotseland (as reported in this blog), now says that the traditional Lozi (Barotse) leadership no longer wishes to separate unilaterally but is instead ready for dialogue.  Sinyinda, speaking to the press April 2nd after his arrest, interrogation, and detention by police, said, “I have actually issued instructions to all our people throughout Barotseland and those in other parts of the country to stop issuing statements that will promote divisions.”

The Barotseland coat-of-arms

20 Killed in Somaliland–Khaatumo Clashes; Somali Journalist Arrested in Sool.  The government of the unrecognized but de facto independent Republic of Somaliland reported battles with forces from the fledgling Khaatumo State of Somalia.  The clashes began early on the morning of April 1st in the Buhoodle and Las’anod regions in claimed Khaatumo territory.  Four Somaliland soldiers were killed and 10 injured, in the Buhoodle fighting, while one Khaatumo soldier was killed and two injured there.  In Las’anod, 15 troops on both sides apparently were killed.  Unlike Somaliland, which is independent, Khaatumo State, also called Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn State, considers itself a region of the Republic of Somalia but is not administered by the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu. Khaatumo was established in January in the disputed border region between Somaliland and another self-governing district, Puntland State of Somalia.  The battles came a day after a prominent Republic of Somalia television journalist, Ahmed Ali Farah, was, according to reports, arrested, beaten, and tortured by Somaliland authorities in a Somaliland-occupied part of Khaatumo’s Sool region.  (See my recent blog article on the fragmentation of Somalia.)

South Sudan Downs Sudan Fighter Jet, Claims Bombing of Oil Fields Continues.  A spokesman for the Republic of South Sudan’s government on April 2nd accused the Republic of Sudan, from which it seceded in July 2011, of bombing South Sudanese oil fields as a tactic to scare investors away from the fledgling country.  Then, on the 5th, South Sudan claimed it had shot down a Sudanese fighter jet, which the north denied.  The spokesman, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said Sudan was continuing to bomb disputed regions along the border in violation of a non-aggression pact the two countries signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Feb. 10th.  “As we speak today, they are continuing bombing villages,” he said—a charge the north denies.  Also, the United States Department of State reports that President Barack Obama has spoken with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and urged him to restrain from using force in reply.  (See my recent blog article listing the ongoing struggle in South Sudan as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

New Senegalese President Extends “Brotherly Hand” to Casamance Rebels.  In his first address to the nation on April 3rd, the newly elected president of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall, said that the separatist rebellion that has raged in the country’s southern region of Casamance since 1982 will be a priority for his administration.  He offered “a brotherly hand” to the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance, adding, “All people of goodwill and all national expertise will be mobilized for the peaceful settlement of this conflict that has lasted too long.”  Sall said he was willing to involve Casamance’s neighboring nations to the south, the Republic of the Gambia and the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, in a solution.

Macky Sall, Senegal’s new president


MI5 Uncovers Moscow Plot to Assassinate Exiled Chechen Rebel in London.  The United Kingdom’s internal secret police agency, MI5, was reported on April 1st to be investigating a Russian plot to assassinate a Chechen separatist living in exile in London since 2002.  The MI5 documents described in London’s Sunday Telegraph describe a list of people targeted for assassination by Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian Islamist president of the Republic of Chechnya who is a direct appointee of the Russian Federation and opposes Chechen secession.  On Kadyrov’s target list, reportedly, is Akhmed Zakayev, nominal prime minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s government-in-exile, the direct successor to the rebel government in Chechnya during the wars between the fall of Communism and 2000.  His presumed assassin, code-named “E1” by MI5, is in detention but may be freed soon by a British court.  Zakayev—a former actor turned rebel who is friends with the English actress Vanessa Redgrave and has been called “the Chechen Laurence Olivier”—is the head of a faction far more moderate than the Islamist offshoot Caucasus Emirate movement which dominates separatist violence in the North Caucasus region today.  Zakayev has been notified of the plot.  MI5 considers Kadyrov responsible for other assassinations within the U.K.  A Kadyrov spokesman said, “I can say it is complete nonsense and a lie, because nobody cares about Zakayev in Russia.  Zakayev is not a politician and certainly not the leader of any separatists.  There are no separatists.”  Even Zakayev agreed it does not make sense for Kadyrov to target him, since, he said, Kadyrov is “of use to the Kremlin” only so long as there is a separatist threat.

Vanessa Redgrave with Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev, in London

Bossi, under Fire in Fraud Probe, Resigns Northern League Leadership.  Umberto Bossi, the combative and flamboyant founder of Italy’s separatist Northern League for the Independence of Padania, resigned his leadership position on April 5th after an Italian court launched a wide-ranging investigation of the League, examining possible fraud and ties to organized crime.  Among targets of the investigation are embezzled funds funneled to Bossi’s relatives and organized-crime links to the League’s investments in Cyprus and Tanzania.  Bossi, who is 70 years old, will be replaced as the League’s secretary by Roberto Maroni, who served as Silvio Berlusconi’s interior minister during the years when the League formed the junior partner in Italy’s ruling center-right coalition.  (See my recent blog article on Bossi’s movement for an independent Padania.)

Umberto Bossi

Bossi’s Son Fined in Italy for Drive-By Bleach Attack.  In Gavirate, in northern Italy’s region of Lombardy, a court has handed down a €1,400 fine to Roberto Libertà Bossi—son of Umberto Bossi, founder of the Northern League (see story above)—for attacking a political rival with bleach in 2010.  The victim, Luigi Schiesaro, was pasting posters for his Refounded Communist Party on top of Northern League posters when the younger Bossi, who is now 21 years old, drove by in a Fiat and sprayed Schiesaro in the face with bleach, causing skin rashes.  (See my recent blog article on Bossi’s movement for an independent Padania.)

Tyroleans Offer to Pay Rome for Their Autonomy.  The South Tyroleans of northern Italy are doubly autonomous: their Bolzano–Alto Adige (Bozen–Südtirol, in German) region is an autonomous province within an itself autonomous region, Trentino–Alto Adige/Südtirol.  But they are still tired of, as they see it, subsidizing the rest of Italy’s fiscal dysfunction with their Germanic-style prosperity and efficiency.  The South Tyrolean provincial minister of economics is now proposing a one-time payment to Rome of €15 billion, plus an annual “solidarity tax” in exchange for freedom from their current disproportionately high footing of the federal bill for infrastructure and social services.  The minister, Thomas Widmann, says, “Full independence from Italy is not possible, because new states are unprecedented these days in modern Europe.  We can stay a part of Italy, but we want full financial freedom.  We’re ready to pay a solidarity tax of 3%.  We’ll pay for foreign policy, fiscal and euro policy.  Otherwise, we’ll do the rest on our own.”  Already, South Tyrol keeps 90% of its own tax revenue.  The mostly-German-speaking South Tyrol region was originally part of Austria, but was awarded to Italy after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismembered at the end of the First World War.  The Nazi puppet state in Vienna retook the area in the Second World War and, after the war, Austria negotiated to allow Tyroleans to retain a high level of autonomy within Italy.  Currently, Tyrolean separatists are the only northern Italian separatists who push their regional agenda outside the umbrella of the Northern League’s “Padania” movement.  (See my recent blog article on Umberto Bossi’s movement for an independent Padania.)

The flag of South Tyrol

Serbia Arrests, Releases 2 Kosovo Border Police.  Two ethnically-Albanian policemen from the de facto independent Republic of Kosovo were arrested by police from the Republic of Serbia in an area that Serbia’s interior ministry claims was the Serbian side of the border.  Kosovo’s interior ministry claims the policemen were on patrol on the Kosovar side.  Kosovo asked the United States and the European Union to intervene and press Serbia—which still claims Kosovo as a province—to release the two men.  On April 1st, Serbia handed the two policemen over to E.U. custody.  (See my recent blog article on the Kosovo dispute.)

Russian Troops Kill 5 Would-Be Suicide Bombers in Ingushetia.  The Russian Federation’s anti-terrorism agency reported that Russian security forces killed five Islamist militants in the Republic of Ingushetia, in the north Caucasus region, on April 3rd.  The five militants (three of them apparently women) opened fire after an attempt to stop their car in Nazran, and security forces returned fire.  Two of the five were wearing explosives belts characteristic of suicide bombers.  Officials said they were planning attacks in the Ingush capital, Magas.

12 Killed in Dagestan in Violent Week.  In the separatist, predominantly Muslim Republic of Dagestan, in the Russian Federation, two policemen were killed in Jasabiurt, Dagestan’s second-largest city, according to March 31st reports from the Ministry of the Interior.  The two attackers then hijacked a nearby car and escaped.  They have not been caught. Then, the Interfax news agency reported on April 2nd that in a battle between government and rebels near Kakirkent, three militants and one Interior Ministry soldier were killed.  On April 4th, the National Anti-Terror Committee announced that six militants had been killed in Dagestan in a three-day sweep, including members of the terrorist “Sergokala gang,” headed by a Turkish mercenary named Sheikh Abdusalam, who uses the nom de guerre Mohanned.

Doku Umarov, of the Caucasus Emirate movement, with his proposed nation’s flag


Kuban Cossack Commander Reelected, Vows to Defend Abkhazia.  At a conclave in the Republic of Abkhazia, the Kuban host of Cossacks has voted to retain Valery Vasilchenko as their Ataman (supreme military commander).  There are reportedly about 1,000 Cossacks in Abkhazia, many of them veterans of wars in South Ossetia, Kosovo, Transnistria, and other spots where Russian imperial interests have been threatened since the fall of Communism.  Vasilchenko said Cossacks were in Abkhazia to “keep the peace,” adding, “We are living on a volcano.”  Russia fought a brief war in 2008 to secure the de facto independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are still recognized by most of the world as part of the Republic of Georgia.  During the Russian Civil War, Kuban Cossacks maintained on the Black Sea northwest of Abkhazia an independent Kuban People’s Republic, allied with the Mensheviks, until it was defeated by forces loyal to Vladimir Lenin in 1920.

Coat-of-arms of the Cossack-governed Kuban People’s Republic (1918-1920)

Abkhazia Frees 4 Georgian Sailors.  The de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia has released four Georgian sailors that it had been keeping prisoner since February, and they have since returned to Georgia proper.  Their release was negotiated by the Red Cross and by Georgia’s Deputy Minister of Economic Development.

Georgia Charges Russian with Illegally Entering Abkhazia.  The Republic of Georgia announced on April 2nd that it had arrested a Russian citizen, Bella Vekua, for illegally entering the de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia, which Georgia still claims, in September 2011.  She faces a prison sentence of up to four years.  The same day, Konstantin Rodionov, another Russian, faced trial in Tbilisi for the same offense, committed in February of this year.  More than 90% of Abkhazia’s approximately quarter-million citizens also hold Russian Federation passports.

Georgia Cancels German Visit over Diplomat’s Comments.  Reports are emerging describing how a 15-member German diplomatic visit to the Republic of Georgia and to the de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia, which the West regards as part of Georgia, was canceled because of the Georgian government’s objection to one senior German diplomat.  The diplomat, Dieter Boden, was the United Nations special envoy on the Georgian–Abkhaz conflict and was the architect of the peace plan that gave Abkhazia de facto autonomy ten years ago.  He is perceived as pro-Abkhaz and, thus, to many, pro-Russia.  More recently, has written said that Georgia should apologize for its crimes in the 2008 South Ossetia War, just as Germany apologized for its crimes in the Second World War.  The trip was canceled as soon as Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, became aware that Boden was among the delegation.

Dieter Boden, the offending diplomat

South Ossetia Makes Russian an Official Language.  This week the parliament of the de facto independent Russian client state of the Republic of South Ossetia, which most of the world regards as part of the Republic of Georgia, constitutionally enshrined Russian as an official language alongside Ossetian.  Now state bodies must use both languages in their activities.  In a referendum on the question in November 2011, 84% of South Ossetians voted to make Russian an official language.  (See my blog article on last year’s disputed South Ossetian election.)

Kyrgyz Lawmaker Stokes Fears of Uzbek Separatist Plot.  A member of the Kyrgyz Republic’s parliament representing the ultranationalist party Ata-Zhurt (“Fatherland”) continued this week to lay out, with little evidence, complicated conspiracy theories involving a supposed separatist organization called Congress of Uzbeks, and demanded that the Kyrgyz government investigate it.  The legislator, Jyldyz Joldosheva, names Kadyrzhan Batyrov—a businessman from Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek minority who was exiled for his role in ethnic violence in 2010—as the supposed president of the Congress and says that the organization is planning attacks on Kyrgyzstan.  A year ago, Joldosheva made unsubstantiated claims that Uzbek separatists had bankrolled, in Finland, an incendiary book and video titled Hour of the Jackal accusing Kyrgyz of “genocide” in the 2010 unrest.  Finland has come to symbolize foreign anti-Kyrgyz sentiment for Joldosheva because a Finn, Kimmo Kiljunen, headed the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe panel that investigated the 2010 events (even though Kyrgyzstan is not in Europe, but never mind that).

Uzbek nationalist Kadyrzhan Batyrov

Last Ottoman Princess Dies at 91.  Her Imperial Highness the Princess Fatma Neslişah Osmanoğlu Sultan, Imperial Princess of the Ottoman Empire and Princess of Egypt, the oldest member of the Ottoman dynasty and the last member of the imperial line of the old Ottoman Empire to have been born before its replacement by the Turkish Republic, died April 2nd at her home in Istanbul, Turkey.  Princess Neslişah was born in 1921 in Istanbul, the granddaughter of Abdülmecid II, the last Caliph of Islam and Ottoman emperor, who died in Paris in 1924, shortly after the imperial family was sent into exile.  She was raised in Nice, in the south of France, and in 1940 married Prince Muhammad Abdel Moneim Beyefendi, second cousin to King Farouk and heir to the Kingdom of Egypt.  The young prince served as regent to the infant King Fuad II in the last days of the Egyptian monarchy before its dissolution with the 1952-53 revolution.  The newly empowered republican revolutionaries put the royal family under house arrest, then exiled them.  Later, in 1957, the imperial couple were allowed to return to Turkey.  In Parliament, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called the late princess a “poster-child for nobleness,” adding, “We remember her with high regard and our blessings.”   The current heir to the Ottoman throne is Osman Bayezid Osmanoğlu, an 88-year-old United States Army veteran and former New York City library employee.  He never married and has no children.

Princess Fatma Neslişah Osmanoğlu Sultan (1921-2012)

Turkish Soldier Killed in Kurdistan Clash.  One soldier was killed and one wounded on April 4th in a battle with separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in southeastern Turkey.  The incident occurred at Yesilova, in Hakkari province.  (See my recent blog article on the Kurdish Spring and another on shifting alliances in the Kurdish struggle.)

Istanbul Court Indicts 193, Including Nobel Candidate, for Ties to Kurds.  A court in Istanbul on April 2nd indicted 193 people as part of a crackdown on the Kurdistan Communities Union (K.C.K.), a legal organization which Turkey’s government links to the banned militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.).  The 193 include Büşra Ersanlı, an economics professor at Istanbul’s Marmara University, and Ragıp Zarakolu, a human-rights activist and publisher and candidate for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.  The 2,400-page indictment claims that documents containing orders from a P.K.K. base in northern Iraq had been found in a raid on Ersanlı’s house, plus other charges.  Ersanlı faces a possible 20 years in prison, while Zarakolu could receive 15.  1,400 people are implicated in the investigation as a whole, and 147 are already behind bars.  (See my recent blog article on the Kurdish Spring and another on shifting alliances in the Kurdish struggle.)


Barzani Opposes Foreign Arming of Syrian Rebels Who Snubbed Kurds.  Massoud Barzani, president of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.), said during a visit to the United States capital, Washington, on April 5th that while the international community should support democracy in Syria, foreign governments should not be providing the rebellious Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) with weapons.  On behalf of the K.R.G., he pledged to give non-lethal support to the Syrian-based Kurdistan National Council (K.N.C.), a Kurdish group opposed to the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad—though Kurds have been underrepresented in Syria’s uprising.  “We are ready to support them,” Barzani said, “but not with military support or providing ammunition.  It could be moral support, political support, financial support.  And we will use our influence to help solve their problems.  It would be good for them to enter into talks and negotiations so they can reach an agreement with the other groups of the opposition.”  On March 27th, Kurds stormed out of an Istanbul “Friends of Syria” opposition summit because the Syrian National Council (S.N.C., the F.S.A.’s political wing) refused to mention Kurdish autonomy as a goal.  The K.N.C. in Syria, which has since quit the S.N.C., claiming it toes Turkey’s official line on denying Kurdish rights.  Meanwhile, Iraq’s Arab Shiite president, Nouri al-Maliki, opposes all forms of opposition to the Assad’s rule.  (See my recent blog article on the Kurdish Spring and another on shifting alliances in the Kurdish struggle.)

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government

Turkish Warplanes Strafe Kurdish Base in Iraq.  Fighter aircraft from the Turkish Republic’s military forayed into northern Iraq on March 31st to attack what it said was a headquarters for Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.).  The base was reportedly in the Kandil mountains.  Turkish sources linked the base with what they called the increased presence of P.K.K. fighters in the civil war in Syria, where the P.K.K. has traditionally been allied with the now-embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad.  Meanwhile, at least one mysterious explosion has temporarily halted the flow of crude through an oil pipeline from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to Turkey.  (See my recent blog article on the Kurdish Spring and another on prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

Kurdistan Regional Government Defies Baghdad, Halts Oil Exports.  The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) in northern Iraq followed through on April 1st on its threats to halt “until further notice” all its oil exports as a protest against overdue payments from the central government in Baghdad to foreign oil firms operating in K.R.G. territory.  Iraq’s energy ministry responded by accusing the K.R.G. of smuggling crude over the border into Iran, since it has no refineries of its own.  While Shell Oil has shifted its interests to the non-Kurdish, Baghdad-controlled part of Iraq, Exxon Mobil has not relinquished its deals with the K.R.G., exposing it to anger from Iraq’s central government.  In addition to territorial disputes, disagreements over who controls oil production and trade has divided the Iraqi and K.R.G. administrations in recent months.  (See my recent blog article on the Kurdish Spring and another on prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

Iraq’s Fugitive Sunni Vice-President, Harbored by Kurds, Visits Qatar on the Sly.  Iraq’s sitting but de facto purged vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who has been harbored by the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) in the country’s north from an arrest warrant on terrorism charges since December, defied the central government on April 1st and made a state visit to the State of Qatar.  Hashemi has become a political football in the centrifugal struggle of the K.R.G.’s president, Massoud Barzani, who shares many Sunni Arabs’ concerns over the increasing authoritarianism of Iraq’s Shiite president, Nouri al-Maliki, who issued the warrant.  Many regard the warrant as a political purge.  Hashemi is to meet with Qatar’s emir and prime minister.  It is his first trip out of the K.R.G. since his seeking refuge there.  (See my recent blog article on the Kurdish Spring and another on prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s internally exiled Sunni vice-president

Israel Deports Islamic Jihad Hunger-Striker to Gaza.  A Palestinian woman who was arrested without charge in February and has refused food for more than 40 days was exiled by Israeli authorities to the Gaza Strip for three years, in a Red Cross–brokered deal, after which time she will be allowed to return to her home in Jenin, in the Israeli-occuped West Bank.  The prisoner, Hana Shalabi, who is 30 years old and a loyalist of Islamic Jihad, was one of more than 1,000 political prisoners released by Israel in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Shalit in October 2011.  She was greeted in Gaza on April 1st in a ceremony featuring Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters.  She told the press, “My feeling of freedom is mixed with pain because I am leaving my family and town.  God willing, we will gain freedom and all prisoners will be free.”  Palestinian Authority officials say she was forced into the deal, and the Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights said that parts of the deal were “fundamentally at odds with international law.”

Egyptian Deal Restores Fuel Supply to Gaza Strip.  The government of Egypt brokered a deal on April 3rd between the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) in the West Bank and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip to ease the fuel crisis in Gaza, without Hamas having to deal with Israel’s government.    “The Hamas authorities in Gaza will pay the money ... to the P.A., and the P.A. will take care of the payment to the Israeli side,” according to an official.  The first payment had already been delivered when the announcement was made.  Gaza had been suffering from an energy crisis since the Egyptian government cracked down on fuel-smuggling in February.   Hamas blamed the crackdown on a conspiracy to maneuver Hamas, a radical Islamic group, into peace talks with Israel, which it does not want.

Hamas Hangs Palestinian in Gaza for Collaborating with Israel.  In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian was hanged on April 7th for “collaborating” with Israel, according to Hamas, the Islamist terror group that governs the territory.  Also at the hanging, two convicted murderers were executed.  Hamas reports that the hangings were carried out after appeals had been exhausted, according to the rule of law.  But Human Rights Watch has urged that Gaza abandon the death penalty.

The flag of Hamas

International Criminal Court Refuses to Investigate Gaza War.  The International Criminal Court in the Hague, in the Netherlands, ruled on April 3rd that it could not investigate accusations of war crimes in Israel’s 22-day war against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09, in which over a thousand Palestinians were killed.  “Palestine,” the court explained, “has been recognized as a state in bilateral relations by more than 130 governments and by certain international organizations, including United Nation bodies.  However, the current status granted to Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly is that of ‘observer,’ not as a ‘non‐member state.’”   Palestinian applications for General Assembly membership have been blocked by a United States veto.

After Delay, Army Evicts Squatters in Hebron.  About 70 militant Jewish settlers were ordered by Israel’s military on April 2nd to evacuate a building in downtown Hebron, in the West Bank, but then had their eviction notice stayed at the last moment by Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who said the squatters could stay while they “make their legal case.”  By April 4th, however, evictions had begun.  The occupation began on March 29th when approximately 10 families moved into the building before dawn after it was purchased from a Palestinian owner.  They moved in secret because of rumors that the Palestinian Authority planned to seize the site, which overlooks the reputed burial place of Abraham.  The Israeli military has asked them to move out by April 3rd or be removed by force, since the proper ownership of the building was still being determined.

The disputed building in Hebron

South Yemen Separatists Offer Talks with Central Government.  Militants who want a separate state in South Yemen told the media on April 3rd that they are willing to negotiate directly with the central government in Sana’a but only if only those two parties are at the table and only if the talks are held in a foreign country.  As civil war rages in Yemen, some areas are controlled by the government but some are controlled by Southern secessionists, al-Qaeda, or the Houthi minority.  The main separatist group is called the Higher Council of the Peaceful Movement for the Liberation of the South.  (See my recent blog article listing South Yemen as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Burmese President Meets with Karen Rebel Leaders for First Time.  Thein Sein, the president of the United Republic of Myanmar, also known as Burma, met for the first time on April 7th with delegates from the Karen National Union (K.N.U.), the main rebel group representing the ethnic group that has been fighting for decades for a separate state in Burma’s southeast.  The ninety-minute meeting, in Nay Pyi Taw, the new Burmese capital near Rangoon (Yangon), is a landmark in Burma’s rapid normalization and opening up to the West over the past several months.  The K.N.U. delegates are due to meet next with Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and former political prisoner who was elected to Parliament last week.  (See my recent blog article on minorities in Burma.)

This week’s historic meeting between the Burmese government and Karen rebels

China Asks Neighbors to Hand over Uyghur “Terrorists” Trained in Pakistan.  The People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Public Security announced on April 6th it was freezing the assets of six wanted members of the predominantly-Muslim Uyghur minority it claimed were separatist terrorists on the run abroad.  The ministry’s statement claimed the six Uyghurs—“core members” of Xinjiang province’s banned East Turkistan Islamic Movement—had received training in suicide bombings and other terrorist techniques in “a certain south Asian country”—widely understood to refer to Pakistan, which is for the most part a P.R.C. ally.  The statement asked foreign governments to hand the six men over to China, as they present a “direct and real threat” to Chinese security.

Indian Troops Kill 5 Lashkar-e-Taiba Militants in Kashmir.  A 10-hour-long gun battle on April 5th between India’s security forces and militants from the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group left five militants dead.  Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist militia whose name means “Army of the Righteous,” seeks, among other goals, to put the Indian-administered parts of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region under the control of Pakistan.  Its founder, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, lives in Pakistan and has just been slapped with a $10-million bounty by the United States government for, among other acts, its role in the 2008 tourist-hotel bombings in Mumbai (Bombay), India.  It follows a similar battle last week in which five Lashkar-e-Taiba militants were also killed.  Then on April 6th, the city of Baramulla was shut down after police clashed with stone-throwing protesters, immediately after an incendiary public speech by the Islamist Kashmir separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Police Comb India–Bangladesh Border Area for 6 Hostages of Mizoram Rebels.  Police in Mizoram state in India announced on April 2nd they were cooperating with both Indian and Bangladeshi border patrols in combing the two countries’ hilly frontier region for six people kidnapped by a Mizoram separatist group on March 26th.  They were kidnapped from a work shed at Bunghmum in southwestern Mizoram.  Police suspect the hostages are being held in the largely lawless Chittagong Hill Tracts region of southeastern Bangladesh.  No group has claimed responsibility for the snatching.

Separatists Bomb Thai Tourist Hotel; Government Denies Rumors of Failed Talks.  After the killing of 11 people in coordinated car-bombs in the shopping district of downtown Yala in southern Thailand on March 31st (reported in this space last week), a third explosion on that day has now been attributed to the same group of ethnically-Malay Muslim separatists.  Originally blamed on a gas leak, the blast killed three and injured over 200 at the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel, a tourist destination in the city of Hat Yai where a 2006 explosion killed six tourists.  A McDonald’s restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel was nearly destroyed.  Then, on April 3rd, a policeman was shot and wounded in Pattani province.  Hat Yai is in Songkhla province, an area which till now had not been a focus of the recent wave of insurgent violence.  On April 4th, police arrested a 22-year-old suspect in the Yala bombings, who denies the charges.  In parliament on April 5th, Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, denied charges that failed talks between rebels and the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, led to the recent upsurge in violence.

Surveillance video of the Hat Yai hotel bombers


Moro Warlord Killed by Rivals in Philippines.  Members of the Moro National Liberation Front (M.N.L.F.) killed a commander from a rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (M.I.L.F.) in the Philippines on April 1st.  The M.I.L.F. commander, Long Malat Sulayman, was wounded in a firefight following an ambush and later bled to death, according the Philippine military.  Malat is considered responsible for an ambush in October 2011 in which 19 Philippine soldiers were killed and many were captured, tortured, and mutilated.  Both groups are engaged in negotiations with the Philippine government for an autonomous Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines, after decades of insurgency.  Meanwhile, on April 5th, four were killed in an attack on a cooperative rubber plantation on Basilan island blamed on the Islamist separatist militia, Abu Sayyaf, with which the government refuses to negotiate.  (For more information on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, please do a Google search for “MILF.”)

Tuvalu Denies Armenian Diplomatic Ties Linked to Nagorno-Karabakh Recognition. The foreign-affairs secretary of Tuvalu, a tiny atoll nation in the South Pacific which is the fourth-smallest sovereign state in the world and has fewer people than any besides Vatican City, has denied that his country’s decision to open a diplomatic mission in the Republic of Armenia is connected to Armenian economic largesse in exchange for Tuvaluan recognition of the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which Armenia conquered from the Republic of Azerbaijan after the fall of Communism.  The minister, Tapegao Fulefou, said, “Not that I know of, there is no financial support that we have received from Armenia and there was no financial support that has been pledged by Armenia as far as I am aware.”  Tuvalu last year recognized the otherwise mostly unrecognized Russian client states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a move which was seen by the international community as the product of Russia’s financial coercion (as reported in this blog).


Puerto Rican Separatist Demands End to Cuba Blockade.  A United States Congressional candidate from the Puerto Rican Independence Party called on March 30th for an end to the 50-year-old U.S. economic blockade against the Republic of Cuba.  The candidate, Juan Mercado, called it an anachronistic vestige of the long-ended Cold War and “a discredited policy which violates the most elementary principles of human rights.”  Puerto Rico and Cuba were both colonies of the Kingdom of Spain conquered by the U.S. during a war of aggression in 1898.

Juan Mercado

Panel Halts Hearing in Canadian Aboriginal Village, Citing Safety.  Canada’s federal National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, set up to host energy firms’ consultations with affected communities, cancelled an April 2nd meeting in the remote coastal aboriginal village of Bella Bella, British Columbia, after panel members’ “safety fears” after being met by peaceful Heiltsuk demonstrators, including young hunger-strikers, at the village airport.  One B.C. legislator who was on the flight said, “I am shocked and surprised that the panel might pull out of the community because they felt threatened,” while Caitlyn Vernon of the Sierra Club offered, “It was inspiring to see the courage and leadership of Heiltsuk youth as they gathered to speak up for their future.  It is an insult to the Heiltsuk Nation and all the neighbouring First Nations who travelled to be there in support, that the panel would feel threatened by the respectful demonstration that I witnessed.”   The meeting was to have covered grievances related to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, which will transport crude oil and natural gas from Bruderheim, Alberta, to Kitimat, B.C., in Haisla Nation territory.

Heiltsuk protesters meet a government delegation in Bella Bella on April 1st


Kirchner Colleague in Argentine Parliament Vows to “Retake” Falklands.  The chairman of the Argentine senate’s foreign-affairs committee, Daniel Fernando Filmus, told the press, just two days before the April 2nd anniversary of Argentina’s unprovoked military invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, that one day Argentina would successfully take the archipelago, which are known in Latin America as the Islas Malvinas.  He said, “There’s no suppression which lasts forever.  It is in our constitution and it is in the hearts of all Argentinians that sooner or later we will regain the Malvinas, which is just 700 kilometers off our coastline and more than 14,000 kilometers from the British coast, along with all the riches that are there—fishing, oil, and the Antarctic projects.  This is something that concerns the sovereignty not just of Argentina but the whole of Latin America.”  Filmus is from the same political party as the Argentine president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who revived the Falklands dispute earlier this year.  (See my blog article on the Falklands dispute.)

Rioters Burn Prince William in Effigy at British Embassy in Buenos Aires.  On the day of the anniversary of the start of the 1982 Falklands war, Argentines rioting outside the United Kingdom embassy in Buenos Aires threw Molotov cocktails at both the embassy and riot police and burned Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in effigy.  It was William’s deployment to the Falkland Islands earlier this year which revived the disputed between Argentina and the U.K. over the archipelago.  (See my blog article on the Falklands dispute.)

Prince William being burned in effigy

Argentina Threatens Banks Underwriting Falklands Oil Exploration.  The London Sunday Telegraph is reporting that on March 20th the Argentine Republic sent unsigned letters of warning to 15 banks with offices in the United Kingdom warning that aiding in any way companies connected to the disputed Falkland Islands’ oil industry amounted to “a violation of the applicable domestic and international rules.”  The banks included the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays, and Goldman Sachs.   (See my blog article on the Falklands dispute.)

[You can read more about these and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

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