Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Week in Separatist News, April 29–May 5: Mali & Sudan Updates; Kalmykian Separatist Plays Chess with Assad; Myanmar Still Massacring Kachin

Photo of the Week: the Kuomboka river ceremony of the Lozi (Barotse) people of western Zambia and northeastern Namibia, cancelled this year due to security fears after a Barotseland secession crisis.  (See below—“Zambia’s Mbunda Urge Barotseland Not to Secede,” under “Africa.”)


Mali Junta Blames Counter-Coup on Foreigners after Retaking Control.  The military junta that took control of the Republic of Mali in March claimed on May 1st it was still in control of the country (at least the one-third or so of the country that has not seceded as the Independent State of Azawad), despite a counter-coup the day before, apparently by the “Red Berets,” the presidential guardsmen of the deposed democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Touré.  The loyalists were deployed in several parts of the capital, Bamako, on April 30th, and gunfire continued through the night and into the morning, mainly around the television broadcast building.  But by later in the day, the junta announced over state television that they were still in control and that the coup had been the work of “elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country.”  One journalist saw a military officer displaying on the corpse of one presidential guardsmen a tribal tattooing indicating that he was from Burkina Faso.  As recently as May 2nd, however, there was still gunfire reported in Bamako.  The March 22nd coup had begun as military discontent over the government’s handling of the civil war with Tuareg separatists in the country’s north.  (See my recent article on Azawad’s declaration of independenceanother on the choice of a name for the country, and an earlier one on the Tuareg rebellion in the context of other north–south conflicts in the Sahel.)

Splits Deepen in Azawad between Terror Groups, Tuareg Clerics.  Tuareg religious and political leaders at an April 25-26 conclave in Gao, the interim capital of northern Mali’s separatist Independent State of Azawadurged foreign militias like the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (A.Q.I.M.) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to leave Azawad and asked local militias like Ansar al-Dine and the National Liberation Front of Azawad (run by Azawad’s Moorish minority) to integrate quietly into Azawadi society so that sovereign institutions and stability could be developed.  The conference’s closing statement also asked the Malian government in Bamako, as well as neighboring states, to recognize Azawad’s independence.  The conference was dominated by representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (M.N.L.A.), the Tuareg rebel group that began the Azawadi uprising in January.  In response, Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of Ansar al-Dine, urged his followers to cut their ties with A.Q.I.M. out of respect for the Tuareg clerics.  Meanwhile, Islamists in Azawad are continuing to enforce shari’a.  Traditional Tuareg music is being banned, and on April 30th in Gao, two men were punished for smoking hashish with 30 lashes from a flexible tree branch while being forced to chant, “God is great—there is no God but God.”

Islamic rebels in Azawad

Rights Group Blames All Sides in Mali, Citing Rape, Child Soldiers.  The international organization Human Rights Watch reported this week that widespread rape and the use of child soldiers characterize the reign of terror of Tuareg separatists in northern Mali, but claims that soldiers from the Malian government have been witnessed committing war crimes as well.  Corinne Dufka, H.R.W.’s senior Africa researcher, referred to “a very worrying dynamic of abduction and sexual abuse by primarily the M.N.L.A. [National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad] as well as the Arab militia,” including the story of a 14-year-old girl gang-raped for four days by M.N.L.A. rebels.  Meanwhile the United Nations’ World Food Program is now saying that by May 15th it is due to run out of food for the tens of thousands of Malian civil-war refugees living in camps in Mauritania.

Kidnapped Algerian Diplomats in Danger; Islamists Offer to Swap U.K. Captive.  An al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group called the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which has been holding seven Algerian diplomats kidnapped April 5th in Gao, in Mali’s self-proclaimed Independent State of Azawad (as reported in this blog), told the media April 30th that their lives were in danger.  The government of Algeria “completely rejected our demands,” said Abu Walid Sahraoui, a MUJAO spokesman.  A few days later, Sahraoui said he would release the diplomats in exchange for 15 million, and was also asking €30 million for an Italian and a Spaniard kidnapped in October 2011 from a refugee camp in western Algeria for refugees from Western Sahara.  He threatened attacks if payment was not made.  Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (A.Q.I.M.), announced on its website this week that it would release a British hostage, whom it kidnapped from a Timbuktu restaurant along with two other Westerners in November, if the United Kingdom government deported Abu Qatada al-Filistini—an al-Qaeda operative from Palestine currently in prison in the U.K.—to “one of the Arab Spring countries.”  In the same week, on April 29th, the Algerian military killed about 20 MUJAO operatives in Algeria’s vast Tamanrasset province, near the border with Azawad, including a regional commander for the Tessalit region of Mali, Houma Ould Abdelali.

Ecowas on Brink of Sending Troops to Mali, Guinea-Bissau; France Pledges Help.  The president of the commission of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) announced after meetings in Dakar, Senegal, on May 3rd that an Ecowas military force would be deployed to the Republic of Mali and the Republic of Guinea-Bissau imminently, to reverse last month’s military coups d’état, after financial details had been settled.  The government of the French Republic praised the plans, with Alain Juppé, the foreign minister, pledging “logistical, material, and intelligence” support to the operations, though he ruled out the use of French troops.


Fighting between Sudans Drags On; Sanctions Threatened.  Fighting is continuing between the fledgling Republic of South Sudan and its former parent state, the Republic of Sudan, with South Sudan threatening to re-occupy Sudan’s crucial Heglig oil-field, from which it had withdrawn the week before under international pressure.  South Sudan also promised on April 29th to withdraw from the disputed Abyei district, in Sudan’s South Kordofan state.  The Sudanese government in Khartoum on April 29th declared a state of emergency in the border areas, covering South Kordofan, White Nile, and Sennar states—the last two being newly embroiled regions.  Sudan’s military battered South Sudanese positions April 29th in Panakuach, in Unity State, South Sudan, and in three other locations along the border with a formerly undisputed part of South Sudan, injuring four.  South Sudanese sources also said Sudan was advancing with ground troops against Southerners in other frontier regions.  On May 4th, South Sudan accused Sudan of continuing to strike at military targets in Unity State, after two days of relative calm.  The United States, the United Nations, the African Union, and the rest of the international community continues to plead for restraint, with the U.N. threatening sanctions if fighting does not cease.

Sudan Arrests Europeans and South African, Accusing Them of Spying for South.  The Republic of Sudan announced April 28th that its forces had arrested a United Kingdom citizen, a Norwegian, and a South African along with a South Sudanese—all of them accused of entering the disputed Heglig oil-field region with the intention of spying for South Sudan’s government—proof, according to an Army spokesman, that the South is using “foreign fighters.”  South Sudan called them humanitarians working on clearing minefields.  The Norwegian is John Soerboe, an employee of Norwegian People’s Aid.  (See my blog article listing South Sudan as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Kony Operating in South Sudan War Zone, Uganda Says.  Agence France Presse reported April 30th that Joseph Kony—the notorious Ugandan rebel leader who is the focus of a recent global campaign to bring him to justice sparked by a YouTube video (as reported in this blog)—is operating in the war-torn border region between Sudan and South Sudan.  That information comes from Uganda’s military chief, Aronda Nyakairima, who told A.F.P., “The last intelligence ... from someone who surrendered indicated that Kony was somewhere in Western Bahr-el-Ghazal at a point where the triangular borders meet”—referring to South Sudan’s Western Bahr-el-Ghazal state, bordering Sudan and the Central African Republic, a state to which fighting has only recently spread.  Uganda is spearheading an African Union–sponsored hunt for Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.) began as an ethnic insurgency among his northern Ugandan Acholi ethnic group in the late 1980s.

Ogoni Leader Threatens Secession from Nigeria.  A leader from southern Nigeria’s Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People—and a former confidante of the executed Ogoni human-rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa—on May 1st threatened Nigeria with eventual secession.  The leader, Dr. Goodluck Diigbo, said that Ogoniland would stay in Nigeria only with the promise of autonomy, and that in the event of another civil war, such as the Biafra War of 1967-70, which embroiled the Ogoni, Ogoniland would promptly claim independence.

Flag of the Ogoni people, designed by Ken Saro-Wiwa

Cyrenaica Leaders Threaten Libya Election Boycott.  The Council of Cyrenaica, which seeks autonomy for the vast, thinly populated eastern portion of Libya, where 80% of its oil is produced, is asking residents of the region, as well as all Libyans, to boycott upcoming national elections.  An official statement emphasized the need for devolving some powers to the regions and accused the internationally recognized National Transitional Council in Tripoli, in the west, of “currently working on railroading the Libyan people and the whole country into a constitutional process in which the new state will not be built correctly.”  (See my recent blog article on Cyrenaica’s declaration of autonomy.)

Somaliland Expels U.N. Staffer for Misbehavior.  It was reported on April 29th that the government of the unrecognized but de facto independent Republic of Somaliland has expelled a United Nations staff member for, as the government put it, acts that violate the country’s religion and cultural values.  The staffer, Bana Bas, a citizen of Kenya, earned about $18,000 US per month in his work with the U.N.’s World Food Program.  He allegedly held wild parties, co-hosted by him and a Somalilander, at one of which he was injured in a brawl, leading to the arrival of police, his arrest, and his expulsion.  He is barred from ever returning to Somaliland and also has lost his U.N. job as a result.  (See my blog article on the de facto partition of Somalia.)

3 Politicians Arrested in Somaliland Ballot Protest.  Three opposition politicians were arrested on April 27th (and later released) in Hargeisa, capital of the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland, as they were planning to address a crowd at a rally.  The rally was planned (as reported in this blog) in protest of government bans on opposition candidates.  (See my blog article on the de facto partition of Somalia.)

South African Mercenary in Puntland May Have Been Killed by His Own Bodyguard.  A 55-year-old mercenary from South Africa described as a “trainer” with the Puntland Maritime Police Force, in the self-governing Puntland State of Somalia, was killed on April 27th while conducting an anti-piracy operation in the de facto independent republic’s northeastern Bari province.  The government is keeping mum about details in the death of the mercenary, Lodewyk “Lood” Pietersen, but Somalian media report that Pietersen was shot in the head and chest and killed instantly soon after an argument with his Somali guards.  At least 40 guards have been arrested in the case.  Pietersen has also been identified as a senior officer in the United Kingdom–based mercenary firm Saracen International, which contracts extensively with the Puntland government.  Soon after the incident, Saracen decided to pull all of its employees out of Puntland and other parts of Somalia without delay.  The South African government is investigating the incident as well, and seems to be treating Pietersen’s death as a homicide at the hands of his boydguard.  (See my blog article on the de facto partition of Somalia.)
Journalist Assassinated in Puntland.  Just outside the divided city of Galkayo, in the self-governing Puntland State of Somalia, a journalist from the Republic of Somalia proper, Farhan Jeemis Abdulle, was shot and killed on May 2nd by unknown masked assailants.  Abdulle was walking home in the evening from his job with Radio Daljir.  He is the fifth journalist killed this year in the variously self-governing parts of what the world regards as the Republic of Somalia.  (See my blog article on the de facto partition of Somalia.)

Zambia’s Mbunda Urge Barotseland Not to Secede.  A cultural body of the Mbunda ethnic group in Zambia’s secessionist Western Province has reiterated its opposition to last month’s quickly retracted declaration of independence by the province’s Lozi (a.k.a. Barotse) majority, who want to form a sovereign Kingdom of Barotseland.  The organization, the Cheke Cha Mbunda Cultural and Writers Association, issued a resolution from a special April 28th meeting on the Barotseland issue, citing common cause with their “Lozi brothers” in suffering persecution in Western Province but rejecting the separatist approach.  The previous week, the Barotse Royal Establishment, as the secessionist monarchist organization is known, cancelled the annual late-April Kuomboka river ceremony, citing low water levels, though media reported that real reason was fear that the event would attract violence because of the secession controversy.

Kenyan Crackdown Dampens Mombasa Separatists’ Popularity, Official Says.  The commissioner of Kenya’s Coast Province said this week that the banned Mombasa Republican Council (M.R.C.), which would like Coast to separate from Kenya as its own country, has seen a sudden decline in activity and popularity after recent statements by Kenya’s president and prime minister against the group, and a riot outside a courthouse last month in which one separatist was killed (as reported in this blog).  Coast is a predominantly Muslim province in the predominantly Christian nation.


Torture and Murder Charges Dropped against Kosovo Rebel Commander.  A European Union court on May 2nd in Pristina in the partially recognized Republic of Kosovo has vacated charges of torture and the killing of prisoners against four defendants including Fatmir Limaj, deputy president of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, a former Minister of Transport, and a former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army that fought, successfully, to separate from the Republic of Serbia.  Most of the testimony against Limaj was from one witness who later committed suicide.  It concerned crimes against both Serbs and Albanians (Limaj is an ethnic Albanian) in the village of Klecka in 1999.  (See my blog article on the Kosovo conflict.)

Fatmir Limaj

Basque Separatist Leader Given 81 Years in Prison.  A court in Madrid handed down an 81-year prison term on May 3rd to the former leader of the Basque separatist militia E.T.A. (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or “Basque Homeland and Freedom”) for the murders of three policemen in Spain’s Basque Country in 1980.  The leader, Félix Alberto López de Lacalle Gauna, who used the nom de guerre Mobutu (an apparent reference to the brutal Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko), was part of the gang that killed the three policemen, as they were preparing for a bicycle race.  López wore an Argentinian football jersey during his trial.  (See my recent blog article featuring a profile of the Basque militant Idoia López Riaño.)

Defiant Bossi Rejects Accusations of Lega Nord’s Corruption.  In some of his most pointed comments since being forced from his party’s leadership last month under the cloud of a corruption investigation, Umberto Bossi, founder of the Northern League for the Independence of Padania (Lega Nord), which wants northern Italy to secede from the rest of the country, said that the League was not corrupt: “Lega Nord didn’t still anything,” he told a rally in Conegliano, in the northeastern Veneto region; “it wasted money and those who wasted it will pay it back.  There is nothing criminal involved.  ...  This is Rome’s attempt to divide the party.  But the North can’t be defeated.  It’s useful for Rome to struggle.  Padania will always be free.”  (See my blog article on Umberto Bossi’s dream of a “Greater Padania” and a more recent article featuring a profile of his son Renzo Bossi.)

Suicide Bombers Kill 13 in Attack on Police in Dagestan.  At least 14 people were killed and 122 injured in a pair of suicide bombings against police targets on May 3rd just outside Makhachkala, capital of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Dagestan, home to a long-standing Islamist insurgency.  The bombings were coordinated, with the second timed to hit emergency responders to the first.  Bodies of a man and a woman were thought to be those of the suicide bombers.

Aftermath of the latest suicide bombing in Dagestan

Dagestani Journalist Charged with Founding Islamist Militia.  A journalist arrested in the Republic of Dagestan in March was charged on April 27th with conspiring to form an armed group.  The journalist, Kamil Magomedov, is also accused, along with two others, of extortion and firearms charges.  The gang’s founder, according to Russian authorities, is Ilyas Sharipov, whose sister is Mariam Sharipova, the notorious suicide-bomber in a Moscow subway station attack in 2010 which killed 26 people, including herself.  “Wahhabist literature” was also found among the explosives and ammunition seized in Magomedov’s home when he was arrested.

Bomb in Ingushetia Kills 3 Policemen.  A bomb at a gas station in the Republic of Ingushetia, in the Russian Federation, killed two police officers on April 28th.  A third policeman, a gas-station employee, and another person were injured.  The bomb, in the city of Sagopshi, went off just as the police car carrying the officers approached.

Chechnya Vet Dubbed “Russia’s Rambo” Dies in Motorcycle Crash.  Lt.-Col. Anatoly Vyacheslav Lebed, a famed veteran of Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Georgia nicknamed “Russia’s Rambo,” died on April 30th in a motorcycle accident in Moscow at the age of 48.  Born in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, he served in the Soviet air force in Afghanistan in the 1980s, retiring in 1994 but heading to Dagestan as a veteran mercenary at the beginning of the Second Chechen War.  He shortly rejoined the air force, he also fought in the 2008 South Ossetia War and in the Kosovo conflict, all after having lost a foot to a Chechen land mine.  (See my recent article featuring a profile of the Chechnyan separatist Akhmed Zakayev.)

Russia’s Rambo


Julio Iglesias Lawsuit against Northern Cyprus Tossed Out.  A United States federal judge in Washington, D.C., has thrown out of court a lawsuit brought by the agent representing the Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and a Turkish hotel chain called Voyager for attempting to lure Iglesias to the unrecognized puppet state, exposing him to prosecution for violating international law by engaging with an economically blockaded political entity.  Iglesias’s case was undermined by the fact that he himself backed out of the deal—and kept the money.  (See my recent blog article on Northern Cyprus.)

Julio Iglesias, unwitting pawn in the grander schemes of Turkish nationalism

Abkhazia May Be Settling Syrian Refugees in Abandoned Georgian Homes.  The de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia, which most of the world regards as still part of the Republic of Georgia, has announced that about 90 Abkhaz refugees from the civil war in Syria will be brought to Abkhazia for resettlement this year, though Abkhazian officials say they mostly had planned to leave before the civil war.  Georgian rights groups fear that the refugees will be housed in homes vacated by ethnic Georgians forced to flee when Abkhazia first established independence in the early 1990s.  In Circassia—an irregular cluster of nominally autonomous republics of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea region between Ukraine and the North Caucasus—Circassian organizations claim that these alleged Abkhazian Syrians are in fact Circassians.  Many Circassians fled to Turkey, Syria, and other countries when the Russian Empire invaded the greater Caucasus region in the 19th century, in what many call a genocide.  Syria, whose embattled dictatorship is supported by few global powers other than Russia and Iran, has perhaps 100,000 Circassians, many of them in the armed services.  Abkhazia is a Russian client state whose national language, Abkhaz, is a Turkic language related to Circassian.

Georgian Opposition Doubts Official Story of Abkhazian Bomb in Zugdidi.  The interior ministry the Republic of Georgia announced May 4th that it had arrested “an individual who crossed the administrative border from the Russian-occupied territory of Abkhazia and smuggled explosive materials to Zugdidi,” in Georgia proper.  The device was defused by Interior Ministry sappers after being found near a prosecutor’s office.  But the leader of the Our Georgia–Free Democrats political party, Irakli Alasania, a former United Nations ambassador, mocked the bomb scare, saying at a rally in Zugdidi later that day that Georgian authorities had planted as well as defused it.  The implication was that the government was using the Russian bugbear to scare people away from an opposition political event.  Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili had earlier denounced an opposition television channel for using the Russian flag’s colors red, white, and blue in its logo.

Saakashivili Wants Ashes Spread on Black Sea near Abkhaz Border.  The anti-separatist president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, told the press on May 2nd that after his death he would like his ashes spread at the Black Sea resort town of Anaklia, right on the de facto border with the self-governing Republic of Abkhazia, which most of the rest of the world, except Russia and a handful of minor countries, regards as part of the Republic of Georgia.  Saakashvili made the statement in Kutaisi, the proposed “second capital,” halfway between the Abkhaz border and the current capital, Tbilisi.  Saakashvili also recently referred to Tbilisi as “not only the capital of Georgia, but of the whole Caucasus,” saying, “Tbilisi is the capital of Armenia, Azerbaijan, by history and by culture.”  Saakashvili sees the establishment of a second capital in Kutaisi as part of a reassertion of Tbilisi control over western Georgia.

Mikheil Saakashvili with George W. Bush

Turkish Cargo Ships Nabbed by Georgian Border Cops for Entering Abkhazia.  The Republic of Georgia’s coast guard detained two cargo ships from Turkey and arrested their 12 crew members at the Black Sea port of Poti on April 26th for having violating Georgia’s ban on foreigners entering the de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia just to the north without Georgian government approval.  The ships’ visits to Abkhazia had occurred in January and February.  The crew were released on bail the next day.  Most of the world, including Turkey, regards Abkhazia as Georgian territory.

Azerbaijan, Snubbed by West over Nagorno-Karabakh, Threatens Realignment.  An official with Azerbaijan’s government said on April 30th that his country may begin to rethink its warming relations with the West—which including allowing Israel and the United States to use Azerbaijan as a staging ground for espionage and covert operations directed at Iran—unless the U.S. and European powers begin using their influence to pressure Armenia to withdraw from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  The official, Novruz Mammadov, who heads the executive foreign-relations department, said Azerbaijan had the opportunity instead to realign itself with “a new bloc” of nations, pointedly refusing to elaborate—though he implied that this might be a reference to Iran.  “We’re the only secular Muslim nation in the world that’s tied its destiny with the West, but we haven’t seen a positive attitude in return.”  Meanwhile, the foreign minister of Iran—a country which normally aligns itself with Armenia’s patron, the Russian Federation—said on April 28th that his government was prepared to act as a neutral mediator in the decades-old Armenian–Azeri conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  (See my recent blog article about the geopolitical context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.)

Armenia Fined for Eurovision Boycott.  The Republic of Armenia is being fined by the European Broadcasting Union for its boycott of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.  The boycott is related to the decades-old conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Armenia will have to pay the original participation fee, plus 50%.

Former P.K.K. Official Arrested in Germany; Kurdish Rioters Given Life.  German authorities have arrested an alleged former financial manager for the European branch of Turkey’s banned separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.).  The 45-year-old Turkish citizen, who was arrested in Cologne, is identified by police only as “Abdullah S.” and by his nom de guerre Hamza.  Charges against him include running a German regional cell of the P.K.K.  Meanwhile, on May 1st, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals increased a lower-court sentence to life in prison for a group of Kurdish rioters who threw Molotov cocktails at a 2009 P.K.K. demonstration in Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish region, protesting prison conditions of the P.K.K.’s founder, Abdullah Öcalan.  (See my blog article on the latest Kurdish uprising and another on shifting alliance in the Kurdish struggle.)

Turks Detain 4 Kurds Sneaking In from Syria, 8 Dead in Kurdish Clashes in Turkey.  Security forces in Turkey detained on April 29th what they say are four members of the banned separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) who were trying to cross into the country from Syria, supposedly as part of their plans for a bomb attack.  They were acting on a tip, and claimed that the four had received training at a P.K.K. camp.  Two days later, the government announced that three P.K.K. fighters had been killed in a battle with security forces in Ağrı province, near the border with Iran in southeastern Turkey.  On May 3rd, security forces killed two of a gang of P.K.K. fighters who ambushed a police vehicle and wounded two.  The next day, the military said three Turkish soldiers were killed by the P.K.K. during a raid on suspected hideouts in Tunceli province.  (See my blog article on the latest Kurdish uprising and another on shifting alliance in the Kurdish struggle.)


Sectarian Conclave in Iraqi Kurdistan Urges More Democracy in Baghdad.  With rather pointed reference to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasing authoritarianism, an informal conclave of Iraqi regional, factional, and sectarian leaders met in Arbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, to urge Iraq toward greater democracy.  Meeting at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraq’s (Kurdish) president, Jalal Talabani, the summit included, along with Talabani himself, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government; the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; Iyad Allawi of the predominantly Sunni Arab al-Iraqiya Bloc; and Osama al-Nujaifi, the Sunni Arab speaker of Iraq’s parliament.  Sadr, however—who, like Maliki, is a Shiite Arab—spoke strongly against the partition of Iraq toward which some of Barzani’s recent comments have been hinting.  But Barzani and Talabani gradually ratcheted up their support for some form of secession.  Barzani said, “I am willing to spill my blood for independence.  But I am not willing to spill it for autonomy.”  (See my blog article on the latest Kurdish uprisinganother on shifting alliance in the Kurdish struggle, and an earlier piece about the prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

A Kurdish Yalta: Jalal Talabani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and Massoud Barzani in Arbil

U.S. Diplomat Galbraith Says Time Now for Kurdish Independence.  Peter Galbraith, a United States senator for Vermont and a former diplomat, who advises to northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.), told an interviewer this week that the time has come for the K.R.G. to be independent of Iraq.  He accused Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, of hoarding power and for violating the constitution by denying the K.R.G. its rights over its own resources and for failing to hold required referenda on whether Kirkuk and other disputed areas would come under the K.R.G. or not.  He added, “The Kurds agreed to stay in Iraq on the basis of the constitution in its entirety.  If the Baghdad government does not keep its part of the bargain, then the basis for Kurdistan’s continued membership in Iraq no longer exists.”  As for the U.S., he said, “The U.S. usually supports the status quo and probably will not support secession until after it takes place,” but “the U.S. has no friend as good as the Kurds, so it will have no alternative but to accept Kurdistan’s independence.”  Meanwhile, an Israeli scholar and Kurdistan specialist has predicted that Israel would be among nations welcoming the opportunity to recognize an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq.  (See my blog article on the latest Kurdish uprisinganother on shifting alliance in the Kurdish struggle, and an earlier piece about the prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

Iraqi Court Charges Vice President Hashemi with Murder.  The Sunni Arab vice president of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashemi, and some of his bodyguards were charged on April 30th by Iraq’s Supreme Judiciary Council with at least 150 criminal counts, including murder, in connection with supposedly running private death squads.  The assassinations of six judges are part of the prosecution case.  Since the Shiite Arab prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, issued a warrant for Hashemi’s arrest in December, the vice president has received refuge in Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region.  The start of the actual trial has been delayed till next week.  (See my blog article about the prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

Man Tortured after Refusing to Testify against Mysteriously Deceased Kurdish Mayor.  In northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region, a witness against a prominent mayor—who his relatives say was murdered after being arrested on corruption charges last month—was tortured by police, according to the witness’s brother.  The Kurdistan Regional Government claims (as reported in this blog) that Zana Hama Saleh, the urban Sulaimaniyah district’s governor (i.e., mayor), hanged himself on April 14th in a jail cell where he was being held pending a corruption trial, but his family insists he was murdered.  Hussein Hama Ali was, according to his brother, Omar Hama Ali, summoned to the the police station on March 27th and tortured to extract damning testimony against Saleh.  Omar Hama Ali denies accusations that his brother was involved in bribing Salih in a land deal, and apparently his brother, threatened with death, refused to sign a thick affidavit against Saleh, and was tortured.  Salih’s widow, Sakar Jamal, says her husband was framed from the beginning and said she would reveal the names of those responsible.  (See my blog article on the latest Kurdish uprisinganother on shifting alliance in the Kurdish struggle, and an earlier piece about the prospects for the partition of Iraq.)

U.S. Asks Iran to Release Imprisoned Kurdish Journalist.  The United States Department of State urged the government of Iran this week to release the former head of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization and founder of the Union for Democracy in Iran, who was sentenced in 2007 to 11 years in prison for reporting on prison conditions.  The activist, Muhammad Kaboudvand, is one of 91 journalists around the world whose release the U.S. is urging.  (See my blog article on the latest Kurdish uprising and another on shifting alliance in the Kurdish struggle.)

Imprisoned Kurdish Iranian activist Muhammad Kaboudvand

Assad, Former Kalmyk Leader Play Chess, Chat about Buddhism While Syria Burns.  The flamboyant former president of the Republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who briefly declared independence from the Russian Federation in 1998, visited Damascus over the April 28-29 weekend and met with Bashar al-Assad, the embattled dictator whose regime is threatened by a popular Arab Spring uprising that has plunged Syria into civil war.  Ilyumzhinov, a former child chess prodigy who is now president of the World Chess Federation, played a game of chess with Assad; the president was a capable adversary, Ilyumzhinov said, attributing that to Assad’s British education.  Since Kalmykia is predominantly Tibetan Buddhist, and the only predominantly Buddhist nation in Europe, topics covered, according to Ilyumzhinov, included Assad’s interest in inviting the 14th Dalai Lama to visit Syria (probably not top of the list of state visits His Holiness is eager to pay) and sanctify a 2,000-year-old Buddhist temple on Syrian territory.  Ilyumzhinov, though nominally Buddhist, also claims that he has ridden on flying saucers with extraterrestrials and that, while president, he controlled the Kalmyk population through telepathy.  Ilyumzhinov’s visit could be seen as a harbinger of doom for Assad: the Kalmyk leader also visited Saddam Hussein in 2003, shortly before his toppling by a United States invasion, and in June 2011 he played chess in Tripoli, Libya, with Moammar al-Qaddafi, a mere month before Tripoli fell to a popular uprising backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  A New York Times report on Ilyumzhinov’s visit (which erroneously refers to him as a “Russian”; he is a Kalmyk with Russian Federation citizenship) suggests that the Assad and Qaddafi visits were exercises in vicarious Kremlin diplomacy—using an envoy from whom Moscow can easily distance itself in case the efforts backfire.  (See my blog article on the civil war in Syria.)

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Moammar al-Qaddafi last year;
now, fortunately, he wants to bring that bad luck to Bashar al-Assad

Palestinian Hunger Strikers in Israeli Prisons Now Exceed 1,000.  A Palestinian hunger strike (reported on earlier in this blog) has grown from a handful of prisoners protesting prison conditions on an unofficial “Prisoners’ Day” to a national embarrassment for the government of Israel.  There are now about 1,400 Palestinian prisoners refusing food, including two, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahlah, who have gone 64 days without eating and are on the brink of death.  Eight have been hospitalized.  Diab’s brother, Bassam Diab, told the media, “In prison, hunger is the only weapon.  My brother is defending not just his own rights and honor, but those of the whole Palestinian people.”  A government panel has been formed to examine the situation and the strikers’ demands.  (See my blog article listing Palestine as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Pakistani Police Arrest Hundreds of Separatists at Kashmir Line of Control.  In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistani-governed area of the disputed Kashmir region, Pakistani police on April 28th prevented hundreds of secessionist activists from marching toward the “Line of Control” that separates the Pakistani-administered sector of Kashmir from that claimed by India.  Both countries claim all of Kashmir.  They were arrested by being taken into what was called “protective custody.”  The march—sponsored by the National Students Federation, which advocates full independence for Kashmir—was held on the anniversary of the 1949 Karachi Agreement which handed part of the territory to Pakistan.

29 Kachin Separatists Killed in Battles with Myanmar Military.  The slowly reforming military junta that rules Burma as the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar” announced May 4th that recent fighting with the Kachin Independence Army has killed 31 people, 29 of them Kachin, among 11 separate incidents in the last week of April.  Most of Burma’s minorities were promised but then denied autonomy when independence was won from the United Kingdom, resulting in decades of separatist insurgency.  The new wave of reforms has included high-profile cease-fires, but government atrocities continue, against the Kachin in particular, whose tinly populated territory includes lucrative natural resources being exploited by Chinese firms.  (See my blog article on prospects for ethnic minorities in Burma.)

Flag of the Kachin Independence Army

Indian Soldier Shot Dead in Kashmir.  One soldier in India was killed on May 2nd in what is suspected to be the work of Kashmiri militants.  The soldier, Noor Hussain, was shot in Kishtwar, in the Indian-administered part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state.

Rebels Bomb A.T.M.s in Pakistan’s Sindh State.  A series of bombs hit automated teller machines (A.T.M.s) at government banks throughout Pakistan’s Sindh state on May 2nd, causing many injuries.  Near one of the A.T.M. bombings, in Hyderabad, police found literature from the Sindhu Desh Liberation Army, which would like Sindh to secede from Pakistan.  There were also bombs on railway lines and near an electric-utility office in Karachi.

Separatist Violence in Thailand’s Pattani Province Kills 6.  A motorcycle bomb in southern Thailand’s Pattani province killed two military rangers and injured eight on May 1st near a military camp.  The blast is being blamed on ethnically-Malay Muslim separatists who wish to separate from the predominantly Buddhist Kingdom of Thailand.  Then, the following day, four people were killed in a drive-by shooting in Pattani, by unknown assailants with AK-47s and M-16s in a pick-up truck.  The dead were a local government official and three deputies.


Protester Killed by Military during Papua Independence Rallies.  On May 1st, thousands participated in rallies across Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces to support independence for the region.  May 1st is the anniversary of Indonesia’s illegal annexation of the western half of the island of New Guinea in 1969.  In Jayapura, Papua’s capital, a 23-year-old demonstrator was shot and killed by the military, and 13 were arrested for flying the banned separatist “Morning Star” flag.  One rally, in Serui, reportedly attracted more than 10,000 people.  Meanwhile, a leader in the O.P.M. (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or “Free Papua Movement”), says that this year’s July 1st protests to mark the 43rd anniversary of the declaration of the State of West Papua will involve the flying of the Morning Star flag.  The leader, Yusak Pakage, a former political prisoner, has notified the authorities of the plans and says the event’s security will be guaranteed by the O.P.M.’s military wing, T.P.N., or National Liberation Army.  (See my blog article listing West Papua as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)


British Columbia Dene Launch “Freedom Train” Protest against Oil Pipeline.  The Yinka Dene Alliance, an ad hoc coalition of indigenous groups in northern British Columbia that oppose the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline, began on April 30th a tour of Canada called the “Freedom Train” to protest that and other corporate activities on their lands.  The five nations that form the Alliance—Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’adzli, Takla Lake, Saik’uz, and Wet’suwet’en, all formerly known collectively as Carrier Indians—are speakers of Athapaskan, a.k.a. Dene, languages and have all passed laws prohibiting oil pipelines and oil tankers from their territories.  The Freedom Train left Jasper, Alberta, arrived in Edmonton on May 2nd, and is to arrive in Toronto, Ontario, on May 9th for the annual Enbridge shareholders’ meeting.

Map showing, in red, the territories of First Nations in British Columbia
where oil tankers or new tar-sands pipelines are banned

Musqueam Occupy Vancouver Gravesite Threatened by Condos.  Members of Canada’s Musqueam Nation are setting up an encampment to protect a four-millennium-old burial site in the Marpole neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia, where a condominium is planned.  Last week infant graves were dug up by earth-moving equipment.  Canada has no equivalent of the United States’ 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which automatically protects aboriginal burial sites.  On May 3rd over 100 Musqueam and their supporters marched to the site.

Musqueam protesters in Vancouver

Visiting Dalai Lama Bolsters Quebec Separatists.  The 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile, met over the April 28-29 weekend with various leaders in his almost-state-visit to Canada, including the prime minister, Stephen Harper, but also Maria Mourani, a member of the parliamentary group Friends of Tibet and a member of parliament for Montreal on the separatist Bloc Québécois ticket.  Mourani—a Lebanese-Canadian who was born in Côte d’Ivoire—said in an interview on April 30th that the Dalai Lama had cited two peaceful referenda on Quebec’s independence as examples of how Tibet could pursue autonomy from the People’s Republic of China.  Mourani asked him about Quebec directly and he replied, in her words, “‘You know, Canada, it’s a democratic country so if the majority of Quebec People decide to say yes for the independence’ he’s sure—he said, ‘I’m sure ... it’s going to be accepted.’”  (See my recent blog article on Tibet and another on Quebec language policy.)

Quebec separatist Maria Mourani with the 14th Dalai Lama

U.S. Urges Heavy Sentence for Canadian on Trial for Tamil Terrorism.  The United States’ Department of Justice is asking a court in Canada to give a 15-year prison term to a Canadian citizen of Tamil ancestry, arrested in 2006, who pleaded guilt to terrorist conspiracy for supplying Tamil separatist rebels in Sri Lanka during Sri Lanka’s now-ended civil war.  The defendant, Ramanan Mylvaganam, was scheduled to be sentenced in Toronto on May 4th.

“Yooper” Politician Talks Secession from Michigan.  Local politics has prompted a revival of the idea of secession in the northern “Upper Peninsula” half of the State of Michigan—which faces Canada across Lake Superior but is separated from Detroit and the state’s other population centers and capital by Lake Michigan.  The issue of splitting from the rest of Michigan surfaced at an April 24th meeting of the Marquette County Board, where locals are frustrated by mining taxes that they feel hurt their economy.  Michael Quayle, the county commissioner, said a citizen had raised the issue of secession; then Quayle admitted that he himself had recently been reading up on the history of plans to create a State of Superior out of the “U.P.” (Upper Peninsula) and, in some versions, parts of northern Wisconsin.  A proposal to create such a state in 1975 lost in the Michigan legislature by a vote of 67 to 66, which Quayle said was “too bad.”  Residents of the U.P., known as “Yoopers,” often complain that their interests are disregarded in Lansing, the state capital in the much larger Lower Peninsula.


U.S. Ad Firm Apologizes for Olympics T.V. Spot Claiming Falklands for Argentina.  The United States advertising firm Young & Rubicam is apologizing for a television commercial it produced for the government of Argentina, in the run-up to the Summer Olympics in London this year, showing an Argentinian athlete training in the Falkland Islands, with the words, “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil.”  (Watch the ad here.)  The spot shows the Argentine field hockey midfielder Fernando Zylberberg training in the weirdly deserted Falkland capital city of Stanley, including doing step-ups on a war memorial (it looks like he’s wiping his feet on it), and ends with the words, “Homage to the fallen and the veterans of the Malvinas”—using the Spanish name for the British-ruled and British-populated archipelago and referring to Argentina’s unprovoked war against the United Kingdom for the islands in 1982.  The controversy comes at a sensitive time, since many Britons resent the U.S., the U.K.’s closest ally, for its neutrality in the territorial dispute.  (See my blog article on the dispute over the Falkland Islands.)

Argentine athlete Fernando Zylberberg training in the Falklands in a new T.V. ad

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

1 comment:

  1. The flag labelled as Kachin Independence Army KIA is in fact the flag of the Kachin Independence Organization KIO


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