Saturday, March 10, 2012

Libya Fracturing, “Joseph Kony Ate My Finger,” Armenia Boycotts Eurovision: The Week in Separatist News, March 4-10


Eastern Libyans Declare Autonomous Cyrenaica.  Months after Moammar al-Qaddafi’s death marked the end of Libya’s civil war and its movement toward democracy, militia and tribal leaders in the eastern region where anti-Qaddafi fighters had first established a makeshift rebel capital in Benghazi last year, have declared their region semi-autonomous.  The region, Cyrenaica, covers nearly half of the desert country, itself the sixteenth-largest country in the world, and has 80% of Libya’s oil wealth but only 20% of its population.  The Congress of the People of Cyrenaica does not seek independence but its own parliament and regional government and a return to a pre-Qaddafi federation of three regions—Cyrenaica (called Barqah in Arabic), Tripolitania, and Fezzan—based on provincial divisions during the Ottoman Empire’s rule of the area (and, before that, the Romans) until its conquest by Benito Mussolini’s Italy in 1934.  An independent Emirate of Cyrenaica, with a capital in Benghazi, ruled the region from 1949 to 1951, backed by the United Kingdom, until it was folded into the United Nations–sanctioned Kingdom of Libya.  Currently, Libya’s unelected assembly (elections and a new constitution are due in June) is weighted toward Tripolitania, though Cyrenaicans argue they made greater sacrifices to defeat Qaddafi.  The newly formed Cyrenaica Provisional Council is headed by Ahmed Al-Zubair al-Senussi, a nearly-80-year-old great-nephew of Sayyid Idris (Cyrenaica’s last Emir and, after that, Libya’s first and last King), who, after Moammar al-Qaddafi’s seizure of power, led a royalist uprising against him in 1970 and spent most of his life after that as a political prisoner.  Throughout Libya, most local militias that were formed to topple Qaddafi are still armed and organized.  In reply, the Transitional National Council (N.T.C.) in Tripoli blamed the declaration of autonomy on “sister Arab nations” trying to divide Libya, and its chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalilcalled the separatists pro-Qaddafi and vowed to keep the country united by force if necessary.

Libya’s regions

Twitter and YouTube Catapult Ugandan Rebel to World’s Most Wanted.  It’s not quite as popular as “Charlie Bit My Finger,” but a viral YouTube video about the murderous, child-enslaving, and reputedly cannibalistic Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony might be called “Joseph Ate My Finger.”  Invisible Children, Inc., a California-based nonprofit organization, pushed the half-hour video, “Kony 2012,” via Twitter and unwittingly put it into the viral stratosphere, with nearly 50 million views by this week.  The video (watch it here)  features interviews with children bearing witness to Kony’s atrocities, which involve rape as a weapon of war, recruitment of child soldiers, dismemberment and mutilation, and a deep involvement in local beliefs in sorcery.  Kony’s group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, has been operating for decades in South SudanUganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere.  It began as an anti-government insurgency by members of Uganda’s northern Acholi ethnic group.  A Ugandan military spokesman, Felix Kulayigye, dismissed the video as old news and Kony as himself nearly defeated, saying, “The world is just realizing the evil in this man, but these are the things we have pointed out countless times in the past.  Good enough, we have decimated his capabilities now.”

Joseph Kony with some fresh recruits for the Lord’s Resistance Army, 1995

Somaliland’s Talk of Peace Followed by Massacre of Khaatumo Protesters.  The president of the de facto independent Republic of SomalilandAhmed Mohamed Silanyotold the B.B.C. that his country is ready to start talks with the self-proclaimed Sool, Saanag, and Cayn (S.S.C.) State of Somalia, also known as Khaatumo State.  But that may not be possible after a fatal shooting in a disputed area on March 8th.  In Las Anod, the capital of the S.S.C.’s Sool region, which Somaliland administers but is part of claimed S.S.C. territory, Somaliland security forces opened fire on protesters chanting S.S.C. independence slogans, killing four.  The S.S.C. has established itself in a contested border area between Somaliland and the Puntland State of Somalia.  The Puntland government and the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) in Mogadishu have both asked Somaliland to withdraw its forces from S.S.C.-claimed territory, but it has refused.  Puntland and S.S.C. regard themselves as part of Somalia and have a long-term goal of reunification, but in the absence of a functioning central government are de facto self-governing.  Somaliland claims full independence.  The international community recognizes the T.F.G. as the legitimate government of all Somalia, including Somaliland, Puntland, S.S.C., and other statelets.  However, planned talks between Silanyo and the T.F.G., which got off to a start at last month’s London Somalia Conference, may proceed, but Silanyo has categorically ruled out reunification.  (See my recent blog article on the London Somalia Conference and the future of the Horn of Africa.)

Seychelles Shipping Prisoners to Somaliland; Pirates Demand Hostage Swap.  The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Republic of the Seychelles, the 15th-smallest independent state in the world, which is housing 92 captured Gulf of Aden pirates—and occasionally bringing some of them to trial—is now scheduled to transfer nineteen of them to the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland.  Meanwhile, pirates holding a Somaliland-bound, Panama-flagged cargo vessel in a Puntland harbor have said they will only free the ship in exchange for the release of pirates imprisoned by Somaliland.  Although the world recognizes Somaliland as part of the Republic of Somalia, the United Nations negotiated with the Somaliland government to erect a prison there for arrested pirates.  And another United States “assassination drone” aircraft has crashed, this time while searching for kidnappers in the pirate-infested, de facto independent Galmudug State of Somalia, near Hobyo.

9 Die as Puntland Battles al-Shabaab; Police Storm Radio Station.  Nine were killed in fighting that raged over the night of March 2-3 after members of the al-Shabaab militia attacked a military checkpoint near Bosasso in the de facto independent Puntland State of Somalia.  After the raid, Puntland police raided a privately owned radio station in Bosasso, seized equipment, shut the station down, and detained its director for airing “al-Shabaab propaganda.”  The station, Radio Voice of Peace, had covered the clashes in its news program and interviewed both Puntland and al-Shabaab spokesmen to get differing accounts of the fighting.  Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militia that controls much of southern Somalia and aims to impose shari’a law on the entire country, has recently expanded its reach into Puntland, in the north, after its control over the south was weakened by an invasion late last year by forces from Kenya and Ethiopia under African Union auspices.  Al-Shabaab’s goal is to disrupt economic activity in Puntland.  (See my recent blog article on the London Somalia Conference and the future of the Horn of Africa.)

Reporter Shot Dead at Puntland–Galmudug Border.  A 24-year-old reporter for Radio Galkayo in the Puntland State of SomaliaAli Ahmed Abdiwas gunned down on March 4th near the village of Gasoor near Puntland’s border with the de facto independent Galmudug State of Somalia, and did not survive his wounds.  Police have no leads on the killer or killers.  He was the fourth journalist killed in as many months in the patchwork of self-governing fiefdoms covering the territory of the Republic of Somalia.

South Sudan Disavows Role in SPLM Strife in Darfur and Kordofan.  The deputy minister of defense for the Republic of South Sudan reiterated on March 3rd that his government has no connection with those fighting in DarfurSouth Kordofan, and Blue Nile under the banner of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (S.P.L.M.).  When South Sudan seceded from the Republic of Sudan, the S.P.L.M., which had been the main entity fighting for South Sudan’s independence, dissociated itself from S.P.L.M.-N., the northern branch of the group that carries on the fight against the Sudanese government in areas that remain outside South Sudan’s borders.  South Kordofan and Blue Nile are two provinces claimed by both Sudans; they were promised separate referenda to determine their status, but those votes were never held.  Darfur is a rebel region in northwestern Sudan whose decades-old conflict with the Sudanese government in Khartoum is largely separate from the north–south struggles.  (See my recent blog article listing the South Sudan conflict among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Flag of the Kordofan region

Khartoum’s Southern Refugees Won’t Meet Deadline.  The International Organization for Migration (I.O.M.) has said that it will be impossible to meet an April 8th deadline for repatriating South Sudanese refugees in Khartoum, the capital of the Republic of Sudan, from which the Republic of South Sudan seceded in July 2011.  According to a memorandum of understanding between the two Sudans on February 12th, the half-million or so South Sudanese in Khartoum have to decide before April 8th whether to go to the South Sudan or remain as refugees.  Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the I.O.M., told Voice of America, “It is a logistical nightmare.  It is totally impossible to organize such large returns in such a short period of time.  We are, therefore, advocating with other agencies for the 8th of April deadline to be extended to allow South Sudanese who want to leave to do so safely and in dignity.  Or to open up some corridors between the North and the South, which would allow for spontaneous and organized returns within an extended deadline.”  In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 6th, delegates from the two Sudans convened a new round of talks under African Union auspices to discuss border conflicts, oil revenues, and other issues.

France Backs Western Sahara Autonomy within Morocco.  The Foreign Minister of the French RepublicAlain Juppésaid on March 7th that the Kingdom of Morocco’s plan to grant the territory of Western Sahara autonomy but not independence is the best plan on the table.  But any settlement still needs to be addressed via the United Nations.  Morocco invaded the former colony known as Spanish Sahara in 1975, making it impossible for residents to hold the referendum on independence promised by the U.N.  An eastern sliver of the territory is administered outside Moroccan control as the internationally unrecognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Mombasa Separatists Unslowed by Death.  The chairman of the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council (M.R.C.), Omar Khamissaid on March 9th that the recent death of his wife will not slow his pursuit of independence for Kenya’s Coast province. His wife, Mwanakombo Swaleh, who died after a short illness, was a founding figure in the M.R.C.


“Black Widow” Suicide Bomber Kills 5 Police in Dagestan.  A female suicide bomber killed herself and at least five policemen in the village of Karabudakhkent, in Dagestan, a lawless republic in southern Russia’s predominantly Muslim north Caucasus region.  An Islamist website claimed that as many as ten police were killed because other insurgents executed those that had been merely injured in the blast, but that version of events has not been verified.  The attack was apparently in retaliation for the police killing of the woman’s husband in early February, making this a style of revenge attack known as “black widow” bombings.  Dagestan is home to a network of Salafist and Wahhabist separatists who would like to establish an independent radical-fundamentalist Caucasus Emirate in the region.

Belgrade Mulls Holding “Local” Serbian Elections in Kosovo “Province.”  The government of the Republic of Serbia, which will hold local elections throughout the country in late April or early May, must decide whether this will include Kosovo, which half the world recognizes as an independent republic and the other half recognizes as a Serbian province.  Last month, Serbia and Kosovo reached a compromise allowing direct relations with neither side yielding its position but with Kosovo agreeing to drop “Republic of” from its name—a compromise which allowed Serbia to become a candidate for European Union membership (a series of events discussed at length in my recent blog article).  The question of local elections raises further contradictions that will need to be resolved.  In particular, thousands of minority Serbs in a sliver of land called North Kosovo live outside the Kosovo republic’s jurisdiction and regard themselves as living in Serbia.  Serbia’s Electoral Commission will hold talks with international groups in the coming week on the question.  (See my recent blog article on the Kosovo dispute.)

Basques Ready for Talks.  The Basque separatist militia Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (“Basque Homeland and Freedom”) (E.T.A.), which officially laid down its arms in October 2011, announced on March 9th that it is ready to hold talks with the French and Spanish governments on putting a formal end to the conflict, but it pointed out that French and Spanish authorities are continuing to round up and arrest Basque activists.  E.T.A. had fought for decades to establish an independent republic in the Basque Country of southwestern France and northern Spain.  Just the day before, French police had delivered two captured Basques into Spanish custody.

Salmond Plans Independence Campaign for May.  The First Minister of Scotland and head of its ruling Scottish National Party, Alex Salmondhas announced that his campaign to convince the Scottish public to vote to secede from the United Kingdom will be launched in May, and he is confident of victory.  The referendum is tentatively scheduled for 2014.  Meanwhile, a new study (“Scottish Independence and EU Accession”; read it here) by the think-tank Business for New Europe (B.N.E.) casts further doubt on an independent Scotland’s ability to make a guaranteed transition to European Union membership (an issue discussed at length in my recent blog article).  Also, an S.N.P. parliamentary staffer has had to resign his post after opining on Twitter that there was nothing regrettable about the recent killing of four U.K. soldiers in Afghanistan since they were “child killers.”  An independent Scotland would be expected to have a less interventionist foreign policy than the U.K. and would probably refuse nuclear facilities to be stationed in its territory.  (See my two recent blog articles on Scotland: one on the question of whether an independent Scotland could remain in the E.U. and one discussing North Sea oil claims.)


Abkhaz President, Others in “Near Abroad” Vote for Putin.  Polling stations were open on March 5th in the nominally independent Republic of South Ossetia and Republic of Abkhazia so that Russian passport-holders (who are the majority of residents in both republics, mostly “dual citizens”) and members of the Russian military stationed there could vote in elections for the presidency of the Russian Federation.  Abkhazia’s president, Alexandr Ankvab, was eligible and said at the polling station, “I cast my ballot for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin with pleasure.  Abkhazia knows for whom to vote.  I am sure that Abkhazia will vote for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.  I have voted for our country’s future.”  Putin won the election handily, with about 63% of the vote, but amid what international observers are calling widespread fraud and irregularities.  90.94% of voters in Abkhazia supported Putin, while in South Ossetia the figure was 92.77%.  In Chechnya, a republic which Putin virtually wiped off the face of the earth in the Second Chechen War, the official count for Putin was 99.89%.  (I’ve heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, but that’s ridiculous.)  There were also thirteen polling stations in Crimea, in Ukraine, and eight in Belarus.  At one Belarussian polling station, at the Russian embassy in Minsk, the turnout, about 5,300, exceeded the entire national turnout in the last Belarussian parliamentary elections.  The Republic of Georgia, which broke diplomatic relations with Russia in 2008 over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, did not allow Russian ballot boxes, so Russian citizens living in Georgia had to travel to Gyumri, Armenia, to vote.  (See my recent blog article on an earlier election dispute in South Ossetia.)

An Abkhazian votes (for president of Russia).

Georgian Police Post on Abkhazia Border Attacked.  The government of the Republic of Georgia reported an attack March 4th on a Georgian police post on the border with the de facto independent Republic of Abkhazia, which most of the world recognizes as part of the Republic of Georgia.  Six men coming from within Abkhazia attacked the post, at the village of Ganmukhuri, with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, then retreated back into Abkhazia.  No one was injured.

Syria’s Abkhazians and Circassians Barred from Return to Russia.  Thousands of Syrians of Circassian and Abkhazian ancestry remain trapped in Syria’s civil war—a disproportionate number of them serving in the military and security forces—with Syrian rebels demanding they switch sides and the Russian government barring their return to Russia.  Circassians are a widely dispersed ethnic group native to the western North Caucasus and Black Sea region, many of whom were slaughtered or exiled during the Russian Empire’s conquest of the region from the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century.  The Abkhaz, who speak a language related to Circassian, established an independent Republic of Abkhazia by seceding from the Republic of Georgia in 2008 with the sponsorship of the Russian military.  Liaisons between the vast Circassian exile community and the leadership in the three Russian republics that form a Circassian homeland—the Republic of Adygea, the Karachay–Cherkess Republic, and the Kabardino–Balkar Republic—have failed to budge the Russian Federation’s government on the question.  Not only are Circassians still regarded as a potential insurgent threat in Russia, but accepting refugees would amount to an official admission that Syria is victimizing Russian ethnic groups.  Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and Iran are virtually the only remaining allies of Bashar al-Assad’s doomed Shiite regime in Syria.  (See my blog article on ethnic dimensions of the Syrian conflict.)

A poster shows the Circassia region in southern Russia, abutting the de facto independent Abkhazia

Kurdish Rebels in Turkey Capturing Syrian Defectors at Border.  Fighters from Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.have begun taking the unusual step of capturing Syrian military defectors trying to escape across the border into Turkey—including, on March 4th, fifteen from the rebel Free Syrian Army, who may or may not have been turned in to Syrian authorities.  Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, make up 10% of the population of Syria, mostly in villages in the mountainous border with Turkey, abutting Turkey’s much vaster Kurdistan region.  It is suspected that the P.K.K. is cooperating directly with Bashar al-Assad’s embattled Alawite Shiite regime in Damascus.  Dr. Othman Ali, head of the Turkish–Kurdish Studies Center in Iraq (a country which also includes a large chunk of Kurdistan), said, “The P.K.K.’s influence in Syria is growing rapidly as the security situation deteriorates, and lately the group has given signs that it may act on behalf of the government in a way similar to the Shabiha,” referring to pro-Assad thugs in Syria.  Since Syria’s civil war began last year, the Syrian government has warned the Turkish government that it was prepared to ally itself with the P.K.K. and plunge Turkey into civil war if Turkey tried to aid the Syrian rebels.  Meanwhile, the Turkish government has warned Syria’s Kurds not to turn the civil strife into an ethnic separatist movement.  Clearly, the deterioration in the Syrian–Turkish friendship since the Syrian uprising began has pushed Kurds into unlikely alliances.  Meanwhile, the P.K.K. is also reported to be holding captive five young relatives of an Iraqi Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani.  The relatives were captured near the Turkish–Iraqi border.  (See my recent blog article listing Kurdistan among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)  (See my blog article on ethnic dimensions of the Syrian conflict.)

Turkey Says Annexing Northern Cyprus a Possibility.  The Republic of Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bağış, said March 4th that all options are on the table if negotiations fail between the Republic of Cyprus and the de facto independent Turkish client state established in the northern third of the island by a 1974 Turkish invasion, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Those options include formal annexation by Turkey.  The Republic of Cyprus, internationally recognized as representing the entire island, is an E.U. member state, but the Cypriot issue remains unresolved and is a barrier to Turkey’s aspirations to become a candidate for E.U. membership.  The Turks have also said they will boycott any E.U.-related meetings during the Republic of Cyprus’s term holding the rotating presidency of the E.U. from July to December 2012.  In related revelations, the hacker webiste WikiLeaks has released November 2011 emails hacked from the Texas-based military-intelligence consulting firm Stratfor by the vigilante hacker group Anonymous, including one revealing that Turkey’s secret plans for an all-out invasion of northern Syria include mobilizing troops currently based in Northern Cyprus.

Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bağış, with flag

Mediators Tour Nagorno-Karabakh Amid Ongoing Fighting.  The Russian, American, and French co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s special Minsk Group task force on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict toured the disputed territory over the March 3-4 weekend even as ongoing fighting killed two Azeri soldiers.  They also visited Yerevan, Armenia, and Baku, Azerbaijan, to meet with both the Armenian and Azeri government presidents.  The discussions focused on cease-fire violations and on ways to implement “understandings” between the parties at a summit in January in Sochi, Russia (a formerly ethnically Circassian city on the Black Sea—and site of the 2014 Winter Olympics—which was emptied in the 1860s by the Russian Empire’s genocide of the Ubykh people).  Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto independent state in what the world recognizes as territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  The area, which is ethnically Armenian, was separated from Azerbaijan by a war with Armenia twenty years ago after the fall of Communism.

Delegates from the O.S.C.E. “Minsk Group” visit Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia Pulls out of Eurovision Contest, but the Udmurt Are In.  Pop music fans will be spared another Armenian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest this May.  The Republic of Armenia will be boycotting the event because it will be held in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, a country with which Armenia is still formally at war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Despite the name Eurovision, both Azerbaijan and Armenia are in Asia, not Europe, as are all or nearly all of the territories of three other nations which regularly compete: IsraelTurkey, and Cyprus.  Well within the bounds of Europe is the Republic of Udmurtia, on the Russian Steppes, home to the Russian Federation’s entry in this year’s Eurovision contest: the Buranoa Grannies, a group of six babushkas in traditional dress who sing in their native Udmurt language, a non-Indo-European language related to Finnish and Estonian.

The Buranova Grannies, Udmurtia’s new pop sensation


Abbas Readying Ultimatum on Preconditions for Talks.  On March 3rd, the foreign minister for the Palestinian AuthorityRiad Malki, said that the President Mahmoud Abbas will soon set out in a letter to Benjamin NetanyahuIsrael’s prime minister, preconditions, with a deadline, for the resumption of talks between the two entities.  Abbas’s position is that talks are contingent on a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a recognition of pre-1967 borders as the basis for negotiations.  Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected those conditions.  Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.), Yasser Abed Rabbo, said on March 3rd that Israel is not really interested in negotiations, that it plans to put the Gaza Strip under the control of Egypt, and that it is building Jewish settlements in the West Bank “so that it could establish a state for settlers, and not for Palestinians, in the West Bank and Jerusalem ... this,” he added, “at a time when the Palestinians are seeking a negotiated solution on the basis of international legitimacy.”  He believes that a resumption of negotiations is impossible in these circumstances.  (See my recent blog article listing the Palestinian conflict among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Israel Air Force Attacks Gaza; Islamic Jihad Replies with Rockets.  The Israeli air force ended weeks of quiet in the on-again, off-again war between Israel and Palestine on March 9th, destroying a car in Gaza City from the air—killing, Israel claimed, two militants, one of whom, Zuhair Qaisi, was secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees (P.R.C.) and had been plotting an attack via Egypt.  The P.R.C. are not connected with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas government; they are possibly Hezbollah-funded and have ties to the former al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades.  At least eight were killed in other Israeli air strikes on Friday as well.  In reply, at least 70 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into civilian areas of southern Israel, wounding at least eight, one critically.  Some of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system.  Islamic Jihad and the P.R.C. claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks.  (See my recent blog article listing the Palestinian conflict among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City

Hamas Seems Split on Whether to Defend Iran against Israel.  A spokesman for the radical Islamist organization Hamas, which governs the Gaza Stripsaid on March 7th that it will stay out of any possible looming conflict between Israel and Iran and will not retaliate against Israel.  The spokesman said that Hamas’s weapons were only for defending Palestine, though in reality Hamas has used rockets to target civilians in Israel.  But the following day, an apparently higher-ranking  Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahartold the official Iranian news agency that that was not Hamas’s position and that “Retaliation with utmost power is the position of Hamas with regard to a Zionist war on Iran.”

Three Tibetans Immolate Themselves in China.  A nineteen-year-old woman set fire to herself in a public market in a Tibetan area of the People’s Republic of China’s Gansu province on March 3rd.  The following day, a 32-year-old widow immolated herself at the gates of the Kirti monastery in a Tibetan part of Sichuan province.  Then, on March 5th, an 18-year-old man set himself ablaze near government offices in Sichuan, after shouting slogans about the Chinese occupation of Tibet.  The Chinese news agency Xinhua, in a rare official acknowledgment that such self-immolations occur, explained the 19-year-old Gansu woman’s death by saying, “She was sent to hospital and has had occasional fainting spells.  The medical treatment held up her studies and her school scores began to decline, which put a lot of pressure on her and made her lose her courage for life and study.”  The incidents are part of a recent wave of self-immolations in Tibetan regions of China outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, protesting the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 and its ongoing occupation.  (See my recent blog article on Buddhism and Tibetan separatism.)

Map showing the Tibet Autonomous Region, plus other culturally Tibetan areas in China

Nepal Frees 13 Imprisoned Tibetan Students.  Nepal has released thirteen Tibetan students who were arrested for holding a demonstration outside United Nations offices in Kathmandu, the capital.  The release, on March 6th, came after complaints from the U.N. itself.  The students were arrested on Feb. 24th for holding a demonstration against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Afghans Shut Down Baloch Terror Camp.  At the request of the Pakistani government, Afghan forces have dismantled a Baloch separatist training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik.  Baloch training camps in Afghanistan train thousands of fighters loyal to the Baloch Republican Party run by the separatist leader Brahamdagh Bugti.  Meanwhile, seven possible separatist fighters were killed over a two-day period in Pakistan’s rebellious Balochistan province in the southwest.  In one incident, near Dera Bugti, a military convoy was ambushed, and four militants were killed by the soldiers.  In the other incident, on March 6th, security forces killed three people and wounded nine.  There is no verification that the perpetrators were Baloch separatists.  A variety of violent groups operate in Pakistan, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but most violence in Balochistan is separatism-related.  (See my recent blog article listing Balochistan among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Sindhi Assembly Condemns Push for Separate Muhajir Province.  The legislature of Pakistan’s Sindh province unanimously condemned on March 9th a new, apparently grass-roots push to create a separate province for Muhajir people in Sindhi territory.  Muhajir means, roughly, ‘immigrant’ and is the Urdu term for those Muslims (and their descendants) who migrated from what is now India to what is now Pakistan when the two countries were created out of British India in 1947, many of them from regions far to the east.  Over a fifth of Sindh’s population is Muhajir, the highest of any of Pakistan’s eight provinces and territories, and most of the Sindhi Muhajirs, who number 12 million or so throughout the country, live in large cities like Karachi.  The provincehood movement appears to be led by a previously unknown group called Mohajir Sooba Tehreek.

Thais Ease Clampdown in Parts of Pattani Region; Attacks Escalate.  The government of the Kingdom of Thailand is loosening its state of emergency in three southern provinces where there has been recent violence involving Pattani separatists from an ethnically-Malay Muslim minority near the border with Malaysia.  The easing was announced by the deputy prime minister, Yutthasak Sasiprapa, on March 6th.  But many areas of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces remain under the emergency decree.  Two Buddhist Thai businessmen were ambushed and killed in Pattani province on March 5th, the following day two Thai soldiers were wounded by an insurgent bomb in Yala, and on March 7th four Thai soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Narathiwat province, followed two days later by the wounding of twelve soldiers in a militant ambush, then a highly organized attack on a military base by 50 militants on March 9th, in which two soldiers were killed.

Naga Separatists Lose Ground in Manipur Election.  In India’s Manipur state, the chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singhwas easily reelected on March 6th, and his Congress Party slate gained seats at the expense of the Naga People’s Front, which would like to separate Naga-dominated districts from Manipur to create a Greater Nagaland entity.  Singh promised to “solve the insurgency problem through dialogue.”  On Friday, in neighboring Assam state, police arrested a militant from nearby Meghalaya state’s Garo National Liberation Army.

States in India’s eastern “panhandle” region

Junta Holds Peace Talks with Kachin in Burma.  In Ruili, Burma, near the border with China, “peace negotiators” from the slowly liberalizing junta that runs Burma under the name Myanmar began talks with rebels from the separatist Kachin Independence Army on March 8th.  As part of a drive toward democracy and an end to its diplomatic isolation, the Myanmar junta is closing peace deals with Burma’s sixteen ethnic militias.  On March 8th, the junta signed its twelfth cease-fire, with the Kayah Nationalities Progressive Party.  (See my recent blog article on independence struggles within Burma.)

Gamblers Caned in Aceh.  In Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh province in far western Indonesia, five convicted gamblers were caned six times each in front of a crowd of hundreds of observers on March 9th.  Aceh was permitted to institute Islamic shari’a law in 2001 as part of a deal that ended a decades-long insurgency pushing for a separate Acehnese state.


New Caledonian Nationalists Back Hollande for French Presidency.  Pro-independence parties in the French colony of New Caledonia, in the South Pacific island chain of Melanesia, have come out in support of the Socialist candidate François Hollande for the presidency of the French Republic.  New Caledonians voted overwhelmingly for the current incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the 2007 elections, despite Sarkozy’s opposition to New Caledonian independence.  Hollande has not yet stated a position on New Caledonia, which is scheduled to hold a referendum on separation between 2014 and 2018, meaning it may occur during the next presidential term.  Last week, as reported in this blog, the pro-independence president of French PolynesiaOscar Temaru, announced his backing for Hollande, despite Hollande’s stance against Polynesian sovereignty.  Both French Polynesia and New Caledonia are technically “overseas collectivities,” with a degree of self-government and representation in the French National Assembly.  Many in New Caledonia want it to be a sovereign state to be called Kanaky.

Papuan Separatists Face Prison for Treason; Soldiers Ambushed.  Five separatist leaders in Indonesia’s West Papua may be given five-year prison sentences for treason.  They were arrested in October 2011 when delegates at a Papuan People’s Congress in Jayapura read aloud a declaration of independence.  Indonesian troops opened fire, killed three, and arrested many others.  Meanwhile, one Indonesian soldier died on March 8th after a military truck was ambushed by gunmen in Papua’s Puncak Jaya district.  (See my recent blog article listing West Papua among “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)


Dramatic Proliferation of Violent U.S. Anti-Government Groups Documented.  The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit group that tracks hate groups, has issued a new report documenting an astounding 755% increase since 2008 in the number of the anti-government brand of hate groups in the United States.  Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at S.P.L.C. and author of the report, attributes the rise partly to the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, but also a wave of anti-immigrant feeling exacerbated by the recession.  Anti-immigrant ideology has mostly edged out anti-Semitism, traditional anti-black Ku Klux Klan–type activity, and other bigotries among galvanizing issues on the militant right.  The report, titled “The Year in Hate & Extremism: The Patriot Movement Explodes” (read it here) says, “Even as most of the nation cheered the election of the first black president that November, an angry backlash developed that included several plots to murder Obama.  Many Americans, infused with populist fury over bank and auto bailouts and a feeling that they had lost their country, joined Patriot groups.”  It also mentions followers of the Sovereign Citizen movement, “whose ideology first developed in white supremacist groups” and who “generally do not believe they are obliged to pay federal taxes, follow most laws, or comply with requirements for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.”  Examples cited included the violent Alaska Peacemakers Militia and the Hutaree Militia, whose leader, David Stone, Sr., “planned to create his own country carved out of four Michigan counties, then defend that country against attack by the ‘One World Order’ army.  The group allegedly planned to incite that attack by making a false 911 complaint, shooting any police who responded and then attacking attendees at the funerals of those officers with improvised explosive devices.”  (See my recent blog article about separatist and ethnonationalist terrorism in the U.S.)

Members of the Michigan separatist Hutaree Militia, with their flag

Prince Harry Cordial with Secessionist Jamaican Premier.  On the eve of a visit from Prince Harry, third in line to the United Kingdom’s throne, on a tour of Commonwealth nations to celebrate his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond-jubilee year, the prime minister of the Commonwealth of Jamaica reiterated her intention to cut her country’s last ties with the U.K.   “It’s time for us to achieve full independence,” Portia Simpson Miller, the prime minister, said on March 6th.  Currently, Jamaica is one of fifteen “Commonwealth realms”—out of 54 members of the Commonwealth of Nations—which use the British sovereign as a head of state and are constitutionally linked to the U.K.  The others are eight other Caribbean nations, four South Pacific ones (including New Zealand), Canada, and Australia.  The last member of the Commonwealth to renounce its membership was Fiji, which became a republic in 1987 after a coup d’état.

Prince Harry and Portia Simpson Miller

Church Apologizes to Family of Girl Punished for Speaking Menominee.  The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and a Catholic school in nearby Shawano, have formally apologized to the family of a girl punished for speaking the Menominee language in class.  Miranda Washinawatok, age 12, was banned from a basketball game for teaching fellow students to say “hello,” “I love you,” and “thank you” in her ancestral language during homeroom.  The girl’s mother, Tanaes Washinawatok, says the teacher “slammed her hands down on the desk and stated, ‘You are not to speak like that.  How do I know you’re not saying something bad?  How would you like it if I spoke Polish and you didn’t understand?’”  But the teacher’s letter, Mrs. Washinawatok said, was not an apology at all but only an excuse for its own actions and a reiteration of its position: “Language and behavior that creates [sic] a possibility of elitism, or simply excludes other students, can create or increase racial and cultural tensions,” the letter said.  The apology from the assistant coach, who did not know the reason for the punishment at the time, was more contrite and humble.  The Menominee, or Omāēqnomenew, language, is seriously endangered.  In 1997, according to the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, it had only 39 fluent native speakers, although many, like Miranda Washinawatok, are trying to learn it as a second language. Only a handful of indigenous languages in the United States are expected to survive to the end of the century with communities of native speakers—a situation which centuries of brutal Catholic-run Indian boarding schools in the western Great Lakes region helped create.

Navajo Sue Urban Outfitters over Use of Name.  The Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian tribal group in the United Statesis suing the clothing company Urban Outfitters for trademark infringement over its line of more than twenty products featuring the names Navajo and Navaho.  The suit was filed Feb. 28th in U.S. District Court in New Mexico.  Earlier, the Navajo had sent Urban Outfitters a cease-and-desist letter and the company pulled the clothes from its website but continue to sell them elsewhere.  The Navajo Nation first trademarked its name in 1943.

Sioux Sue Bud for Targeting Pine Ridge.  The Oglala Sioux Tribe, based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota—in what is sometimes called the most impoverished community in the United Statesfiled a law suit in February against the Anheuser–Busch Corporation (makers of Budweiser and Michelob) and other brewers for targeting American Indian consumers and thus being responsible for a host of social problems on the reservation.  Pine Ridge is a dry community, but just across the boundary in Whiteclay, Nebraska, a cluster of gigantic liquor stores exist mainly to provide contraband alcohol to Pine Ridge residents.  Whiteclay, which has a population of twelve people, sold 4.3 million twelve-ounce servings of alcohol in 2010.

Chilling graffiti in Whiteclay, Nebraska, where the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation goes to buy booze


Poll Shows Most Britons Supporting Giving Falklands to Argentina.  An unscientific survey by the website of the conservative Daily Telegraph newspaper in England found most respondents saying the United Kingdom should just give the Falkland Islands to Argentina.  Of the 25,771 respondents, 58% said the Falklands should be “returned,” 28% said no, and 14% supported a referendum in the Falklands to decide the question.  One unscientific aspect of the poll was its wording, since “returned” implies, misleadingly, that Argentina ever had a permanent settlement in the archipelago.  (See my recent blog article on the Falklands dispute.)

Pink Floyd Bassist Softens Falklands Position, Morrissey’s Hardens.  The bassist for the English rock band Pink Floyd, Roger Watershas backpedalled from his Feb. 28th statement on Chilean television (reported in this blog last week) that the Falkland Islands belonged to Argentina.  On his Facebook page, Waters said he had been misquoted, adding, “ I am not a politician or a diplomat, and have no ready solution, but I am convinced it’s time to sue for peace and seek a compromise, not push for victory.  At the end of the day what really matters is that not one more drop of blood is shed on the altar of the imperial aspirations of long dead kings.”  Meanwhile, the English singer Morrissey reinforced his support for Argentina’s claims on the Falklands by performing with his band before 15,000 Argentine fans while wearing t-shirts proclaiming, “WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE,” referring to the Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his new wife.  Also, at press time, the American actor Sean Penn is reportedly still a moron and has not yet been fed to crocodiles.

There goes his chance at a knighthood.

Caribbeans Waffle on Falklands Question.  The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalvesfaced tough questions in his country’s parliament over where he stands on conflicting British and Argentine claims on the Falkland Islands.  St. Vincent’s government joined a statement by the Caribbean Community this year to support the United Kingdom and the principle of self-determination for all peoples, including those of the Falklands, who overwhelmingly wish to remain in the U.K.  On other hand, at last month’s summit in Caracas, Venezuela, of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, St. Vincent agreed to support Argentina’s agenda by banning Falklands-flagged ships from its ports.  The tough questions came after Gonsalves refused to see visiting diplomats from the Falklands, supposedly for scheduling reasons.  The Falklands dispute is awkward for Caribbean nations, especially former U.K. colonies like St. Vincent, caught between political and cultural loyalties to Britain and close economic ties with Latin America.

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