Asia/Africa update: March 14-15 2018



Another likely Taliban attack on a checkpoint in Farah province on Wednesday killed 10 members of the Afghan security services. Farah’s provincial council has requested reinforcements from Kabul to help stabilize the province. Additionally, a truck bombing on Wednesday in Helmand province reportedly killed at least two Afghan border guards.


The Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide bombing on a police checkpoint outside of Lahore on Wednesday, killing at least seven people.


Bangladesh is worried that Myanmar’s government might not mean it when it says it wants to repatriate Rohingya refugees. I can’t imagine why they’d think that:

The two countries reached a deal in November to begin repatriation within two months, but repatriation has not begun, with stateless Rohingya, who face restrictions on their movements in Myanmar, still crossing the border.


Myint Thu, permanent secretary at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said officials had checked documents handed over by Bangladesh in February relating to 8,032 refugees.


“Out of 8,032, we verified 374. These 374 will be the first batch of the repatriation,” Myint Thu said at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw.


“They can come back when it’s convenient for them.”

They verified 374 out of 8032! That’s not very many! Myanmar says that Bangladeshi officials aren’t providing the “correct information” about the refugees, whatever that means. Since Myanmar officially rejects the idea that the Rohingya are Myanmar citizens, it’s still not clear what “information” they’ll be willing to accept to allow these people to return. And at any rate, with no protections in place for the Rohingya if they do return, it’s definitely not “convenient for them” to do so.


Rodrigo Duterte announced on Wednesday that he’s pulling the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court on account of “baseless, unprecedented, and outrageous attacks” against him by United Nations officials and an ICC investigation into his killing spree war on drugs that he says has violated due process. Basically he’s getting out of the ICC before the ICC can come after him for his apparently extensive human rights violations.


North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho is in Sweden for a couple of days for some unspecified “talks.” Given that Sweden’s embassy in Pyongyang serves as the protecting power there for US interests, this has led to speculation that the Swedish government is serving as an intermediary in talks/preparations for the upcoming (?) and most likely futile Donald Trump/Kim Jong-un summit. Sweden might even wind up hosting the summit.

If Ri’s purpose in Sweden is related to the summit, then it would be North Korea’s first public statement about the whole idea. For such a momentous development, North Korean state media has been decidedly quiet about it, preferring to rail against US human rights abuses instead of broadcasting what should stand as a major victory for Kim in getting a US president to agree to meet with him. The reason is probably pretty simple: Kim wasn’t expecting Trump to agree so quickly and so Pyongyang is struggling to respond. But there are other possibilities that are of concern. One is that those South Korean envoys who carried Kim’s invitation to the White House may not have gotten it entirely right–in fact, Kim may not have really meant to extend the invitation and may even have been drunk when he did it. Even if he was in his right mind when he made the offer, Kim may be rethinking it now based on subsequent events.


The weird thing about Donald Trump’s sour relationship with Kim Jong-un is that the two of them both seem to want the same thing: to wreck the US-South Korea alliance. At a fundraiser on Wednesday, Trump suggested that he’s going to draw down US military support for South Korea unless South Korea agrees to renegotiate the KORUS free trade agreement to Trump’s liking:

“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump said at a private fundraiser in Missouri on Wednesday, according to an audio recording obtained by The Washington Post. “So we lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”


In an effort to dispel confusion over the comments, a White House official said that the president “did not suggest removing American forces from South Korea” but that his administration remained committed to improving the U.S.-South Korea trade relationship for the benefit of U.S. workers.

He absolutely suggested removing American forces from South Korea. Which is what Kim wants, so frankly I don’t know why he and Trump aren’t best friends.



The circumstances surrounding the recent death of an Eritrean migrant named Segen in Italy appear to highlight the conditions being faced by would-be Mediterranean migrants, many of whom have been stuck in Libya for a year or more:

Weighing only 35 kg (77 pounds), the 1.70 m (5 ft 7 inch) tall Segen needed help to walk and was immediately taken to hospital, where he died less than 12 hours later, according to Roberto Ammatuna, the mayor of Pozzallo and head of the local hospital’s emergency room.


“He looked like he had been in a concentration camp,” Ammatuna told Reuters. “All the migrants who arrived on Monday were skin and bones, and their muscles were atrophied. Obviously the conditions in Libya are inhuman.”

The eventual solution to Libya’s civil war and the migrant problem involves elections. But there are serious concerns mounting about the rush to hold Libyan elections this year, before a constitution has been written and before there’s even a ceasefire in the war and an agreed-upon framework for conducting those elections. The potential is high that adding elections to such an already unstable mix could actually make things worse.


Amnesty International says that at least 11 people have been killed so far amid the protests that have gripped Guinea since early February. A combination of a teachers strike and anger over irregularities surrounding February 4 municipal elections has spurred thousands of people to hit the streets and demonstrate, and then have been met by repressive police violence. The teachers, at least, agreed to end their protests and return to work on Wednesday in exchange for assurances that they will receive a pay increase. But unrest over the elections may continue.


Several US special forces soldiers in Niger participated, alongside Nigerien soldiers, in a battle against ISIS militants on December 6, a little over two months after the disastrous October 4 ambush in Tongo Tongo that left four US soldiers dead. AFRICOM hasn’t felt the need to publicize this incident, but did acknowledge it in a recent report to Congress. The disclosure raises questions about just how frequently US forces in Niger are engaging in combat, and the degree to which those incidents are offensive vs. defensive actions. US soldiers in Niger are not authorized for direct offensive military action, but there are certainly technical ways to get around a restriction like that.


Agence France Presse reported on Wednesday that the United Nations Security Council would, on Thursday, adopt a resolution written by the United States that renews the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan for another year and threatens to impose an arms embargo on the country unless there is a halt to its civil war. Note that it does not actually impose such an embargo, that would require another Security Council vote. And its language has most likely been watered down since the original draft, which drew objections from several council members including veto-holders Russia and China. At this point (4:30 PM east coast time) I have no idea whether the Security Council is actually going to vote on this today.


Djibouti’s government says that its Doraleh Container Terminal will remain state-run for the foreseeable future, which should ease concerns in Washington that its operations might be turned over to China. The port had been run by Dubai’s DP World until Djibouti’s government canceled that contract last month, citing DP World’s investment in a competing port in Somaliland and the obvious conflict of interest that posed. DP World says it is planning to pursue a case against Djibouti over the seizure at the London Court of International Arbitration.


Speaking of that Somaliland port at Berbera, DP World may be out of luck there as well:

The Somali parliament’s ability to impact policy may be limited in Somaliland, which wants to secede. Somalia’s poor relationships with the United Arab Emirates and with Ethiopia (which has taken a 19 percent interest in the Berbera port) are what motivated the ban.


In an interview with South African media, former Zimbabwean president/dictator/crypt keeper Robert Mugabe says he can’t believe his buddy, current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, did him dirty:

“I never thought he whom I had nurtured and brought into government and whose life I worked so hard in prison to save as he was threatened with hanging, that one day he would be the man who would turn against me,” Mugabe said in the interview with South African state broadcaster SABC from Harare.

I mean, all Mugabe did was try to pass Mnangagwa over in favor of his wife, Grace Mugabe. Why would Mnangagwa be against that? Mugabe insists that Mnangagwa’s presidency is “improper” and that “we must undo this disgrace.” It’s not quite clear who “we” is supposed to be in this case.


The South African and Australian governments are in a row over Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s announcement this week that he might fast track visas for white South African farmers who may be about to lose their land. In part for political reasons, new South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to speed up the process of redistributing land from white farmers to black farmers as was set out in the country’s post-apartheid constitution (30 percent of white farmland was to be redistributed by the year 2000, per the constitution, but very little redistribution has actually taken place). This may take the form of redistribution without compensation, and there are concerns within the white South African community about that and about the possibility of illegal/violent land seizures.

Ramaphosa denies that land will be taken by force, and the South African government is rejecting the premise of Dutton’s remarks, which basically suggested that white South African’s are under imminent threat (there are conflicting views as to whether white South Africans, and white farmers in particular, are being singled out as targets of violence). The issue of land redistribution is a sensitive one, but then so is the way that land was distributed to colonial settlers in the first place, and Dutton’s remarks don’t help ease tensions. Needless to say, it’s more than a little rich for someone in the Australian government to criticize how another country’s government is treating a minority group.

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