North Korea: A South Korean military source told the press on 4 April that South Korea is trying to locate three or four North Korean submarines that disappeared after departing two bases on the east coast. The source said the submarines are presumed to be of the 370-ton SANG'O ( trans. Shark) - class, which is used for clandestine infiltration of North Korean operatives or special forces into South Korea.
Another source said, "North Korea seems to be actively conducting submarine infiltration drills in the wake of warmer weather recently." This source also said the South Korean armed forces are is closely watching the situation and are not dismissing the possibility of a North Korean provocation disguised as a drill.
Comment: North Korea's winter training cycle ends on 31 March. Early April, until Kim Il-sung's birthday on the 15th, is used for remedial training and graduation exercises, depending on the service.
Weather conditions often force the navy and air force to split winter training into early and late winter/early spring phases. Thus the deployment of the Sang'0s is most likely related to the end of the navy's winter training. This is the high probability, low impact hypothesis.
A less likely but more dangerous hypothesis is that this deployment is a prelude to a provocation. The South Korean review of the sinking of the corvette Cheonan off the west coast in 2010 found that a warning indicator of hostile action that was not recognized in a timely fashion was the departure of North Korean submarines from base before the sinking.
This is the kind of provocation to which the South Koreans have become sensitized and are prepared to respond. Increased vigilance is warranted until more diagnostic information becomes available, such as the location of the Sang'O boats.
Space launch preparations: South Korean media reported that the space launch vehicle is expected to be placed on the launch pad at Tongchang-ri on 6 or 7 April. An underground tank near the launch pad already has been filled with liquid fuel, and the three stages of the rocket have been fully assembled. The preparations remain on track for a launch between 12 and 16 April.
India: On 4 April, the Indian Navy inducted the Akula-II class nuclear-powered attack submarine Nerpa, renamed the INS Chakra, in a ceremony at Visakhapatnam naval base in southeastern India. The Indian Navy will operate the Russian submarine under a ten-year lease and is negotiating with the Russians for a second Akula-II.
Comment: The Indian Navy crew has been in training for a year and sailed the boat from Russia, according to the Times of India.
INS Chakra can outrun or outfight any likely enemy, either Pakistan or China. Its weapons systems include a mix of torpedoes and KLUB (NATO designator SS-N-27) anti-ship cruise missiles.
India is the sixth nation to operate a nuclear-powered submarine. Between 1988 and 1991, India leased a Charlie-class nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia. The next step for the navy will be the commissioning of the INS Arihant, which is a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, capable of submarine launches of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Its induction is scheduled for next year.
Syria: The Syrian regime has started to withdraw troops from Daraa, Idlib and Zabadani, authorities told UN envoy Kofi Annan, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said on 5 April. Fawzi said UN member states are being asked to contribute troops to a cease-fire monitoring mission that would deploy to Syria after 10 April.
Meanwhile, government forces have intensified anti-opposition sweeps in a restive suburb of Damascus and other towns.
Syrian army and rebels must halt all violence by 6 a.m. on 12 April to meet the deadline for ending the fighting, according to Annan.
Comment: The pattern of troop withdrawals from areas recently swept plus intensification of operations in other restive areas is aimed at creating the most favorable security conditions for the government by the time the ceasefire goes into effect. That is a classic reaction in anticipation of an armistice. Readers should expect continuing reports of government operations for four or five more days.
Greece: Around 1,000 protestors demonstrated in Athens after a 77-year-old man killed himself outside the parliament building in Athens. Some started fires and pelted the police with rocks.
The man left a suicide note saying that he did not want to pass debts on to his children and did not want to be forced to scavenge in the rubbish to feed himself. He also wrote, "I believe that youth who have no future will one day take up arms and hang the national traitors upside-down in Syntagma square just as the Italians did in 1945 to Mussolini." He shot himself with a handgun.
Comment: The demonstrations are the first recent indication of how tense the public is as the result of the austerity measures. In that condition, small government missteps or other acts of so-called martyrdom can produce a huge public backlash against the government.
Mali: Update. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) --- the Tuaregs -- decided on 4 April to end its military operations as of 5 April. Azawad is the Tuareg name for their homeland
Comment: This means the Tuaregs will not advance towards Bamako. They do not seek to govern Mali, but to fragment it. They have captured the major towns north of the Niger River and hold a reasonably defensible boundary against the remnants of the 7,000-man Mali Army. Only an outside force can prevent Tuareg secession now.
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