North Korea: The North Korean ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hyun Hak-bong, gave a rare press interview about current topics. He affirmed that US citizen Kenneth Bae must serve his sentence of 15 years in prison at hard labor. Hyun stated for the record that Chang Sung-taek was executed by gun fire. Most of the interview concerned Hyun's reiteration of North Korea's call for the US and South Korea to halt their annual joint military exercises in the next two months.
Comment: As an English speaker, Hyun's apparent purpose was to clarify the government's position on a number of issues. His statements carefully followed the official scripts published inKorean Central News Agency releases, but with a slightly less rigid presentation. He put to rest the rumors about how Chang died and about the prospects for releasing Kenneth Bae.
The statement about Bae, however, might not be final. Kim Jong Un could release him at any time and probably would for the right price and after North Korean "face" is satisfied.
Pakistan: This week, the Pakistani Taliban welcomed peace talks with the government. In return, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a statement on internal security to the National Assembly on the 29th. Excerpts follow.
"… now that the other party has offered talks, we want to give a peaceful solution another chance by putting aside the bitter experiences of the past. It is necessary for the success of talks that this process should be started with honesty. The first requirement for this would be that acts of terrorism are stopped immediately. Talks and terrorism cannot go together…."
"…From the floor of this house today I announce the formation of a four-member committee in this connection. The committee will include my Special Assistant for National Affairs Irfan Siddiqui; Major, retired, Muhammad Amir, who belongs to a renowned religious family of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Rahimullah Yousufzai, who not only is an expert on the affairs of this region but is also a renowned journalist of national stature, and former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand, who has been nominated in consultation with the government of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who has been the focal person of the whole talks exercise in accordance with the decision of the All Parties Conference, will assist in the committee's day to day affairs and I myself will directly oversee this whole process."
Comment: Prime Minister Sharif and his PML (N) party promised peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban as part of their election campaign last year. After months of false starts, interrupted by drone or other attacks, the government is trying again.
The two sides remain far apart as to terms for a settlement, but a ceasefire agreement even of limited duration or application would represent progress. In his statement, the Prime Minister argued strongly that future drone attacks should not derail talks because Pakistanis do not control the drones.
Musharraf update. The former president and chief of army staff remains in a military hospital. His condition has generated many comments. One medical opinion from a Pakistani medical doctor judged that Musharraf's heart condition is far from serious and poses no impediment to his participation in a trial.
Several reports opined that Musharraf will not be brought to trial because the government actively is seeking a way to relocate him from Pakistan. The reasoning, as reported, is that the population will forget about Musharraf once he is out of the country, but not if he stands trial. A trial risks generating significant internal tension.
The commencement of court proceedings has complicated options for his exile without undermining respect for the courts. Presidential clemency on "humanitarian grounds" seems to be an emerging option.
Turkey-Syria: Turkish air and ground forces attacked a convoy that belonged to the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Syria, the Turkish military said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Turkish forces destroyed a bus and several ISIL vehicles after militants opened fire on a military outpost on the Turkey-Syria border on Wednesday.
Comment: This is the second Turkish attack against an al-Qaida target reported prominently in open sources in the past year. Turkish forces regularly retaliate against attacks that hit Turkish soil, but Syrian forces usually are claimed to be the perpetrators and the targets for the Turks.
Some Turkish interests have criticized the Erdogan government for having permitted jihadis to transit Turkey en route Syria. The government apparently wants to project more balance in its handling of border problems and wants the jihadis to learn the limits of Turkey's tolerance policy.
South Sudan: On 29 January, President Salva Kiir released seven of the 11 political detainees whose freedom rebel leader Riek Machar sought as a condition for agreeing to a ceasefire on 23 January. The men boarded an aircraft for Nairobi, Kenya, where they met Kenyan President Kenyatta.
Comment: The government arrested the 11 military officers and politicians for opposing President Kiir's increasingly authoritarian government. They are cohorts of former vice president Machar. Their release indicates the ceasefire process is working thus far.
Ukraine: For the record. President Viktor Yanukovich is currently on sick leave, said Oleksandr Orda, a deputy chief of the Ukrainian State Affairs Directorate for medical issues.
"The president of Ukraine has been granted sick leave due to acute respiratory disease combined with high temperature," the presidential press service quoted Orda as saying on Thursday.
Comment: Old hands immediately will understand leadership illness during conditions of internal instability to signify resignation or removal. More to follow.
Central African Republic: Sporadic gunfire, explosions and street murders continue, despite the presence of African and French peacekeepers. Murders of Christians or Muslims by militiamen, who are often armed with machetes and knives, continue to be reported in Bangui, the capital. Two occurred on Wednesday.
The European Union Force. This week the United Nations authorized a new contingent of European troops to use "all necessary force" to protect civilians caught between Muslim and Christian groups.
The European Union plans to send up to 1,000 troops to back African Union and French troops. French Major General Philippe Ponties was named Tuesday to head the European Union military operation, which will be called EUFOR RCA.
The African Union force is intended to reach 6,000 troops. France has 1,600 soldiers in the country. UN officials judge at least 10,000 troops eventually will be needed to restore order, according to France's UN ambassador.
Comment: The peacekeeping contingents have grown slowly and they are not yet effective. The French appear to be overextended, which explains the need for soldiers from European Union states.
The UN mandate suggests the EU force will have combat tasks.
End of NightWatch
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