Monday, 31 January 2011

Juba celebrates as first full referendum results are released

Salva Kiir at the celebrations in Juba
The party has started in south Sudan as the first official announcement of the independence referendum results was made on Sunday 30th January and confirmed what most had suspected: the voters had overwhelmingly endorsed secession.

Priminary results had already secured the vote for secession, but full results show the scale of the victory; according to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), 99.57 per cent of voters in the ten states of south Sudan opted to leave the north.

In the north, 57.65 per cent of voters chose separation, with 42 per cent voting for unity. There was a relatively low turnout in the north, with only 69,597 of the 116,857 registered voting.

Southern Sudanese voters in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK mirrored the vote in the south, with 98.55 per cent choosing separation.

These numbers together produce a figure of 98.83 per cent voting for separation, with over 3.8 million votes for separation compared with only 44,888 for unity.

Juba Celebrations

Hundreds of officials and diplomats gathered in Juba at the grave of rebel leader John Garang for the first official announcement of the results.

John Garang was the main Southern leader during the civil war, and he oversaw the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which brought the civil war to an end and set the country on the path towards the referendum just witnessed. He died in a plane clash not long after signing the CPA.

South Sudan leader Salva Kiir presided over the events held at the John Garang mausoleum. Reacting to the preliminary figures announced, Kiir remarked “the inhumane treatment southerners were subjected to by the northern regime during the long years of war has clearly manifested itself in this overwhelming vote for separation.”

He extended his gratitude to the SSRC for their tireless work under 'difficult circumstances' to deliver the referendum and results on schedule. He also thanked the people of southern Sudan for keeping their promise to vote for the independence of their own country.

"No one has forced anybody to vote but today we are witnessing a historic moment that has never happened since the creation of South Sudan, with the results today, I congratulate all of you sons and daughters of this region," he said.

He emphasised that an independent south would maintain cordial relations with the north, as well as with its neighbours like Uganda and Kenya.

Kiir said attention should now be focused on the Abyei referendum, popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, as well as reolving the conflict in Darfur.

The announcement was met with thousands of southern Sudanese taking to the streets in Juba, the capital of the South, to cheer and dance. The jubilant mood is likely to continue, although Kiir warned people not to remove Sudanese national flags until 9th July, when the flag will be officially lowered in the presence of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. Al-Bashir would then ceremoniously take the flag back to Khartoum.

The new country has already choosen its flag and its anthem, but its official name has not yet been determined.

Sources: BBC News, Sudan Tribune

For more information on Sudan, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Egypt moves to define eastern Med borders to boost gas claims

Sameh Fahmi
Egypt's Petroleum Ministry is reported to be considering claiming a stake in the big natural gas fields discovered in the eastern Mediterranean while Greece, a potential customer, has begun exploratory talks on moving the gas to the European market.


The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm Tuesday 25th January quoted Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Sameh Fahmi as saying the Cairo government is "studying the precise coordinates of the maritime borders in order to determine our share of the reserves.

That implied that Egypt, already the main natural gas producer and exporter in the eastern Mediterranean, may find itself at odds with Israel. 

It signed a historic peace agreement with the Jewish state in 1979 but it's largely been a cold peace even though Cairo exports gas to Israel. 

The gas finds off Israel's northern coast, made in 2009-10, have already drawn accusations by Beirut of Israeli encroachment into Lebanese waters and threats of violence from both sides. 

But the potential for conflict is even wider. The US Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the Levant Basin, stretching from the Jordan River into the eastern Mediterranean, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria, could contain up to 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. 

"These discoveries have added a new, hitherto unseen dimension to the Arab-Israeli conflict," observed analyst Walid Khadduri, former editor of the Middle East Economic Survey, a prominent energy industry newsletter. 

"This geopolitical dimension is not limited to the Israeli-Palestinian or Israel-Lebanese disputes … but will also encompass several other Arab countries, particularly those that export natural gas, and especially in the event Israel intends to export to European markets." 

Khadduri, writing in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, noted that "preliminary contacts in this regard have already started with another source of gas being made to available to gas-thirsty Europe … a source that overlooks the Mediterranean directly, obviating the need for pipelines crossing several countries, as it can be exported as liquefied gas." 

"The current disputes …are somewhat old. What is new, however, is the competition over gas markets." 

Israel's gas bonanza offers geopolitical opportunities as well as perils. 

The Jewish state is negotiating with Cyprus, most of which is ruled by Greek Cypriots, and with Greece about transporting gas to them and on to the vast European market. 

Greek Minister of Investments Haris Pamboukis said Saturday 22nd January that Athens is conducting exploratory talks with Israel about moving gas from the main Israeli gas field, Leviathan, to Europe. "We're a natural road to the Balkans and Europe," he said. 

But Egypt may be a more natural partner. It already has a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Mediterranean coast where tankers carry the LNG to Europe, Asia and North and South America. 

It is conceivable - although far from certain given the prevailing relations between Israel and Egypt - that the Israelis might find it convenient to export their gas in liquid form through Egypt rather than engage in costly undersea pipelines and other infrastructure. 

Egypt has proven gas reserves of 77 trillion cubic feet, three times Israel's estimated reserves, and is established as the main gas producer in the eastern Mediterranean. It serves Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as Israel. 

According to the US Geological Survey, Egypt's Nile Delta Basin could contain as much as 223 trillion cubic feet of gas. 

"Israel has several potential export options of its own but all would pose technical and, often, political challenges," observed Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

"Greece has been mooted as a possible market, perhaps by undersea pipeline; India is another potential market; and the Russian giant Gazprom is currently proposing a joint venture," Henderson wrote in a 4th January analysis. 

"Israel's most commercially viable option might be to export surplus gas as LNG, converted via existing facilities in Egypt." 

He concluded that the energy developments in the eastern Mediterranean, long a US preserve, mean that Washington "needs to pay careful attention, since these … offer opportunities for U.S. companies as well as the potential for friction between US allies."

"Although the amounts of gas discovered so far seem unlikely to change the world, they could certainly change the eastern Mediterranean." 

Source: UPI
For more information on the eastern Mediterranean, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Canada and Denmark in Hans Island negotiations

Hans Island has long been claimed by both Denmark and Canada
It appears that Canada and Denmark are inching closer to resolution over Hans Island, a tiny barren island sitting halfway between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years, and the dispute has taken overt political dimensions, with leaders from both countries visiting the island and military exercises being carried out in the region.

But the two countries are now in negotiations and have embarked on a joint mapping exercise, and officials on both sides are confident of reaching an agreement before Canada lodges its claim over the Arctic seabed to the UN in 2013, according a report in Canada's Globe and Mail on 26th January.

The two countries first attempted to delimitate their maritime boundary in the region in a 1973 treaty, which plotted 127 points through the Nares Strait. Hans Island, however, lies in between two points, and so has remained in dispute. While it has been agreed that the island does not have claim to a territorial sea – in other words that it cannot be used extend one or the other nation's claims for offshore drilling or fishing rights in the area, the issue is important for other reasons. At the heart of the dispute is shipping rights, and it seems that Canada is worried that giving in on Hans Island will compromise its exclusive claims to the Northwest Passage.

There are two probable settlement routes: the first is shared jurisdiction of the island, the second is to have a border running down the middle of the uninhabited island, giving the two countries a land border.

The steps being taken to resolve the dispute between Canada and Denmark mirror those taking place between Canada and the US over their Beaufort Sea boundary between Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory.

While the Americans have long sought a negotiated settlement, Canada has preferred to agree to disagree. But with petroleum companies increasingly eager to explore the hydrocarbon potential of the arctic, Canada's Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signaled his willingness to reach a deal.

The past three summers, the two countries have carried out joint mapping expeditions of the ocean floor, and bilateral discussions continue. The mapping may not be able to be finished until 2013 because of short summer working seasons, and it is unlikely that an agreement will be completed until after then.

The nations that encircle the Arctic have agreed, under the UN Law of the Sea convention, to submit their claims over what they see as their fair share of the Arctic seabed to the UN for arbitration. Canada's deadline is 2013.

As for the biggest dispute of all, who controls the Northwest Passage, none of the players has even agreed to talk about it, and no resolution to the question of whether it is in Canadian or international waters is expected in the foreseeable future.



A major poll of some 9,000 people in eight Arctic countries has recently given some insight on views on their nations' relationship with the Arctic. Over half of Canadians polled said they supported a strengthened military presence in the north to protect against international threats, more than any other country.

Around three-quarters of the Canadians questioned believe that the contested Northwest Passage is in Canadian waters, and half of them believe the Beaufort Sea should belong to Canada.

When asked if they felt their government should pursue a firm line in defending their section of the Arctic, 43per cent of Canadians agreed. This hard line was echoed by 36per cent of respondents in Iceland, 34per cent in Russia and 10per cent or less in the United States, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

The research was published by Canada's Munk School of Global Affairs and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.

Sources: BBC News, Globe and Mail

For more information on Arctic disputes, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Google Maps: Virtual Land Grabs and ‘Google Recognition’

Considering the Ilemi Triangle for two previous Menas Borders pieces, it was interesting to note its treatment in Google Maps (Map 1). Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan all make territorial claims to the Triangle while Kenya is the state that polices and de facto administers the territory. This notwithstanding, it is important to note that there has never been any cession of territory by the state with the recognised de jure territorial claim, Sudan.


Map 1: The Ilemi Triangle at http://maps.google.co.uk/ – Retrieved 19 January 2011

Google’s treatment of Ilemi is perhaps indicative of its responses to the problems represented by the ‘symbology’ of territorial borders. (As noted in a Google blog, border position and image resolution are two other problematic areas.) Google argues that it has attempted to address the qualitative aspects of positional and territorial disputes and that its concern with symbology involves the recognition that territorial disputes and settlements do not represent any static horizon. Their evolution, it is argued, means that Google has to use a degree of nuance in its depiction of territorial borders and employ several methods to denote the uncertainty and conflict that surrounds the site, and even mere existence, of many territorial borders.

The current line used in Google Maps to denote the northern extent of Ilemi is seemingly based on the 1938 Wakefield Line. Wakefield is a revision of the 1931 Red Line that was never intended to delimit an international boundary. Indeed, the sole official boundary, recognised in 1914, is that surveyed by Captain Maud’s expedition in 1902. So the function of Wakefield was to show the extent of Kenyan administration upon the territory of colonial Sudan, its condominium government having afforded its Kenyan counterpart a ‘right of hot pursuit’ across the international boundary in 1928.

For its part, the 1938 extension of Wakefield was drawn in order to accommodate more adequately the transhumant grazing patterns of the Turkana people. This extension has, of course, suited Kenyan interests well and has provided the basis for the claim that is still exercised by Kenyan governments. However, as far as I can tell, no Kenyan government has made any application, to any authority, for a formal transfer of territory other than in 1967. At this point, after independence, Kenyatta’s government sought British intervention in support of the cession of the Triangle to Kenya. For a variety of reasons—perhaps because of the waning British influence, or maybe the formulation of the 1964 OAU declaration on the sacrosanctity of territorial borders (itself consistently flouted by Kenya in its practice on Ilemi)—nothing came of this. Since, other pressures—most obviously a number of armed conflicts—have meant that the matter remains unresolved and the de facto control of the Triangle territory preserved, however informally. But by excluding the 1914 Line Google Maps ‘silences’ the only internationally recognised boundary. In so doing it reinforces the tenuous Kenyan claim to the Triangle and the Red/Wakefield Line as an international boundary which it is certainly not. Google Maps in effect performs its own geopolitical action by silencing Maud’s line and performing a virtual territorial grab on the part of Kenya.

So how far has Google Maps come to represent a proxy for international recognition of a border? It could not be argued that ‘Google recognition’ has arrived to supplant the mechanisms of public international law since Google Maps’ launch in 2005 and yet Google Maps does serve to reinforce particular interests. It does so through perhaps nothing more than the sources of its data (including, for example, the US State Department). Particular cartographies serve particular policies, privileged interests and parties to alliances; so the Google Maps data cannot be regarded as authoritative or impartial statements on the authentic positionality of territorial borders. It can do little more than privilege the interpretation of the source which, if needs be, is to the cost of international law. (The positions adopted by the US toward Kenya and Sudan might prove instructive in this sense, but there is no space for consideration of that here.) The point is, then, that the Google Maps is a powerful tool which, given its accessibility, has the capacity to gain a measure of seeming-legitimacy and penetrate the geopolitical imaginations of those who, in the best of faith, consume its depictions of space. On this view Google has a responsibility that must extend further than simply tailoring the depiction of particular disputed borders according to the location of an IP address.

Perhaps this is to overstate the case. Nonetheless, it is to show that supposed objectivity counts for little and that uncertainty over a territorial disposition counts for far more when it is only partially reproduced in Google’s software. Indeed, it is a testament to the legitimacy that Google Maps now seems to bestow upon these dispositions that governments are seemingly prepared to act militarily where and when a virtual territorial grab may be construed as threatening the interests of states. One such example is in the recent Nicaraguan incursion into Costa Rican territory (October 2010), although this orthodox interpretation arguably neglects the background to the incident: the commander of the Nicaraguan military unit perhaps refers to Google Maps to explain a Nicaraguan mistake rather than truly stake a claim to territory. Indeed, Google admitted to a mistake, blaming incorrect data supplied by the US State Department; perhaps there is the risk of unfairly vilifying Google in this case. Nonetheless the dispute still escalated, the Nicaraguans subsequently claiming, in something of an about-turn, the validity of the Google map. The ICJ ruling that put a formal end to the territorial dispute in 2009 relied heavily on the Canas-Jerez Treaty (1858) which, especially in an era of sophisticated mapping and cartographic technologies, can only contain manifold ambiguities and inspire a variety of competing interpretations. Perhaps Google’s failing—which is only the equivalent of that of any archival hermeneut of treaties and the associated geographical information—is that it cannot itself act as the arbiter of objectivity, truth and coherence, a status to which it is perhaps popularly elevated by consequence of its accessibility and ready availability. So perhaps the important question is how the Google Maps interpretation—which, Google having parted ways from its private partner, Tele Atlas, is derived from government data sources—has become the dominant interpretation.

This month Tajikistan’s lower house of parliament ratified a border agreement with China. This must still be ratified by the Tajik Senate but the agreement would end a dispute that dates back to the nineteenth century and result in a significant transfer of territory (1,000 sq km to China and 27,500 sq km to Tajikistan). Controversy surrounds the agreement and its ratification: rumours have circulated as to the extent of the territorial transfer, parliamentary deputies have claimed to have been unaware of the agreement (made in 2002) until the last few weeks, others have claimed that any transfer represents a violation of the Tajik constitution or a diplomatic defeat despite the limited proportion (c. 1%) of Tajik territory affected. Given this uncertainty perhaps it is fortunate that Google, however inadvertently, has effectively hedged its bets (see Map 2). The data with which it has drawn its dotted, equivocal border is seemingly far vaguer in terms of image resolution than is the Bing Maps equivalent (Map 3). (Bing is Microsoft’s equivalent service which did, interestingly enough, have the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border in the usual location.)


Map 2: The China-Tajikistan border at http://maps.google.co.uk/ – Retrieved 19 January 2011


Map 3: The China-Tajikistan border at http://www.bing.com/maps/  – Retrieved 19 January 2011

Above all, therefore, it is perhaps only due to the considerable weight, high profile and accessibility of Google Maps that it has become the focus of ire over the last few years and as other services emerge to challenge its dominance the picture may only become more uncertain with the addition of different sources and interpretation. In the meantime, Google Maps must persevere in its concerns with symbology, positionality and image resolution in order to address the contingency and dynamism of the territorial dispositions that it has chosen to relay. We should also be wary of parties using the ambiguities of these maps, vilifying Google and its sources in the process, in justifying their actions, and journalistic sources jumping on the bandwagon in speaking of ‘21st Century War’.


Monday, 24 January 2011

Five Thais arrested for illegally entering Cambodia released

Panich Vikitsreth is released from jail on Friday 21st January

The ordeal undergone by five of the seven Thai citizens arrested in late December for intruding upon Cambodian territory has ended, as of Friday 21st January. The two others remain in custody, facing additional espionage charges.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced five citizens, including Panich Vikitsreth, a member of the Thai Parliament and ally of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, to eight months in prison for illegally crossing the border. Their sentences were suspended, however, and all five were immediately released, having already spent a month in prison.

They were also fined 1 million Cambodian riel (approximately US$330) each.

Two others remain in Cambodia. People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leader Veera Somkwamkid remains in custody in Phnom Penh on further espionage charges. There have been conflicting reports on his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon; some say she has been granted bail and told to remain in the country, while other reports say she remains in custody.

Panich told the court on Friday that they did not realise they were in a restricted area because all of the signs were in Cambodian. In a press conference on 24th January, after returning to Thailand, Panich reiterated his insistance that his trip to the disputed border region was done out of a 'sincere effort' to help local people overcome their troubles. He said he was in the region to investigate complaints from villages that they could not make use of the land they had long occupied and for which they had land rights documents.

Abhisit made a televised address on the evening of the 23rd to explain the border issue and to insist that the government will not bow to pressure from the PAD, along with their allies in the Thai Patriots Network and the Santi Asoke sect ahead of their planned joint rally this week.

The groups want the government to revoke the memorandum of understanding signed by Thailand and Cambodia in 2000 governing the two countries' border disputes as they feel it puts Thailand at a disadvantage. They also want the government to force Cambodians from every disputed area and to cancel Thailand's membership with UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

Sources: Bangkok Post, UPI

For more information on the Thailand-Cambodia border dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Croatian fishing regulations provoke Slovenian protest

Slovenia and Croatia's maritime boundary dispute, currently in the process of arbitration, has flared up again recently, due to Croatia's fishing regulations.

The Croatian national television station reported that, according to Croatia's rulebook, the border is established along the middle of the Bay of Piran, although it acknowledged that it could change as a result of arbitration proceedings.

Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor said on Thursday 20th January that Croatia's regulations on fishing area boundaries had no legal bearing on arbitration proceedings that would solve the bilateral border dispute, but added that the adoption of the regulations was a unilateral step against which Slovenia would officially protest tomorrow.

Pahor said the Foreign Ministry would forward the note to the relevent agencies on Friday 21st January.

The issue emerged on Thursday when the foreign policy committees of Slovenia and Croatia met in Ljubljana in their first meeting in a decade. While they assessed the countries' relations as excellent, the delegations were unable to avoid the controversial Croatian fishing regulations.

The maritime boundary between the two countries has been a major sticking point in recent years. Slovenians voted in June 2010 to send the issue of ownership of the Bay of Piran to international arbitration.

In the past, Croatia has called for the bay to be divided using strict equidistance, but Slovenia has protested, as this would severely restrict its navigational ability because of its shorter coastline.

Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, had threatened to block Croatia's EU membership until the dispute was resolved.

Sources: STA, B92, Balkans.com

For more information on the Slovenia-Croatia maritime boundary dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Mexico holds talks with Costa Rica and Nicaragua on river border dispute

Mexican secretary for foreign affairs, Patricia Espinosa
As Costa Rica and Nicaragua await the first part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on their border dispute case, specifically the alledged Nicaraguan military presence on the disputed Calero and Portillos islands, Mexican-led talks continue in an effort to find a diplomatic solution.


The 'facilitation' exercise took place in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca on Wednesday 19th January and involved representatives from Mexico, headed by secretary for foreign affairs, Patricia Espinosa, and her Guatemalan counterpart, Haroldo Rodas holding broad-reaching talks with delegations from both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The Costa Rican delegation was headed by Melvin Saenz, while Nicaragua was represented by Denis Moncada. The Costa Rica delegation and the Nicaraguan delegation did not speak directly, although in a joint statement issued at the end, they thanked Mexico for its hospitality and expressed their appreciation to Guatemala for offering to host the second meeting of the facilitation exercise.

The facilitation exercise is being seen as a political mechanism that is taking place in addition to the ICJ process. The ICJ is expected to produce a judgement on the first issue on question – Nicaragua's military presence – in the coming weeks, while the other issues – Nicaragua's dredging of the San Juan river, and the construction of a canal in the area, which Costa Rica is saying is causing environmental damage – will likely take a few years for a judgement to be made.

While local media is reporting the talks as a success, the fact that the two sides will not engage in direct discussions with each other suggests resolution is a long way off. A statement released by the Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry on Monday 17th January said the they would not have direct dialogue with Nicaraguan officials while troops remained on the Isla Calero.

Costa Rica has gone on the offensive in recent weeks as Foreign Minister Rene Castro makes the round of European cities garnering support. He has confirmed that Germany's foreign minister has offered him support in the conflict. Castro has also visited the UK, where he met with British UN Ambassador Henry Bellingham to discuss he 'grave destruction' caused by the Nicaraguan troop presence on 17h January. He also met with the UK's Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to discuss the conflict.

Costa Rica has also taken steps to increase the security along their border. Public Security Minister José María Tijerino announced last week that work had begun in late December to enhance security along three Costa Rican rivers that join the San Juan River. They have set up heliports where the Colorado, Saripiquí and San Carlos rivers join the San Juan to facilitate government air traffic and to monitor security along the border. Tijerino also said that they planned to install fences around the river deltas and build new roads to provide better access to border regions.

Prime Minister Laura Chinchilla also said recently that the number of police on the border would likely increase in coming months. The Costa Rican moves come hot on the tails of a new defence-law package in Nicaragua, which is likely to result in the further militarisation of the Nicaraguan border.

Sources: Tico Times, Inside Costa Rica, ISRIA

For more on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Costa Rica and Nicaragua present border cases at ICJ

The Costa Rican delegation at the ICJ

Costa Rica and Nicaragua have made their opening arguments regarding their border dispute over the San Juan River to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

The hearings started last Tuesday, 11th January, when Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of engangering the stability and peace between the two countries and asked the court to rule that Nicaragua must remove their troops from their 'illegitimate' occupation of the Isla Calero. The Costa Rican contingent, headed by foreign minister Rene Castro, also asked the court to rule that Nicaragua must cease the 'imminent and irreparable environmental damage' being caused by Nicaragua in the border region.

Nicaragua responded in the afternoon of the 11th, arguing that Costa Rica 'creates a dispute' every time Nicaragua begins work on the San Juan River. Nicaragua's ambassador to the Netherlands and main representative at the hearing, Carlos Arguello, also attempted to discredit the claims that Nicaragua 'invaded' Costa Rican territory by arguing that the dispute was caused by a lack of well-defined borders.

This is not the first dispute between the Latin American neighbours over the San Juan River. In 2009 the ICJ ruled that while the San Juan River was Nicaraguan territory, with the bank constituting the border, Costa Rica had the right to free navigation.

Both sides are claiming they have the upper hand in the dispute. Foreign minister Castro said on Tuesday that he was feeling very confident. “There has been irrefutable damage done to Costa Rican territory and we feel the court has heard our argument. Our presentation is very consistent, as it has been since this issue began.”

Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla echoed Castro's words. Speaking to the press on Tuesday afternoon, she said, “We are very pleased with the results of the proceedings this morning and the case presented by Costa Rica at The Hague.”

“The more the world knows about this situation, the more the world will favor Costa Rica,” she added.

Castro has remained in Europe, and is said to be making the rounds of a number of European cities to garner support for Costa Rica's position.

The Nicaraguans, however, are feeling similarly confident. Well-known Nicaraguan conservationist and presidential advisor Jaime Incer said Cost Rica was surprised by the 'brilliant' presentation made by Arguello.

“The arguments presented by Nicaragua were overwhelming and well presented and made Costa Rica's foreign minister doubt his own belligerent position,” the Tico Times reported Incer as saying.

“I think that in the first round, Nicaragua refuted Costa Rica's phantom arguments, and that gives us lots of hope.”

Nicaraguan representative Arguello has been quoted as saying he was sure that the Court would not approve the provisional measures requested by Costa Rica, and noted that Costa Rica itself was not positive about it.

Hearings took place from Tuesday January 11th to Thursday January 13th. The court is now deliberating, and a decision is expected sometime this week.

For more information on the dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Incoming South Sudan referendum results suggests secession

An SSRC official showing a vote for secession in north Darfur

Southern Sudan's independence referendum came to a close on the evening of 15th January, and early results already coming in suggest the vast majority have voted for independence from Sudan.

The chairman of the Southern Sudanese Referendum Commission (SSRC), Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil said that more than 80per cent of eligible voters in the south had participated, along with 53per cent in the north and 91per cent of voters living in the eight other countries hosting polling stations. 60per cent of registered voters had to cast their votes in order for the poll to be considered valid.

He said the referendum would be considered "a good result by any international standard."

Full results of the poll are not due until next month, but preliminary results are already trickling in from around the 3000 polling stations in Sudan. The Sudan Tribune has reported that at the Ngor voting centre in Torit, in south Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state only seven votes were cast in favour of unity, while 1718 voted for secession.

Results in Juba appear to be similarly one-sided: early results show that of stations already reporting 20,012 people voted for secession, while 270 voted for unity.

Not all results have been so clear, however. In north Sudan's Greater Omdorman area, for example, where 35 polling stations were located, 4838 people voted for secession while 4420 voted for unity.

Polling also took place in eight countries outside of Sudan: Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the UK and the US. Voters in Australia have been given extra time to cast their votes in areas where flooding has hampered the process.

Voters in the UK, the only site in Europe, have reportedly voted 97per cent in favour of secession. Federico Vuni, the SSRC official in charge in London, announced on 16th January that 626 votes were cast in favour of secession, with only 13 for unity.

Similar results were obtained in Canada, where voting took place in Toronto and Calgary, and in Egypt.

US President Barack Obama has welcomed the vote, saying "The sight of so many Sudanese casting their votes in a peaceful and orderly fashion was an inspiration to the world and a tribute to the determination of the people and leaders of south Sudan to forge a better future."

"We urge all parties to continue to urge calm and show restraint as the parties work to complete implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” he added.

Washington has promised to remove Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism by July if it recognises the result of the vote. The US special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration met with foreign minister Ali Karti in Khartoum to discuss with him the future of bilateral relations following the referendum's conclusion.

Karti told reporters after that he hoped for more dialogue on normalising ties and said that more meetings would be held in mid-February to continue discussions. He cautioned, however, that putting new conditions on normalising ties, including Darfur conflict resolution, would not be accepted.

Meanwhile Southern Sudan leader Salva Kiir made his first public address since the vote on Sunday, 16th January, speaking in a Catholic Cathedral in Juba. He urged people to forgive the north for the killings that happened during the civil war that lasted for more than 20 years.

"For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace," Kiir said.

"And may we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths."

An estimated two million people died in the war between Khartoum and rebel groups, most prominently in the south, and millions more were displaced. The independence referendum is the culmination of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005, which ended the civil war.

For more information on the Southern Sudan independence referendum, please see Menas Borders, here.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

China and Tajikistan end century-long border row

Map of Tajikistan
Tajikistan's lower house of parliament ratified an agreement on Wednesday 12th January to demarcate its border with China, ending a century-old conflict over territory in Central Asia's Pamir mountains.



While China will gain 1,000sq km of land, Tajikistan will gain 27,500sq km of land.


The territorial dispute started between Tsarist Russia and Imperial China in the second half of the 19th century, and future governments have been unable find a solution.


The Majlisi Namoyandagon, Tajikistan's lower chamber of Parliament, ratified a protocol on demarcation of their common border with China. The boundary dispute had been settled in agreements signed by both sides in 2002. The agreement still must be ratified by Tajikistan's senate, but that is not expected to be problematic.


While the government is claiming the agreement as a 'great victory' for Tajik diplomacy, opposition parties are less convinced.


Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokhon Zarifi celebrated the agreement, which ceded only three per cent of the disputed territories to China.


"These disputable territories are nearly 20 per cent of Tajikistan's territory, while under the protocol, only 1,000 square kilometres, or 3 per cent of the disputable territories, are ceded to China," the minister said.

Opposition politicians, however, said the agreement flouted the constitution of the country, which says the territory of Tajikistan is 'inseparable and inviolable'.


Leader of the opposition Islamic Revival Party, Muhiddin Kabiri said the land transfer represents a defeat for Tajik diplomacy. Kabiri is one of only two opposition members in parliament.


Despite the fact that the agreement was reached in 2002, parliamentary deputies said they had been unaware of the agreement with China until several days ago. The leader of the Communist Party of Tajikistan (which generally backs the president), Shodi Shabdolov said people were unhappy about the lack of transparency.


"Nobody had reliable information and many rumours were in society that allegedly a huge part of Tajik territory will be ceded to China," said Shabdolov. The territory ceded to China represents less than one per cent of Tajikistan's land.

Sources: Times of India, Reuters, Washington Post

For more information on Central Asian border, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

High voter turnout in Southern Sudan, but violence continues in border region

A policeman in Southern Sudan shows the ink on his finger from voting
Sudan is only half way through the week-long voting period for the Southern Sudan independence referendum, but they are already nearing the 60per cent participation rate necessary for the vote to be considered valid, according to Khartoum's Al Sahafa newspaper.

It is thought that voter turnout in the nouth has reached 60per cent, while voter turnout in the north is at 30per cent and in the eight overseas countries where voting is taking place, turnout has been 63per cent.

As a result, it is almost certain that enough votes will be cast for the referendum result to be accepted. That not enough people would be able to vote was a major concern before voting started on Sunday, 9th January.

While fears of widespread return to violence have proved incorrect, there have been numerous clashes on the north-south border on recent days, and at least 33 people have been killed in the disputed Abyei region alone.

Khartoum has said that the clashes were between rival nomadic and farming tribes over grazing lands, but Juba believes that the Arab Misseriya tribesman, bankrolled by Khartoum, are behind the violence.

"There is always someone behind these things, it is not just a local thing like people are saying," said one senior Southern officer, who refused to be named.

In related news, the UN has acknowledged that it gave helicopter transport to a man wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Southern Kordofan governor Ahmad Mohammad Harun is wanted by the court on 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and rape in the Darfur conflict.

But a UN spokesperson said that Harun was crucial to negotiations between the Misseriya tribes people and Ngok Dinka people of Abyei, and that was why he was given transport.

"Governor Harun was critical to bringing the Misseriya tribal leaders in southern Kordofan to a peace meeting in Abyei to stop further clashes and killings,” according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Along with the violence in the Abyei region, there has also been 10 deaths in the border area between the north’s Southern Kordofan state and the south’s Bahr al-Ghazal state. Southern internal affairs minister Gier Chuang said the attack in the border region came as a convoy of returnees moving from the north to the south in order to vote was ambushed on Monday, 10th January.

Chuang said that with the exception of these isolated incidents, the vote was progressing peacefully. "Otherwise, the security in all of the states of the south remains normal and the south is on track to achieve the objective it has fought for for so many years," he said.

Violence in Abyei is the most worrying, as the fate of this disputed state is perhaps the issue that is most likely to cause war between the north and what we can expect will be a newly independence south. Abyei was meant to have its own referendum on which country to join, but it has been postponed as crucial sticking points - including the exact border demarcation and how to divide oil revenues - remain unsolved.

Southern Sudan’s leader, Salva Kiir said on Saturday 8th January that returning to war was not an option, and Northern leader Omar Al-Bashir has said he will accept the result of the vote, but there are many issues to be resolved between the two sides before Southern Sudan becomes a new country in July.

In a gesture of goodwill, al-Bashir has proposed to take on all of Sudan’s $38 billion (£24.5 billion) debt if the south declared independence, according to AFP.

Sources: the Telegraph, AFP, the Ghanaian Journal, Menas Associates

For more news and analysis on Sudan, see the Menas Borders website, here.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Border Focus: Sudan



The Southern Sudan Independence Referendum is due to begin on 9th January 2011, but how did Africa’s biggest country come to the point of being split in two?

What is disputed?

Problems in the Sudan stem from poorly thought out colonial borders and policies, and essentially what is disputed is the role of the south and other peripheral areas of the country within the larger Sudanese nation.

The dispute is often portrayed as fight between regions (north vs south) or ethnicities (Arabs vs black Africans), but it perhaps more useful to see it as a fight between the centre and the peripheries, between those holding the power and those marginalised from power.

As a result, while the likely independence of Southern Sudan will solve the marginalisation of the south, it will not solve the problems of other groups in the north who have also been fighting against Khartoum for greater recognition.


What is the history of the dispute?

Even before the Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956, people in southern Sudan and other areas away from Khartoum felt that they were being excluded from the political process.

The first civil war lasted from 1955-1972 and resulted in the Addis Ababa Accords which granted the south a degree of regional autonomy. This was rescinded in 1983, however, and the rise of Islamist powers in the north resulted in a second civil war breaking out in 1983. The southerners were represented mainly by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), headed by John Garang, but the SPLM also tried to represent other marginalised peoples, especially in the Blue Nile, Nuba Mountain and Darfur areas.

The war ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) after 2 million people had been killed and even more displaced. The agreement provided for greater regional representation of some of the marginalised people and gave the SPLM control over governance in the south.

It stipulated a six year interim period in which both sides were committed to working for peace and unity and at the end of the period a referendum was to be held in the south in which the people could vote for unity or secession.

How successful has the CPA been?

The fact that the independence referendum is almost certain to result in southern secession makes it clear that the CPA has not been overly successful. The Power Sharing Protocol established under the CPA, designed to increased southern representation in the central government, and greater local representation in the state governments of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile has been disappointing. Inclusion into the Government of National Unity has not led to the marginalised parties gaining greater influence over state policies. Many complain that the whole government is still under strict National Congress Party (NCP, formerly NIF) control.

Khartoum’s refusal to accept the decision of the Abyei Boundary Commission, and its blocking of the demarcation work of the boundary determined in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is seen as a sign that little will change for the South if independence is rejected.

Other problems have continued: the Sudanese army did not leave Southern Sudan until 2008, and has been accused of continuing aerial campaigns against the south. The International Crisis Group warned in September 2010 that the border region was dangerous militarised and border demarcation has still not been carried out in many areas.

What is the independence referendum?

The culmination of the CPA is the Southern Sudanese independence referendum, due to be held on 9th January 2011. All Southern Sudanese are eligible to vote, even if they live in the north or abroad. Numerous international countries have made provisions for voting, and the Southern Sudanese government has repatriated tens of thousands of southerners living in the north, amidst fears that they would be intimidated out of voting if they remained in the north.

Almost four million voters have been registered and at least 60 per cent of them must vote during the week long voting period for the referendum to be considered valid. A simple majority either way will decide the result.

The results will probably take some time to come in, and if the vote is in favour of secession, Southern Sudan will become a new country at the end of the interim period on 9th July, 2011.

This gives the two sides six months to deal with residual – and crucially important issues – such as oil revenues, water ownership and border demarcation. There have long been fears that Khartoum would try to interrupt the referendum process or that a vote in favour of independence could lead to war, but al-Bashir’s recent comments that he will accept the verdict either way is positive.

Another crucial issue is to do with the oil-rich border-straddling Abyei region. Abyei residents were meant to have their own referendum on whether to join the north or the south on 9th January, but this will not happen. Instead, its future is likely to be negotiated over by the GoS and SPLM.

What are challenges facing newly independent country?


If, as most analysts expect, Southern Sudan votes to become the first new African country since 1993, it will have huge issues facing it. The second civil war resulted in the deaths of some two million people, and huge numbers of southern residents have been displaced. The south has been ignored and underdeveloped since the colonial period and much of what infrastructure was there was damaged during the civil wars. Persistent food shortages have been an issue (for much of Sudan) since the 1990s, and will likely to continue to be so in the future.

While the south has access to most of the country’s water, it will be a landlocked nation, and will be dependent on the north for many things, not least for the pipelines to carry its oil to markets.

The political class in Juba, while having governed since 2005 is still relatively inexperienced, and corruption is already an issue. The pace of reconstruction has been incredibly slow, and the South has relied heavily in recent years on the World Food Programme, despite some $6 billion in oil revenues coming in.

The new countries leaders will also have a challenge in constructing an idea of national unity and identity. For most of the colonial period their authority has come from their rejection of Khartoum. When they don’t have anyone to blame for the problems any more, unity may be harder to engender.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the south would be better off staying with the north. The support the SPLM has received from its regional neighbours over the last few decades means that it is already to a certain extent integrated into the east African economy, and they will continue to have the goodwill – and more importantly the donor dollars – of the international community for coming years.

For the full history of the dispute, for more analysis, and for Menas Borders' expert report for the SPLM/A in the Abyei Arbitration, please see the full Border Focus, here.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Cambodian court hears Thai border crossing case


Panich Vikitsreth (2nd left) on his way to court
Seven Thai civilians arrested in late December for illegally entering Cambodian land have appeared in the Phnom Penh Municipal court on Thursday 6th January.

One of the arrested, ruling party MP Panich Vikitsreth told the court that he entered the disputed border area unintentionally. Most of the group were members of the 'Yellow Shirts', a nationalist group who advocates Thailand taking a tougher stand on border issues with Cambodia.

Each of the seven was questioned individually, with Yellow Shirt activist Veera Somkwankid the last to be examined.

Lawyers defending the Thais were waiting for details of charges levied against each of them, and said they could not file bail requests requests until the court delivered its verdict.

Because 7th January is a holiday in Cambodia, it is expected that the lawyers will file requests for the release on bail of the group on Monday.

Panich's lawyer Ros Aun said that Mr Panich told the court he had “crossed into Cambodian territory unintentionally.”

Speaking to AFP, Ros said, "He said he came [to the border area] because Thai people claim it is their land. He said he was walking without knowing that he was entering Cambodian territory and was captured by the authorities."

Relatives of the defendants, reporters and Thai embassy officials were not allowed inside the courtroom.

The seven were charged late last month with illegally crossing the border and entering a military area with ill will. The issue had threatened to derail improved relations between the south-east Asian neighbours, and Thai calls for the groups' immediate release have been ignored.

The issue has proved tricky for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is known to be close to his MP, and it has been suggested that it was he who told the group to travel to the border area.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Bangkok might seek a royal pardon for the seven if the court sentences them. They face a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail if convicted on both accounts.

No trial date has been set.

For more information, see the original menas borders blog on this issue, of the menas borders website for more on the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.