Hiding the Ball?
North Korea has begun dismantling the nuclear test site. The Korea analysts at 38 North reported on the 14th that satellite imagery from 7 May shows North Korea already has begun dismantling facilities at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
The imagery showed that since late April “several key operational support buildings, located just outside the North, West and South Portals, have been razed.” The imagery also showed that some of the mine railways that serviced the tunnels had been removed. Some rail carts have been tipped over and/or disassembled, and several small buildings have been removed.
The analysts judged that none of the tunnel adits have been sealed yet. The larger administration buildings remain. The tunnels are to be rubbled with explosives, and all the buildings are to be demolished.
North Korea is taking actions that ensure that the outside world will not learn more details about what transpired at Punggye-ri over the past 12 years.
On 14 May, a group of North Korean Party officials, including Ryu Myong Son, deputy United Front Department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), and Kim Nung O, head of the party’s North Pyongan Central Committee, were seen visiting Beijing.
At the 14 May daily press session, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a journalist that he was not aware of the visit.
Lu’s reply indicates this visit was not a matter for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. It is another of the high-level party-to-party exchanges that Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping proposed for improving North Korea’s relationship with China.
Syria controls 60% of its national territory. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the recent surrenders and transfers of rebel fighters and their families from pockets of resistance south and north of Damascus have strengthened and expanded the government’s hold over the country.
According to the SOHR, Syria’s government held just 20 per cent of the country at the beginning of 2017, but it now controls more than 60 per cent of Syrian territory.
The Russian intervention in September 2015 began the process of reversing the Syrian government’s inward collapse on Damascus. Having secured Damascus, the Syrian, Russian and allied forces gradually expanded outward to fulfill President Assad’s pledge to recover the entire national patrimony.
Most of the other 40 percent is controlled by the US or Turkish proxy forces. The Turks and their Free Syrian Army proxy control most of the border area west of the Euphrates River, including the area formerly known as Syria’s Afrin Canton. The Syrian Democratic Forces, the US proxy, controls most of Syria east of the Euphrates River.
A key pocket of Islamic resistance is in and around Idlib. Reducing that area remains a major challenge for the government and its allies.
Nicaragua has become politically unstable. Up to 65 people have been killed and 500 injured in clashes between anti-government protestors and security forces. The Catholic bishops announced that a dialogue with the government would begin on 16 May to stop the violence.
Since 18 April, large and still growing protests have occurred in Managua and other cities over government repression and corruption. The trigger for the civil disorders was an executive order to increase withholdings from employers and employees and to cut benefits for the purpose of rescuing the nearly insolvent Nicaraguan Social Security Institute.
That order sparked almost immediate protests that have continued. Five protestors were reported killed in clashes with police on Saturday and Sunday.
President Ortega’s government has applied a variety of carrot and stick techniques to placate the protests. Its initial reaction was to use force to disperse the demonstrators, including mass arrests, firing live rounds into crowds and using pro-government gangs to manhandle demonstrators.
On 22 April the Ortega government offered to open a dialogue with the business community and announced a mass release of detainees. It also rescinded the cuts to social security payments. That concession encouraged protestors to continue and to expand their grievances to include justice for the killed and a more democratic government.
On 23 April, the United States Embassy in Managua announced it would cease routine operations and family members of embassy staff were ordered to leave the country.
By the end of April more than 43 protestors were killed. The Nicaraguan Red Cross reported that it assisted 435 people, 242 of whom had to be hospitalized
Ortega has used the same repressive tactics to remain in power that the Somoza regime used, against which the Ortega brothers and the Sandinistas fought 40 years ago. His government has treated economic-based protests as challenges to political authority. As usually happens in such cases, the economic-based protests converted into anti-government protests. However, few protestors have called for President Ortega to resign.
The government does not yet appear in danger of overthrow, primarily because the security forces remain responsive to the president. Over the weekend, the Nicaraguan army urged an end to the violence.
Violent political protests are likely to continue but might decline somewhat depending on the outcome of the Church-sponsored meeting.