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Scribes, A Ship and the Politics of Detention

August 15, 2009

Bill Clinton went to North Korea to get the two American scribes out of the clutches of the isolated communist regime. Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, promoted by Al Gore were apprehended on the Chinese-North Korean border by the North Korean security forces. They were handed a sentence of twelve years of hard labor by a North Korean court. As can be expected they were pawns in a game played by nations that want to keep each other guessing. After some protracted discussions and some string pulling the North Koreans agreed to pardon the two journalists but they wanted Bill Clinton to come to Pyongyang to get back the two scribes. The media hailed Bill Clinton as a savior and a man who still had clout enough to redeem a seemingly impossible situation. On coming back to the US when Mr. Clinton was asked as to how he managed to get the journalists back home he said that he channeled his efforts through some businessmen friends of his. The White House offered no comments on the issue of the journalists’ release. According to Daniel Sneider, associate director of research at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center it was the culmination of weeks of quiet negotiations between the State Department and the North Korean mission to the United Nations. Clinton “didn’t go to negotiate this, he went to reap the fruits of the negotiation,” Sneider added. Obviously Bill Clinton made the right noises in Pyongyang and relayed President Obama’s gratitude to the frail North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The detention was a thorn in the flesh of the Americans. This was North Korea’s reaction to the sanctions slapped by the UN in June of this year after they refused to stop nuclear tests. The North Koreans found an opportunity in the detention of the two scribes to get back at the US. Pyongyang must be smirking at the massive efforts undertaken by Washington to get Lee and Ling out of the clutches of the rogue communist regime.

I do not know if the western media and the people there know but the very next day India seized a North Korean ship MV Mu San off the coast of Hut Bay Island in the Andamans. The Indian navy and coastguard found a ship anchored near the island and when they approached, the Mu San tried to flee. Indian coast guard had to fire a few warning shots before the North Korean vessel stopped. Evidently it was carrying sugar from Thailand to Iraq. But the ship had made port calls to China, Pakistan and Singapore which did not show on its log book. It took quite a while to get the interrogation of the ship’s captain started as there was no Korean interpreter. Indian authorities also wanted to be sure there was no nuclear cargo on board. The search of the ship continues. Indian authorities have now taken the ship to a deeper port – Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh to make further investigations.

What takes the cake is the comment made by the old fox, Henry Kissinger. According to the Times of India, 15th of August, 2009, ‘former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has praised India for taking the ‘very positive step’ of detaining the ship. He said that India was rightly imposing the Security Council resolution in detaining the crew for questioning. India has been very cooperative with us, and they had very many parallel interests with respect to Islamic terrorism and the nuclear danger.’

When Henry Kissinger says something about strategic interests and international relations, most people sit up and take notice. Evidently, the detention of the MV Mu San is not a one off incident. The Indian authorities have said that some tourists saw the ship and alerted the authorities. This to me seems quite unlikely. Once the scribes were out, the west needed to respond. India with its new found strategic relations with the west was the right choice to do what was needed. Indian satellites and radars are capable of scanning every inch of Indian coastline. My hunch is that India and the west were keeping a tab on North Korean vessels and as soon as Mr. Clinton was out of Pyongyang Indians moved in and impounded Mu San. The tit for tat game goes on.

The North Korean ship is still anchored in the Kakinada port. I guess it will be some time before the ship and its 39 member crew is released. They took two scribes – here we have a ship and thirty nine men with us. It will be very easy for India to slap charges on the sailors and detain the ship indefinitely. I am sure negotiations are going on. It will be interesting to see as to what role Beijing plays in this whole drama. President Clinton vaguely mentioned the help of some businessmen friends of his in getting the scribes out of Pyongyang, but I will be surprised if he and the US administration did not approach Beijing to get the girls out of North Korea. Now that Mu San and the 39 men are here with India, Pyongyang will again route their efforts through Beijing to get the ship and the crew out. Beijing has the dubious distinction of having as friends’ regimes that few nations have anything to do with.

When Indians decided to tow the ship to Kakinada, it became obvious that the negotiations had not fructified. Evidently, India is in no hurry to let the North Korean ship go. Indian nuclear experts from Kalapakkam nuclear plant have given the ship a clean chit and have said that there is no nuclear material on board. India will now be keen to ascertain whether Mu San was not carrying any cargo in violation of the Security Council resolution.

In the same newspaper in the column below China has turned down India’s request to declare Masood Azhar, chief of Pakistan based Jaish-e Muhammad, a terrorist and be sanctioned by the UN Security Council’s 1267 committee. While it will be ambitious to expect the Chinese to reconsider their decision, it is clear that Beijing does not hesitate in using Islamic ultras for its strategic ends. The support to Abu Sayyaf in Phillippines is another example that is a pointer to the fact. And let us not forget that Lee and Ling were apprehended on the Chinese-North Korean border.

As for now, the North Koreans will have to make some serious efforts if they want to get back their ship and their men out of Kakinada. The hot lines between capitals must be buzzing. Americans and Indians will now demand their pound of flesh. Innocent men and women are used as pawns in the games nations play.

Update: 23.08.2009: The North Korean ship MV Mu San has now been docked at the Kakinada port. While there was a report early on that the ship had been cleared of carrying any nuclear material, it now transpires that the ship has yet to be checked for nuclear material on board. It is clear that the Indian authorities are in no hurry to let the ship go. It will be interesting to see how this issue pans out at the end.

Update 11.09.2009:  ‘A United Arab Emirates transport plane which was detained at an Indian airport after arms and explosives were found in its cargo has been allowed to leave. The plane, bound for Hanyang in China, had landed in Calcutta for refuelling on Sunday. Nine crew members had been detained and asked why they failed to declare the plane’s cargo.’ Source: BBC

The plane was detained for more than three days and the cargo checked. The plane was carrying arms from Egypt to China. This is intriguing because China is thought of as an exporter of arms. I am sure the western nations were informed of the developments in Kolkota. The tug of war continues. And, yes, there is no news of MV Mu San till now. It seems that the ship is still docked at Kakinada port. India is in no hurry to let the ship and the crew go.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 29, 2011 9:39 am

    Wow! Nice Post I like this Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year 2011

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