In another grim signal of a widening war in northern Burma's opium zones, last week saw an outbreak of intense fighting between government forces and ethnic rebels, prompting some 50,000 Kokang civilians to flee across the border to China. The clashes at the town of Laukkai (also rendered Laogai), Shan state, saw government air-strikes and helicopter strafing on villages controlled by the Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and two allied militias. Some 50 government troops have been killed in the fighting, and soliders have recovered the bodies of several rebels. A line of refugees 10 kilometers long has reportedly piled up at the Chinese border crossing of Nansan. (AP, Feb. 14; Democratic Voice of Burma, Feb. 12; The Irrawady, Feb. 11)
Turkey and the Kurdish rebel movement on Feb. 28 announced a landmark political deal that calls for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to lay down arms. The news came in a joint press conference with senior cabinet ministers and Kurdish leaders of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), where they conveyed a call by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan for a congress this spring to discuss the group's disarmament. "This is a historic declaration of will to replace armed struggle with democratic politics," said the HDP's Sırrı Sureyya Onder. The Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the PKK-aligned civil organization in Turkey's east, also issued a statement in support of the call for a peace process in the region. Some 40,000 people have lost their lives since 1984 when the PKK launched its armed struggle.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro led a mass rally in Caracas Feb. 28 marking the anniversary of the "Caracazo," the 1989 popular rebellion against an IMF structural adjustment package imposed by then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. Over the course of 72 hours, perhaps 3,000 were killed or "disappeared" in a wave of repression, although the actual figure remains unknown. Maduro announced that 75 more victims and survivors of the repression would receive indemnification from the state. Since 2002, some 600 victims and survivors have received restitution. Maduro of course also linked the commemoration to the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, pledging to defend "the anti-imperialist charatcer of the Bolivarian Revolution" despite designs by "the oligarchy" for a "coup d'etat." (Diario BAE, Argentina, Noticías24, Venezuela, Feb. 28; VenezuelAnalysis, Feb. 27)
Colombia's supreme court on Feb. 27 convicted two close aides of former president Alvaro Uribe for illegal eavesdropping on the communications of the conservative leader's top opponents. Maria del Pilar Hurtado, former head of the now-disbanded DAS intelligence agency, and Bernardo Moreno, Uribe's chief of staff, were both found guilty on several charges, including conspiracy, and each face more than 10 years in prison. The convictions were widely anticipated since a number of former DAS agents accused them of ordering wiretaps of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and even members of the supreme court who had been critical of Uribe. President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the DAS shut down shortly after taking office.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Dhaka Feb. 27 to denounce the murder of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, hacked to death with machetes earlier that day while walking near a book fair he was visiting in the city. Roy was founder of Mukto-Mona (Free Mind) blog, which advocated secularism and atheism. He had received numerous threats from Islamists in recent months. His wife was also injured the attack. There have been no arrests. At the rally, protesters chanted "We want justice" and "Raise your voice against militants."
Extremist Jewish settlers set fire to a mosque in the southern West Bank town of al-Jaba west of Bethlehem in the small hours of Feb. 25, locals told Ma'an News Agency. As worshipers arrived around 4:30 AM to prepare for the dawn prayer at al-Huda mosque, they saw smoke and flames rising from inside the building. Worshipers alerted neighbors and together they joined forces until they managed to put out the fire. Racist slogans calling for killing Arabs and Muslims were sprayed on the walls in Hebrew. The Palestinian foreign ministry said the attack was tantamount to "an official declaration of religious war," the official WAFA news agency reported. "This new attack is a sign of the mounting violent extremism within Israeli society." The attack coincides with the 21st anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron when an extremist US-born Jew, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire at Muslim worshipers at dawn prayer. The attack killed 29 people and injured more than 120. (Ma'an)
ISIS forces put the Mosul library to the torch Feb. 22—over vociferous pleas and protests from the city's notables. "ISIS militants bombed the Mosul Public Library," said Ghanim al-Ta'an, director of the library. "They used improvised explosive devices." Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned. The library was established in 1921, the same year that saw the birth of the modern Iraq. Among its lost collections were manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac (Aramaic) language books printed in Iraq's first printing house in the 19th century, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and some rare antiques such as an astrolabe used by early Arab mariners. The library had hosted the personal libraries of more than 100 notable Mosul families over the past century. Bloggers and activists in Mosul got out the word of the building's destruction over the Internet. (Fiscal Times via Yahoo News, Feb. 23)
Victim representatives at peace talks with the FARC rebels held a press conference in Bogotá Feb. 20 to demand action from the Colombian government over mounting death threats against them. At least 14 of the 60 representatives have received death threats because of their participation—and the son of one representative was killed. Nilson Liz, a regional leader of the National Association of Campesino Land Users (ANUC) from Cauca department, said that following his trip to Cuba for the talks, unknown assailants murdered his son Dayan on Jan. 1. ANUC, which is seeking return of lands stolen by armed groups, has had 90 leaders assassinated since its founding in 1970. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 21; Semana, Feb. 20)