A businessman from Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, has spent more than six weeks in prison after his attempts to persuade the local government to provide Tibetan language information in schools were featured in a lengthy article in the New York Times last November. According to a new article in the Times, his family reports that he has been in police custody since January but they have not been allowed to see him and have not been informed of the reason for his detention. Tashi Wangchuk repeatedly expressed that his actions were not political and related solely to the preservation of Tibetan culture and he even offered praise to Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, any challenge to the authorities over matters to do with Tibetan identity risk being treated as "separatist"—a criminal offence carrying a potentially very lengthy prison sentence.
With the harvest season just weeks away, tensions are high in Burma's opium-producing Kachin state following a series of clashes between opium-growing peasants and a local citizen anti-drug movement. Pat Jasan, a patrol established two years ago by the Kachin Baptist Church, has been in repeated confrontations over the past weeks at Kachin's Waingmaw township. The most recent, on Feb. 25, resulted in at least 20 Pat Jasan followers wounded in gunfire and grenade blasts. The vigilantes were apparently set upon by a heavily-armed force while clearing poppy fields.
ISIS used "poisonous substances" during the shelling of a village in northern Iraq on March 8, with local officials reporting that over 40 residents suffered breathing problems and skin irritation, and five fell unconscious. The agents were released as ISIS fired mortar shells and rockets on Tuz Khurmatu (also rendered Taza), a Shi'ite Turkmen village south of Kirkuk. (TeleSur, Al Bawaba, March 10) This was just the latest in a growing number of such reports. On March 2, the Tal Afar district near Sinjar was hit by at least six rockets that emitted a yellow smoke on impact. Three civilians, including two children, were hospitalized with nausea, vomiting and skin irritation. On Feb. 25, after ISIS rockets hit Sinjar, nearly 200 people were treated for severe vomiting, nausea and headaches. (USA Today, March 10) Three Peshmerga troops were hospitalized after ISIS launched shells loaded with what was believed to be mustard gas on the Makhmour front Feb. 17. (Rudaw, Feb. 17)
Fears are being raised for the security of activists and rights observers in Honduras following the March 3 assassination of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres. Amnesty International has issued an urgent call for Honduran authorities to allow Mexican human rights defender Gustavo Castro Soto, sole witness to the murder, to leave the country. Castro, who works with Amigos de la Tierra México, had been staying at Cáceres' home to witness in the event of an attack, and she is reported to have died in his arms. He was also wounded in the attack, although not gravely. Three days after the slaying, he was detained by authorities at the Tegucigalpa airport while attempting to board a flight for his country. Officials from the Mexican embassy arrived at the airport, and succeeded in securing his relase to embassy staff. He now remains at the embassy in Tegucigalpa, despite demands of Honduran officials that he return to Intibucá department, where the slaying took place, to be deposed. He has already provided testimony and fears for his safety in Honduras, according to Amnesty. (Amnesty International, March 7; La Jornada, March 6)
Members of the Wampis community of Mayuriaga in the northern Peruvian Amazon seized a grounded military helicopter March 6, holding crew members and eight officials who were on board to press for inclusion in the emergency response plan to last month's devastating oil spill in the region. The eight officials, from state company PetroPerú, were released two days later, after the government agreed to a meeting to discuss indigenous demands, including to improve electricity and other services for the remote area. The Wampis were angered that Supreme Decree 012-2016, instating the emergency response plan, did not actually include their community in the clean-up zone. Some 1,000 barrels spilled when PetroPerú's trans-Andean pipeline rupturted Feb. 3 at Mayuriaga, which lies in Morona municipalty, Datem del Marañón province, Loreto region. Nine days earlier, a second leak further west on the pipeline spilled some 2,000 barrels. The Oleoducto Norperuano is 40 years old, and has been repeatedly cited in recent years by environmental regulator OEFA for poor maintainence. (TeleSur, March 8; RPP, Reuters, March 7)
Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro on March 9 ordered creation of a "Special Military Zone" in the so-called Orinoco Mineral Arc following reports of a massacre of at least 28 at a mining camp in the region. The order came after survivors and kin of the disappeared miners blocked roads connecting the remote region with the city of Tumeremo to demand action. Witnesses said the camp, in Sifontes municipality, was seized by armed men who gunned down the workers, dismembered their bodies with a buzz-saw, then forced survivors to load the remains in a truck which drove off into the jungle. "We won't rest until we find those responsible for these acts, which in the eyes of all Venezuelans are abominable," said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. But Bolívar state Gov. Francisco Rangel of the ruling PSUV was assailed by miners and the opposition for denying that any massacre had taken place. "So far there's not any indication of any person killed or missing," he said March 7, three days after the reports first broke. "What happened there, according to the security forces, was another clash between armed gangs that are trying to control mining activities in the area." (InfoBae, March 9; BBC News, March 8; InfoBae, March 7)
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) test-fired several ballistic missiles on March 8, state television said, threatening the nuclear deal that just took effect earlier this year. A state television report showed a Emad missile, Iran's most advanced model, being fired from a fortified underground silo at night time. The presenter said it was a medium-range Qiam-1 missile. However, that footage appeared to be of an earlier October launch that triggered new US sanctions. The report said the Guards had fired several missiles from silos across the country, though it only showed footage of one.
In a surprise dawn raid March 7, ISIS attacked National Guard, army and police barracks in Ben Guerdane, the first Tunisian town west of the border with Libya. At least 53 people were killed in the figting, including several civilians. The dead included a 12-year-old girl. "Our country is at war against barbarism," said Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi. "This is an unprecedented attack, planned and organized. Its goal was probably to take control of this area and to announce a new emirate." The attack was repulsed, but a curfew has been imposed in Ben Gardane and the border with Libya is closed until further notice. (AP, Libya Observer, ANSA, Al Jazeera, March 7)