Colombia is suffering the worst drought and forest fires in the country's history, partially due to weather phenomenon El Niño. According to meteorologists, the situation is likely to get worse. El Niño is the warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean which occurs every few years, causing heavier than usual rainfall in some areas such as Peru and Ecuador but unusually hot and dry weather in Colombia. Luis Felipe Henao, Colombia's Housing Minister, said the last three years have been the driest that the country has ever suffered. The Río Magdalena is at its lowest level on record, at less than half its average flow of 7,200 cubic meters per second. The Río Cauca is also dangerously low, and the Río Pance almost entirely dry. So far this year 3,421 forest fires have been reported, affecting 77,300 hectares of woodland. Water restrictions have been put in place in 130 municipalities acrss the country, and rationing could also be imposed in hundreds more towns. The effects of the drought are not expected to improve until March 2016, according to the Colombian meteorological institute IDEAM. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 22)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader leader "Timochenko" announced in Havana Sept. 24 that they have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal, which will include establishment of a special justice system to try human rights abusers. "We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said. "On March 23, 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas." Timochenko later posted on the rebels Twitter feed: "Let's join efforts to achieve peace." But terms of the proposed justice process are meeting controvery, within Colombia and internationally.
A group of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has just issued a new report on the Mexican government's own investigation of the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero state nearly one year ago—and finds that the official conclusions are improbable. The Sept. 5 presentation of the IACHR findings drew such a huge audeince that organizers had to set up a TV screen for the overflow crowd on the patio of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission offices. Back in January, Mexico's then-Prosecutor General Jesús Murillo Karam announced the results of his investigation: all the students had been killed by members of a narco-gang called the Guerreros Unidos, who incinerated the bodies in a trash dump at the bottom of a canyon, then shoveled what remained into plastic bags and threw them in a river. That theory was largely based on confessions from detainees—who have since claimed to have "confessed" under torture. IACHR investigators who visited the dump site concluded that the incineration of that many bodies would have required an inordinate amount of fuel, and caused a massive forest fire.
An ISIS suicide squad on Sept. 18 penetrated an air base on the outskirts of Tripoli that serves as the Libyan capital's only working airport in an attack on the Islamist militia that was defending the facility. The four ISIS attackers were killed in the clash, and at least three members of the Special Deterrence Force, which is loyal to the Islamist-led Tripoli-based government. The attack comes as the UN special envoy to Libya, the Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, is seeking to broker out a power-sharing deal between the Tripoli government and Libya's recognized government, now exiled in Tobruk. Despite the talks, fighting continues between the rival governments, especially in the contested city of Benghazi. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Sept. 20 strongly condemned new air-strikes by Tobruk-loyal forces in Benghazi, and called for an immediate ceasefire. "The timing of airstrikes clearly aims at undermining the ongoing efforts to end the conflict," the Mission said of the pervious day's escalation. The statement noted that more than 100,000 have been displaced by the conflict that has raged in the city for over a year now, with residential neighborhoods reduced to rubble. (UN News Centre, Sept. 20; VOA, Sept. 19)
An indigenous leader who opposed pesticide abuse on Guatemala's palm oil plantations was killed Sept. 18 outside a court that just one day earlier ordered the closure of a plantation against which he had led protests. Rigoberto Lima Choc was slain by two gunmen on a motorcycle near the civil courthouse at Sayaxche, in the northern rainforest department of Peteñ—now heavily colonized by palm plantations. The court had ordered a six-month closure local palm oil manufacturer Repsa due to unethical environmental practices. Lima, a municipal councilor with the National Union of Hope (UNE), was campaigning against contamination of the Río La Pasión with pesticide runoff from the plantation. He documented the death of thousands of fish, with numerous marine species now threaetened with extinction. The United Nations office in Guatemala recently described the situation as an "ecological disaster." Two other activists have been abducted since the court ruling. Repsa employees protested in Sayaxche after the ruling. Repsa (for Peteñ Palm Reforestation) is a member of the UN Global Compact "corporate sustainability initiative." (Siglo21, Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Sept. 19; AFP, Global News, TeleSur, Sept. 18; UN Global Compact)
Insurgents fired nearly 400 rockets at the two Shi'ite (presumably Alawite) villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in northwestern Syria's Idlib governorate Sept. 18, and detonated at least seven car bombs, opening a new assault on besieged government-held areas. The attacks were carried out by the "Army of Conquest," a coalition that includes the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. (Reuters) Meanwhile, ISIS claimed responsibility for two suicide bombs in Baghdad that killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 60. The attacks targeted police checkpoints in the Wathba and Haraj markets during morning rush-hour—both in mostly Shi'ite areas. Another bomber (not yet claimed by ISIS) struck in the city's Bab al-Sharji area, killing eight civilians and a police officer. (BBC News)
Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a longtime right-hand man to ousted president Blaise Compaore and head of his presidential guard, seized power from Burkina Faso's transitional government on Sept. 17—sparking street protests in the capital Ouagadougou in which three were killed. The following day, the new junta—calling itself the National Council for Democracy—released interim president Michel Kafando, in a bid to quell protests. But prime minister Isaac Zida remains in custody. The US and France have condemned the coup, but both have critical security interests in the country, and have worked closely with Gen. Diendere for years. Burkina Faso serves as a rear base for regional counterterrorism operations and contributes troops to both the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali and the US-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. (CSM, BBC News, Sept. 18; Afrique Jet, Sept. 17)
Thailand's national police authorities on Sept. 15 said that last month's deadly Erawan Shrine attack was carried out by Uighur militants. A Chinese national arrested by Thai police, Yusufu Meraili, is said to be from Xinjiang region, indicating he is likely an ethnic Uighur. Also arrested is Abdul Tawab, a Pakistani national who apparently ran a human trafficking ring that catered to Uighurs attemptong to reach Turkey. Abudusataer Abudureheman AKA "Ishan," named as mastermind of the attack, is also said to be from Xinjiang, and is believed to have fled to Turkey. Thai authorities say several other suspects are Turks, who have ethnic and cultural links to the Uighurs. Many Turkish nationalists have vocally embraced the Uighur cause. Warrants for a Thai woman and her Turkish husband, both believed to be in Turkey, and two other Turkish men. Malaysia has made three arrests in the case—two Malaysians and a Pakistani man. Most of the 20 killed in the attack were ethnic Chinese tourists. Suspicion fell on Uighur militants as the bombing came just weeks after Thailand deported 109 Uighurs back to China, their heads covered in hoods. The move widely criticized by rights groups, who said the Uighurs were could face persecution in China. If the claims are correct, this would be the first known Uighur terrorist attack outside China. No one has yet claimed responsibility. (Bangkok Post, Sept. 17; NYT, Sept. 15; BBC News, Sept. 14)