More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)
Havana peace talks between Colombia's government and the FARC are said to be stalled as the government refuses to acknowledge the existence of far-right paramilitaries, while the rebel movement demands their dismantling. The Colombian and US governments both maintain that paramilitary groups ceased to exist in 2006 when the last unit of AUC formally demobilized. The paramilitary forces that resisted demobilization are dubbed "Bacrim," for "criminal bands." But Los Urabeños, one of the AUC's successor organizations, shut down much of the country's north with an "armed strike" for several days early this month. The strike was called to proest government opperations against the Urabeños—refered to officially by the name of their ruling family, the "Clan Úsuga." In Havana, the FARC's Pastor Alape asserted that "the attention of the country cannot center on the so-called Clan Úsuga" because "the problem of paramilitarism is much more profound." (El Tiempo, April 9; Colombia Reports, April 8; El Colombiano, March 29)
The Assad regime has announced the taking of Palmyra and its adjacent archaeological site from ISIS, though Russian air-strikes appear to have been the decisive factor. Russian state media (RT, Sputnik) shamelessly crow of the city's "liberation." The Western media have hardly been less ebullient. Daily Mail displays footage released by the regime, showing no sign of damage to the ancient ruins, but bloodstains on the wall of the amphitheater, which was used for public executions. (In fact, temples were destroyed at the site.) But Muzna al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK spoke on British TV in much darker terms about the city's transfer. She called Assad and ISIS "two faces of the same coin," and said she spoke to activists in the city who told her "nothing has changed." She pointed out that even before ISIS took the city last May, artifacts were looted by Assad's Shabiha militia. She recalls that Palmyra was the site of a regime prison where many have been tortured to death and hundreds massacred over the years. She says that 50% of city's neighborhoods have been destroyed by the regime's cluster bombs in recent days. She calls the city's change of hands part of a "propaganda game" by both Assad and ISIS. The city "was handed to ISIS," and the threat to its ancient artifacts exploited to get international attention; now its recovery "is being used for the same thing." She protests that people in the West seem "more concerned about the artifacts than the people on the ground." (Via Facebook)
Colombia's government and FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. The date was set when President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader "Timochenko" met in Havana in September. But significant steps toward peace have been taken over the past six months. In what Timochenko called an "historic, unprecedented" meeting until recently "unthinkable," he shook hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during President Obama's trip to Cuba this week. "We received from him in person the support for the peace process in Colombia," said Timochenko. (Colombia Reports, March 23; Colombia Reports, March 22) The FARC quickly followed up with a statement calling on the State Department to remove the guerilla army from its list of "foreign terrorist organizations." (AFP, March 23)
It was certainly convenient for Serbian ultra-rightist Vojislav Seselj that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chose to convict his buddy Radovan Karadzic of genocide on March 24—the same day that Operation Allied Force, the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, began in 1999. Seselj—leader of the Serbian Radical Party and a former paramilitary warlord, himself facing charges before The Hague-based tribunal—had already planned a rally in downtown Belgrade that day to commemorate the anniversary. Of course it became a rally in support of Karadzic, wartime leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic. "The criminal Hague, the false court of the Western powers, has condemned Karadzic to 40 years," Seselj railed to hundreds of gathered supporters. "They convicted him when he was innocent, only because he led the Serb people in Bosnia during a crucial moment." In another case of fascist pseudo-anti-fascism, he compared the European prisons holding Karadzic and other accused Serb war criminals to "Hitler's camps." To make it even better, many of his supporters bore the flag and regalia of the Chetniks—the World War II-era Serbian nationalist movement that collaborated with the Nazis after the German occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941. (The Independent, Radio B92)
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.
Despite the peace process in Colombia, assassinations continue against leaders of the country's campesino and indigenous communities who stand up to landed interests. On Feb. 28, Maricela Tombé, a leader of Playa Rica community, in El Tambo municipality of Cauca department, was killed by unknown gunmen in the village center. The mother of two children, Tombé was the former president of the Environmental Campesino Association of Playa Rica, and had led efforts at community land recovery. Leaflets threatening the community and signed by a local paramilitary group had recently been left in El Tambo. (El Tiempo, March 1) Late January saw the disappearance of Henry Pérez, a community leader at La Gabarra, Tibú, Norte de Santander, after menacing leaflets had similarly been left in local villages. Pérez had also been involved in land recovery efforts. The community continues to organize search parties for the missing leader. (El Tiempo, Feb. 27)
Agents of Colombia's Fiscalía General on Feb. 26 arrested Santiago Uribe Vélez, brother of former president and current right-wing senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez for alleged involvement in the 12 Apostles paramilitary group that terrorized Yarumal municipality, Antioquia department, in the 1990s. The prominent Yarumal rancher was arrested in Medellín, and is said to be suspected of aggravated homicide "delinquency"—meaning involvement in organized crime. An investigation opened in 2014 into his role in the paramilitary group, which is said to have carried out a campaign of at least 33 assassinations of suspected FARC supporters. (El Espectador, El Espectador, Feb. 29) Attorney Daniel Prado Albarracín, representing victims of the 12 Apsotles, is calling for the Santiago Uribe to also be investigated on charges of torture and forced displacement. (El Espectador, March 1)