paramilitaries

Colombia: threats mount against victim reps

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)

Colombia: rights situation grim despite peace talks

Colombia's humanitarian situation remains severe in spite of ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the United Nations said in a report released Feb. 12. Raising concern over illegal armed groups not incuded in the dialogue, it found that the grim situation is likely to persist even if a peace deal is struck in the talks. The report, entitled "The Humanitarian Dimension in the Aftermath of a Peace Agreement: proposals for the international community in Colombia," was commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and supported by the Norwegian Centre for Peace-building (NOREF). At least 347,286 people were displaced in Colombia between November 2012, when the talks began, and September 2014, the report found. Nearly half of these displacements (48%) resulted from FARC or ELN actions, with 19% blamed on neo-paramilitary groups. The report also found that 62 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2014.

Colombia: protests against illegal mining in Cauca

Hundreds of indigenous and Afro-Colombian protesters from La Toma, Suárez municipality, in Colombia's southwest Cauca region, marched over the weekend against illegal gold mining taking place in their territories. The communities, angry about environmental damage caused by the activity, said they had received threats from the Rastrojos paramilitary group for their opposition to the mining. The three-day cross-country march along the Pan-American Highway culminated Feb. 16 at Buenos Aires, in northern Cauca.

Iraq militias may be committing war crimes

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Feb. 15 that militias allied with Iraqi forces are committing abuses that are "possibly war crimes." HRW reports that in some areas residents have been forced from their homes, kidnapped and extrajudicially executed. In the Muqdadiyya area of Diyala governorate, more than 3,000 people have been forced from their homes since June and have been prevented from returning, in some cases, because militia forces torched their homes. HRW has been interviewing victims, some of whom claim that the militias "said that they would kill [them] because [they] are Sunni." HRW is also investigating allegations that militia forces had killed 72 civilians in Barwana and Muqdadiyya.

Mali: Tuareg autonomy at issue in new fighting

At least 12 people were in clashes Feb. 6 between rival Tuareg groups at Tabankort, northwest of Kidal in northern Mali, local sources told Efe. (See map.) Reports said the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) suffered 10 deaths, while the pro-government Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group (GATIA), lost two fighters, according to the sources. For more than two weeks, the two groups have battled for control of land along the border with Algeria apparently with little interfrence from the Malian army or the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Bamako government and MINUSMA opened talks in Algeria last week with the MNLA and allied High Council for Azawad Unity (HCUA). (EFE, MaliActu.net, Feb. 6)

Harsh abuses seen in Burma opium war

Despite a democratic opening and hopes for peace with the ethnic insurgencies in the northern hinterlands, horrific accounts of rights abuses continue to emerge from the multi-sided war over Burma's opium production. According to reports from village leaders, Burmese army troops on Jan. 19 tortured, raped and killed two young volunteer teachers. The women were both Kachin and Christians, so may have been targeted for ethnicity or religion. The attacks came when the village of Shabuk-Kaunghka, in Shan state's Mungbaw township, was occupied by a Light Infantry battalion that entered the area following clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). New fighting erupted after three police officers and a local highway administrator were detained by the KIA while carrying out a road inspection in the area. They were released after mediation, but clashes continue.

Colombia: whither FARC's future?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met in Cartagena Feb. 2 with women victims of violence at a forum overseen by two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi—an event linked to the ongoing peace process in the country. (El Tiempo, Feb. 2) Williams, who won the prize in 1997 for her work against land-mines,  took the opportunity to weigh in on the future of FARC guerilas, a contentious issue as peace talks with rebel leaders resume in Havana. "It is complete craziness [locura completa] to think that they are all going to go to prison," Williams said, adding wryly: "They can put all the combatants—FARC, paramilitaries, militaries and narco-traffickers—in prison, but who's going to be left to walk the streets in Colombia?" (AFP, Feb. 1)

Are the FARC narco-traffickers?

Amid peace talks in Havana, Colombia's FARC guerillas issued an angry communique Dec. 14, insisting "We are a rebel group, not narco-traffickers." This was in response to President Juan Manuel Santos' suggestion that FARC drug-trafficking could be considered a "political crime," potentially sparing guerilla leaders prosecution. This of course won Santos howls of outrage from the right; now he gets it from the other side. The FARC statement accused the government of trying to "confuse the minds of Colombians" with a "distortion," and decried the existence of a "capitalist narco-trafficking business" in the country. (El Espectador, El Tiempo, Dec. 14)