A fragile ceasefire has taken effect in Aleppo as pro-Assad forces seize most of the city, but the regime is failing to follow through on a pledge to evacuate residents to a "safe zone." The last-minute agreement, brokered by Russia and Turkey, calls for rebel fighters, their families, and other civilians to be allowed to leave the city. The displaced will go to opposition-controlled Idlib governorate; from there, they can move to other locations, including the effective Turkish "buffer zone" in the north of Aleppo governorate. Regime forces have brought in buses to facilitate the evacuation but none have left yet, reports say. The regime is said to be demanding the simultaneous evacuation of its own injured fighters and civilians from nearby towns that are encircled by rebel forces. (EA Worldview, BBC News, Dec. 14)
Pro-Assad forces are on the verge of capturing all remaining opposition-held areas of Syria's largest city Aleppo, with fears of death or detention for tens of thousands of civilians. Regime troops and allied Iranian-led foreign and paramilitary forces, supported by intense Russian air-strikes, took all but a few remaining districts on Dec. 12. Claims circulate of the execution of scores of civilians in districts that have fallen to pro-regime forces. Residents and activists spoke of widespread detention of fighting-age men. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office issued a statement voicing alarm over "reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours in Aleppo." UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said Assad and Russia will be held "accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing."
A bombing during Sunday Mass at a chapel attached to Cairo's main Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 and wounded some 50 others Dec. 11. Most of the victims are reported to have been women and children. St Mark's Cathedral is the main institution of Egypt's Coptic Christians and home to the head of the church, Pope Tawadros II. The blast coincided with celebrations of Mawlid, a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest targeting Egypt's Christians since a New Year's Day bombing at a church in Alexandria in 2011 that killed 21 people. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has condemned the Cairo attack and declared three days of national mourning. There are around 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, around 10% of the country's population. (EuroNews, AfricaNews, Crux, Dec. 11)
Expressing "outrage" at the escalation of violence in Syria, and particularly Aleppo, the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9 adopted a resolution demanding an immediate and complete end to all attacks on civilians, as well as a lifting of all sieges on cities and towns. The Canada-sponsored resolution was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor, 13 against and 36 abstentions. The text also expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and demanded "rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN...and all humanitarian actors."
Peru's newly appointed defense minister, Jorge Nieto Montesinos, announced that he will focus on wiping out remnant Shining Path guerilla rebels who continue to operate in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro Valley (VRAEM), the country's main coca-producing region. Nieto, formerly culture minister, was named defense minister in a reshuffling of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski‘s four-month-old cabinet. The VREAM is considered by the UN to be the world's most prolific coca cultivation zone, accounting for a third of Peru's annual production. It is also the country's last significant guerilla stronghold. The integrated counter-narcotics and counterinsurgency effort in the VREAM was dealt a setback in October, when Lt. Wilmer Delgado, commander of an army outpost in the valley, was arrested on charges of collaborating with traffickers and receiving payments of allowing drug flights to operate in the area. (Peru Reports, Dec. 7; La República, Dec. 5; La República, Oct. 23)
A federal judge in Florida ruled Nov. 29 that victims of right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia may sue banana giant Chiquita Brands under US jurisdiction. Judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita's argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States, clearing the way for the ground-breaking suit to advance toward trial. The company no longer has assets in Colombia, so any damages awarded by that country's courts would be unenforceable. "Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay," said attorney Marco Simons of Earth Rights International (ERI).
The United Nations warned Dec. 7 that Colombia's peace process faces "major challenges," urging the government and FARC rebels to "act swiftly" to demobilize and disarm the guerillas within the set time frame. In a press release, the UN Mission in Colombia called for immediate "administrative, technical and logistical preparations for the implementation" of the demobilization process. This comes as FARC leaders have broached suspending the process in response to the delay in judicial review of the legal framework for demobilization. The Constitutional Court is set to rule Dec. 12 on the validity of the "fast-track" legislative process for the package of laws and amendments to the peace deal that was approved lby Colombia's congress ate last month. These include an Amnesty Law that would grant immunity to FARC fighters who are only accused of "rebellion," and not more serious crimes.
Rule of law seems to have completely broken down in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, with the back-country really run by competing murderous narco-gangs. On Nov. 25, a Mixed Operations force of army and state police troops discovered over 30 bodies buried in mass graves in the municipality of Zitlala, in the rugged highlands where hidden canyons produce copious crops of opium and cannabis. The remains—including 32 corpses and nine severed heads—were found in a series of 20 hidden graves. Several men were detained, and cars and weapons seized. Such finds have become alarmingly common in Mexico in recent years, and are dubbed "narco-fosas" (narco-graves).