WW4 Report

Chiapas: thousands flee new paramilitary violence

An estimated 5,000 Tzotzil Maya peasants have been forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán, in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, facing threats by armed men in a land dispute with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó. The displaced, living in improvised camps since their homes were attacked in October, only started to receieve aid this week, as Chenalhó residents blocked all three roads to the community. Army vehicles started delivering aid Dec. 12 after one blockade was relaxed, but on condition that only humanitarian aid be allowed through. The army and state and federal police have established a Mixed Operations Base in the area. The local Catholic diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas said that an "atmosphere of terror" prevails in the area, and warned of a repeat of the 1997 Acteal massacre, when 45 were killed by paramilitary gunmen in a hamlet of Chenalhó.

China prepares to deploy elite forces to Syria

China is preparing to deploy elite troops to Syria in support of dictator Bashar al-Assad's forces, fearing the presence of Islamist militants in its far western territory of Xinjiang, according to media reports in the region. The Chinese Ministry of Defense intends to send two units known as the "Night Tigers" and the "Tigers of Siberia" from the People's Liberation Army Special Operations Forces to aid Assad regime troops against militant factions, according to an Arabic-language report in the UAE's New Khaleej. Some 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from Xinjiang are fighting in various militant formations in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China Imad Moustapha told Reuters earlier this year. Last week, during a meeting with Syrian presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised the regime's efforts at tackling militants from the supposed East Turkestan Islamic Movement. (The New Arab, Nov. 29; Middle East Monitor, Nov. 28)

Taiwanese democracy activist imprisoned in China

A Chinese court on Nov. 28 sentenced Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh to five years in prison on charges of attempting to "subvert state power." Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council immediately denounced the sentence as "unacceptable" and "politically motivated." Lee was sentenced alongside Chinese citizen Peng Yuhua by the Yueyang City Intermediate People's Court, in Hunan province. Peng was sentenced to seven years, also for "subverting state power." The convictions followed a trial in September 2017. Lee first went missing in March 2017 after crossing the border from Macao to Zhuhai, Guangdong, in southern China. Ten days later Chinese officials confirmed he was being held on suspicion of "endangering national security." The case concerned an Internet chat group Peng started in 2012. Prosecutors said the group attempted to foment a "Western color revolution."

Brazil: Amazon road blocked to press demarcation

Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.

Bolivia hosts 'Gas OPEC' summit —amid dissension

The four-day summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) opened Nov. 21 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—central hub of the country's hydrocarbon-rich eastern lowlands. President Evo Morales took the opportunity to boast of his "nationalization" of Bolivia's hydrocarbon resources. But the summit comes as member nations are bitterly divided by diplomatic tensions. Established in Iran in 2001, the GECF consists of 12 members: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. An additional seven observer nations are Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru. The UAE and other Gulf States are currently at odds with Qatar, with diplomatic relations suspended since June.

Peru and Australia sign free trade pact

Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact Nov. 10 that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Danang, Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) announced the deal on Twitter, boasting that the agreement will boost employment and attract investment. Speaking at the APEC summit, PPK reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism.

Zimbabwe: new leader implicated in massacres

The swearing in of Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is being hailed as opening a new era for the country that had been ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence in 1980 until his dramatic downfall this week. But Mnangagwa had long been Mugabe's right-hand man, and in his inaugural speech paid tribute to him as a "mentor" and Zimbabwe's "founding father." Mnangagwa is known by the nickname "Ngwena" (Crocodile)—apparently a reference to his days as a commando in the Crocodile Group, an elite Chinese-trained guerilla unit that carried out acts of sabotage in the struggle against colonial and white supremacist rule in the 1960s. (BBC News, CNN, VOA) But some are pointing to Mnangagwa's reputation for ruthlessness even after the country's liberation from white rule, and are demanding accountability over his role in ethnic massacres in the 1980s.

Egypt: Sufis targeted in Sinai mosque massacre

At least 235 have been killed and over 100 wounded in a suicide attack as people gathered for Friday prayers at a mosque in Egypt's North Sinai Nov. 24. Women and children are among the dead. President Sisi vowed a "brutal" response to what is the deadliest militant attack in the country's history. Militants reportedly opened fire on worshippers after the bomb blast, which took place at al-Rawdah mosque in the town of Bir al-Abd, 40 kilometers from the North Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish. Before the attack, the mosque was surrounded by all-terrain vehicles, cutting off escape from the massacre. The mosque is said to be run by a local Sufi order, and includes a zawiya—a lodge used by order members for prayer and chanting. Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the massacre, followers of Sufi Islam have faced numerous attacks by ISIS cells operating in the Sinai Peninsula.

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