At least 33 people were killed in an air-strike on a school sheltering displaced residents outside the ISIS-held city of Raqqa, in northern Syria, according to monitoring activists on the ground. The behind-lines anti-ISIS monitoring group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which has heroiically reported on realities under Islamic State rule in the city, said the school at the village of al-Mansoura was sheltering some 50 families when it was levelled by air-strikes earlier this week. The raid is believed to have been carried out by US warplanes. "The massacres committed by [the] US-led coalition in Raqqa is unacceptable," the group said in a statement. "The international community must intervene to stop this." (The Independent)
The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."
Installation of an interim authority in Timbuktu, part of a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in Mali's desert north, was blocked as hardline factions erected street barricades across the city March 6. Former rebel leader Boubacar Ould Hamadi was to become head of the interim authority in Timbuktu. The rejectionist factions, holding out for greater autonomy in the region, are led by the Council for Justice in Azawad. Last week, interim authorities were successfully installed in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. But there were also difficulties in Gao, where dozens of armed men briefly occupied the regional assembly building until their demands for greater participation were met. (Reuters, AFP, March 6)
As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 28 ruled that "prior consultation" with local Afro-descendent and indigenous communities must be carried out before an open-pit gold mine project can move ahead at Villonza, Marmato municipality, Caldas department. The ruling made reference to the indigenous community of Cartama and the Afro-Colombian community of Asojomar, both of which are largely sustained by small-scale artisanal mininng. Under a 2007 concession, Canada-based Gran Colombia Gold Corporation was to acquire these informal claims. In 2011, Father José Reinel Restrepo, the local parish priest, was murdered after returning from Bogotá, where he had registered his objection to the project with officials. Gran Colombia Gold is meanwhile is demanding Colombia pay $700 million under terms of the Canadian free trade agreement for failure to evict the artisanal miners. (TeleSur, Radio Caracol, March 2; El Tiempo, Feb. 28; Radio Caracol, Feb. 25)
The Uighur people of China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region are coming under unprecedented surveillance and militarization amid official fears of terrorism in the far-western territory. In the latest draconian measure, residents of one prefecture are being ordered to install a government-developed GPS tracking system in their vehicles. By June 30, all motorists in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must have the BeiDou navigation satellite system installed in their vehicles, under an order aimed at "ensur[ing] stability and social harmony." Gas stations will only be permitted to serve cars that have the system. Installation is free, but vehicle owners will be charged 90 yuan a year for the Internet fees.
Colombia's Constitutional Court announced a decision Feb. 16 upholding the power of municipalities and "territorial entities" to block mining on their lands. The decision cited Law 685, which modified the Mining Code in 2001, bringing it into conformity with constitutional provisions on regional autonomy. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 16) The ruling clears the way for Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, to hold its planned consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality, seen as model for similar votes around the country.
Hundreds of members of the Ahwazi Arab diaspora demonstrated outside the United Nations headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Feb. 17, to denounce the abuses of the Iranian regime in Ahwaz region amid a new upsurge of protest there. Overlooked by the world media, Arab residents had over the past five days repeatedly filled the streets in the city of Ahwaz, capital of Iran's Khuzestan province, and the province's second city of Falahiyeh (Shadegan in Parsi). The protest wave has focused on air and water pollution caused by the oil industry, and the lack of basic services. The region's Arab majority face water and power outages, pervasive unemployment, and under-funded schools and municipal governments, despite the fact that Ahwaz/Khuzestan is the center of Iran's oil production. Recently, the region has been hit with paralyzing dust storms, a result of aridification and ecological decline.