Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr on March 24 issued a presidential permit to TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, authorizing the Canadian company to construct, operate and maintain pipeline facilities at the US-Canadian border in Phillips County, Mont., for the importation of crude oil from Canada's tar sands. The Trump administration's State Department is headed by former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who backs the pipeline. However, Tillerson recused himself from the decision after environmental groups objected that it would be a conflict of interest for him to decide the pipeline's fate.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, on March 3 called for the US to adopt a consistent approach to indigenous land rights in pipeline projects. The Special Rapporteur voiced concerns about how indigenous peoples were not fully consulted on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). She said that after a fact-finding trip to the US, she was disturbed by reports "regarding the criminalization of indigenous peoples asserting their right to protest in the now-world famous struggle of several tribes" in opposition to the DAPL. While the protests "have been almost completely non-violent and peaceful, there has been a militarized, at times violent, escalation of force by local law enforcement and private security forces."
The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
President Trump on Jan. 24 signed orders giving the go-ahead for construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which had been halted by the Obama administration. Obama's State Department rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Army Corps of Engineers had ordered work halted on the Dakota pipeline after weeks of protests by Native American groups and their activist allies. In a signing statement, Trump said the Keystone XL project will mean "a lot of jobs, 28,000 construction jobs, great construction jobs." In its own statement, TransCanada, the company seeking to build Keystone XL, said it "appreciate[s] the President of the United States inviting us to re-apply for KXL. We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so."
Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
The Ramapough Lunaape tribe in the township of Mahwah, NJ, is protesting the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline that would carry fracked Bakken shale oil from Albany, NY, to the Bayway Refinery in Linden. The planned route crosses the New York-New Jersey Highlands region, which is the source of water for more than 4.5 million people in both states, according to the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline. The pipeline would also cut through a portion of the Ramapo Valley Reservation, a Bergen County park that protects much of the Highlands watershed. As with the Standing Rock Sioux struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Lunaape fear that a potential leak would pollute critical waters and impact sacred sites.
Baluchi militants on Jan. 6 carried out an armed operation against Iranian security forces on the outskirts of the city of Sarbaz in Baluchistan province, claiming dozens of casualties, including senior Revolutionary Guards officers. The Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) group said the operation was carried out by its Abdulmalik Mollazadeh Brigade. A press release said their forces ambushed two military vehicles carrying a large number of Revolutionary Guards personnel in the Jekigvar area, with the drivers and nearly all passengers killed or injured. A terse report from the regime’s official Fars News Agency acknowledged only that one border guard had been killed and others wounded in an ambush by "terrorists."