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.
Colombia is mourning after the tragic landslide that took place in Mocoa, capital of Putumayo department, during the night of March 31, when 17 neighborhoods were flooded with mud and rocks, and five were completely buried. The disaster resulted as the Mocoa, Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers burst their banks amid torrential rains. At least 238 people are reported dead, with rescue teams still digging through rubble. With no electricity in the stricken city, hospitals running short on blood and medicines to attend to the hundreds of injured survivors. President Juan Manuel Santos has activated the National Risk Management System, and authorized the "declaration of calamity" issued by Putumayo department.
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 "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)
The historic peace process in Colombia is finally resulting in demobilization of the country's FARC guerilla fighters, who are now gathering at designated points in the countryside to turn over their arms. The effort has won President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize. But FARC leaders admit that five regional commanders—said to be those most co-opted by the narco trade—are refusing to lay down arms, and have been officially expelled by the guerilla army's high command. According to a FARC communique extensively quoted in Bogotá daily El Tiempo Dec. 13, one of the renegade guerilla leaders is "Gentil Duarte," who before his expulsion was a member of the FARC high command. Also named is "Jhon 40," the notorious commander of a jungle zone along the Venezuelan border, a key transfer point for cocaine and other contraband. He is also believed to profit off of illegal mining operations in the zone.
In a blow to rainforest conservation in Sumatra, an Indonesian court on Nov. 29 dismissed a class-action lawsuit seeking to force the Aceh provincial government to protect the threatened Leuser Ecosystem in its land-use plan. The Central Jakarta District Court found that the provincial bylaw permitting mining within the Ecosystem caused no material losses to the plaintiffs—despite the fact that the Ecosystem is protected under national law as a "national strategic area." Five million people rely for clean water on Leuser’s forests, which also protect against natural disasters. Deforestation in Aceh's Tamiang district, for example, caused flash floods that displaced tens of thousands of people in 2006.
Gold mining in Peru has razed almost 62,500 hectares of rainforest —an area over ten times the size of Manhattan—between October 2012 and October 2016, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). While the tendrils of gold mining are spreading across the country, the region of Madre de Dios still accounts for the vast majority of mining-related deforestation to date, MAAP researchers write.
Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) is investigating the death of some 10,000 frogs whose bodies have been found in the Río Coata, which flows into Lake Titicaca. The alert was sounded by the local Committee Against the Pollution of the Río Coata, which accused the authorities of ignoring the river's severe pollution. Activists brought 100 of the dead frogs to the central square in the regional capital, Puno. Said protest leader Maruja Inquilla: "I've had to bring them the dead frogs. The authorities don't realize how we're living. They have no idea how major the pollution is. The situation is maddening." The committee has long been petitioning for construction of a sewage treatment plant for the river, and also for bringing informal minig camps up the river under control. Last year, arsenic, presumably from unregulated gold-mining in the area, was found to have contaminated several wells in the Coata watershed. The Puno regional health department conducted the study following a campaign by local campesino communities.