control of oil
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country. The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016, according to official figures from the country's rights obudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo. In the capital Bogota, protesters converted the central Plaza Bolivar into a sea of candlelight. The same happened at the Parque de los Deseos in Medellin and at the Plaza de Caycedo in Cali. Vigils were also held in at least 25 cities around the world, from Sydney to New York. (Colombia Reports, July 7) Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. (El Espectador, July 19)
Concern is mounting for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast forests and rich wildlife as logging concessions and licenses to explore for oil in protected areas are prepared ahead of presidential elections later this year. A moratorium on industrial logging, in place since 2002, has been broken with three concessions reportedly handed out by the DRC environment ministry to Chinese-owned logging companies since February. A further 14 logging concessions are expected to be granted within months, according to Unearthed, the Greenpeace investigative unit. In addition, reports referenced by Greenpeace indicate the government is preparing to reclassify large areas inside Salonga and Virunga national parks, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A suicide bomber killed at least 130 people at a campaign rally in southwestern Pakistan July 13— the deadliest attack in the country since 2014. A local candidate was among the dead in Mastung town, Balochistan province. The local franchise of the Islamic State took credit for the attack. That same day, a bomb attack on a rally in the northern town of Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed four. Three days earlier, a suicide attack on a rally in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed 20. The attacks come ahead of this month's general elections. Among those killed in Mastung was Balochistan provincial assembly candidate Siraj Raisani, of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). (BBC News, Dawn, EWN)
Libya’s Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) lifted the state of force majeure it had declared at four export terminals in the country's eastern "oil crescent," after the forces of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar agreed to withdraw from the facilities. Exports are set to resume, and global oil prices began to fall as the news broke. (Libyan Express) The ports of Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, Zueitina and Hariga were all handed back to NOC control without any obvious concession being made to Haftar. The Guardian reports that Haftar had been pressing privately for Saddek Elkaber, the governor of the Libyan central bank, to step down, claiming that Elkaber was funnelling monies from the oil industry to militias opposed to him. A strongly worded letter from President Donald Trump, warning he would take legal action against those responsible for the impasse, may have prompted Haftar's capitulation.
In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.
Oil prices rose above $75 a barrel on July 3 for the first time since November 2014, as Libya's National Oil Corporation declared force majeure at its principal oil ports, which continue to be battled over by rival armed factions. Prices for West Texas Intermediate crude rose to $75.27 a barrel before dropping back down to $72.73. After years of depressed global oil prices, analysts are again talking of a possible new "oil shock." Growing tensions between the US and Iran, and other factors, were also cited. Libya's Union of Oil and Gas Workers meanwhile issued a statement saying that the country's oil is the collective property of all Libyans, and should be removed from all political, regional and tribal disputes. (CNBC, Libya Observer)
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his bitter rival and former vice president Riek Machar, now leader of the SPLM-IO rebels, met in the Sudanese capital Khartoum June 27 to sign a "permanent" ceasefire agreement, pledging to form an inclusive transitional government. The parties agreed to open humanitarian corridors, release detainees, withdraw troops and militarily disengage. The agreement calls on the African Union and the regional bloc IGAD to deploy protection forces and monitors to observe the ceasefire implementation. The transitional government is to form a national army and security forces not linked to tribalism, and to collect weapons from the populace. The parties also agreed to immediately start work to resume oil production at sites in Unity state (Blocks 1,2 and 4) and Tharjiath (Block 5), which have for years been paralyzed by the conflict.